|Checking the wood used to build free houses for the needy is one of Trương Văn Kiềm’s daily activities. – Photo saostar.vn|
CẦN THƠ – It was early 2003. Trương Văn Kiểm was returning home after visiting his son’s in-laws when he saw a young man chase a woman with a knife.
Appalled, he stopped his motorbike and intervened. He found that the woman was the man’s mother.
Talking with them, Kiểm learnt that the root of the problem was that their house had been damaged for a long time but they did not have any money to repair it. The young man, a drunkard, wanted his father to cut down some trees in their garden to build a new house, but his father refused to do so. Infuriated, the inebriated son threatened to assault his parents.
Feeling sorry for the old couple, Kiểm decided to build a new house for them, starting off the charity work that has continued to this day.
Over the last 14 years, Kiểm has helped hundreds of poor households get safe, durable homes.
As a farmer, Kiểm, 64, a native of Tân Lộc Island in Cần Thơ City’s Tân Lộc Ward, had no knowledge of carpentry, a key task in building cheap houses. He asked a good carpenter and close friend, Lê Văn Mười, 66, for help.
Moved by Kiểm’s kindness, Mười decided to stop his business and set up a workshop in Kiểm’s house to chisel wood for building houses for free to help really poor people.
To ensure the quality of wood, Kiểm bought xà cừ (Khaya senegalensis) timber from local residents. He soaked the logs in water for about 3 years before using them. This seasoning helps wooden houses to stand for 25-30 years.
Kiểm has spent all his savings on the charity work and also asked his children to contribute money to buy more materials.
Word of his actions spread and attracted the support of many who knew him.
Some local residents, like Nguyễn Văn Thắng, 68, and Lê Hồng Tuấn, 58 also joined Kiểm, volunteering to cut wood and help build houses.
"Normally only four of us do this job. However, when it is necessary, I can mobilise a few dozen, or even a hundred people to join me,” Kiểm told saostar.vn.
“Those who do not take part in the job, contribute bottles of fish sauce or packages of instant noodles. Thanks to their support, we have been able to build more houses."
Nearly 300 houses have been built by Kiểm and his peers over the past fourteen years. On average, they build about 20 houses a year.
They have not only built houses for the poor in Cần Thơ City, but also for those in other provinces like Vĩnh Long, Đồng Tháp, Hậu Giang and Kiên Giang.
Kiểm said that the houses are simple, but they give great joy to families living in dilapidated homes. His charity work has earned him many unforgettable memories.
"After we finished building a house for a poor family, they knelt down and said we are the living Buddha. We did not want them to do that. They said they were they doing so because no words could express their joy and gratitude. It is one of the most touching memories we have,” he said.
Another notable memory is the case of Nguyễn Văn Dạ’s family who live in Cần Thơ City’s Thốt Nốt Ward.
In 2005, he visited Dạ’s family after getting some information about his situation. He found five households living in a 10sq.m houses that was regularly inundated during the flooding season.
Kiểm decided to build five houses for Dạ and his four children, providing them comfortable, safe spaces to live without fear of their homes being flooded.
Lê Văn Huấn, Vice Chairman of the Tan Loc People’s Committee, said that Kiên and his friends have gained enormous trust and gratitude of the people.
Those who used to live in extremely rundown houses are immeasurably grateful for being able to live in safe, durable homes.
Nguyễn Bá Hùng, a local carpenter, said: “Every time we finish a house, I feel proud of what we’ve done. I wish that I have more strength to do more such meaningful work.” — VNS