Christopher Axe, leader of Help Hanoi’s Homeless group, checks his home-cooked food to be given to the homeless. — VNS Photos
Viet Nam News
by Paul Kennedy & Bảo Hoa
Not all heroes wear capes.
To Hà Nội’s homeless, the volunteers who scour the streets weekly offering a helping hand are all The Avengers rolled into one.
They may not possess super powers, but the dozens of men and women who deliver food, toiletries, medicine and clothing to those less fortunate are the real heroes.
The group was started by a Brit, Christopher Axe, who’s no stranger to this sort of work.
A writer by profession, Christopher has been helping the homeless for many years. His projects began in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, where he lived for six months before moving to Việt Nam.
There he would cook, collect and deliver much needed meals to those in need.
He may be more than 8,000 kilometres away, but his actions remain the same.
"There are a lot of people in Hà Nội in a desperate situation," explained the 28-year-old from Stockport in the North West of England.
"There are women with young children, old people who are too old to work, some people injured and some that are just down on their luck.
"It doesn’t take much time and it doesn’t take much money to make a big difference in their lives.
"I have 40 boxes of food which I bring every week and it cost me VNĐ100,000 (US $4.4) to make all of that. It’s absolutely nothing."
Nothing to Christopher maybe, but to those he’s helping, it means the world.
His group has expanded thanks to Facebook interaction, and each week up to 30 volunteers join his mission.
"Most of the people we are helping know who we are now and they are very grateful to see us," he added. "They are always very, very thankful.
"We try not to approach in huge mobs and break up into groups of two or three. The people we are helping are always very grateful for the food, very grateful for us to just talk to them, and very grateful for everything."
One of those grateful is 56-year-old Nguyễn Thị Hồng Anh.
Struggling for cash, she welcomes the weekly visits.
"I just got some rice, bread, a carton of milk, a banana and a sausage," said Hồng Anh.
"I get this stuff from them every week. I’ve got diabetes and am receiving treatment at the Đống Đa Hospital.
"I want to thank them all for having this charitable activity to help disadvantaged people like me."
Another welcome recipient is Lê Hải. The 83-year-old from Hưng Yên Province has been sleeping on the streets for several months.
"I see these people every Thursday night. This is a nice crowd with a lot of people coming from different countries. This is such a nice gesture from them. I’d like to thank them very much. I wish them good health so they can continue doing this."
Volunteers gather at Hà Nội Railway Station before setting off to find homeless people.
A volunteer gives boxes of food to those in need.
Although many of the volunteers are from overseas, it is not exclusively expat. Many of the helpers are from much closer to home.
Law student Trần Lý Thạch Thảo, 21, has been helping on the streets for more than a year, but has been volunteering with other projects at university for four years.
She said: "My mom always says to me that if you have food on your plate and a roof above your head, you are lucky enough and so you should spread that luckiness to others.
"So I’ve always tried to find ways to help others as much as I can."
Christopher knows that a plate of food, clean clothes and the odd bar of soap won’t solve Hà Nội’s homeless problems.
"This is not solving any problems, but it might just make a difference for one person for one night and it might make their life a little bit easier.
"It also might bring some cohesion to the community, between people who don’t even realise there are homeless people out in Hà Nội.
"It is a drop in the ocean but it can have a ripple effect and make waves. If you were in a car accident and broke your leg, going to the hospital isn’t going to end car accidents, but does that mean you shouldn’t treat the patients?"
And that’s exactly what Christopher and the volunteers are doing. Treating people who need care.
If you would like to help out with volunteering or donations, join the Facebook group Help Hanoi’s Homeless for more information. — VNS