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HÀ NỘI — They say one man's trash is another man's treasure, and for Trần Quyết Thắng, that old proverb couldn’t be more accurate.
Over the past few years, the 36-year-old has been collecting items people have discarded and breathing new life into them, restoring, cleaning and fixing old desktop computers, laptops and thousands of textbooks to help those less fortunate.
Now he is on a new mission, and he wants bicycles.
“In many rural areas in Việt Nam, like the area where I’m living in, poverty and hunger still exist,” Thắng said.
“Many students do not have bicycles to go to school, and their situations are often difficult: their parents might have passed away, their grandparents are old.”
Thắng had no clue how to repair bicycles before he began the project and needed to learn from scratch.
The idea came to fruition during his many trips with his cycling club in Hương Sơn Commune of central Hà Tĩnh Province.
Trần Quyết Thắng (front) and Phạm Nguyên Soái (back) repair old bikes to give them to children in need. — VNS Photo Thu Vân
While on the road, he saw the large number of children who couldn’t afford their own wheels and instead would walk, often long distances to get to school.
“Many students have to drop out of school because of their difficulties and low self-esteem because they don’t have a bicycle. I’ve always wanted to support and share with those in need, so I did this to help them," he said.
Back in April, he took to social media to ask for old bicycles and in just two months he was sent 60.
He spent the next week visiting local repair shops to brush up on his handyman skills, knowing in this instance, he had to ensure the bicycles not only looked good but would be safe.
“An incorrectly assembled bicycle can be dangerous, so I needed to seek advice from a bicycle shop,” he said.
After starting out with next to zero-knowledge of spokes, gears, pedals and chains, Thắng is now a dab hand at bicycle repairs.
“With quality used bicycles I don’t have to spend too much time, but with some of the old ones, it can take a whole day to fix,” he said.
The process includes fully disassembling the bike, removing the old paint, cleaning, degreasing, paint stripping other components, adding new parts if needed, fixing the chain, brakes and cables.
Stripping the bicycle can take a long time since corrosion can jam certain things, and removing the old paint using an angle grinder can be dangerous.
“I’ve had countless cuts on my hand and legs when doing the repair work,” he laughed.
“But of course I’ve never been discouraged – my difficulties are nothing compared to those of the students in need,” he said.
After his hard work, he has turned many a rusty old bicycle into a bright yellow, and a very cool new set of wheels for lots of children.
His attention to detail is second to none. Each bike has smart black letters, wheels and spokes are nickel-plated and the handlebars and mudguards gleam in the sun.
From trash to treasure, but the real precious sight for Thắng is the look on the kids’ faces when he hands over the bicycles.
“It’s a wonderful feeling that can’t be described by words,” Thắng said.
“When we gave the bikes to the students, they were very happy. We all felt that joy, and found this work to be more meaningful,” he said.
Trần Quyết Thắng (first left) gives a bike to a child in his hometown in Hương Sơn Commune, Hà Tĩnh Province. Photo courtesy of Trần Quyết Thắng
He recalled the story of an eight-year-old boy who came to his house on foot to ask Thắng if he could get a new bicycle.
The little boy heard about Thắng’s work and desperately wanted one of his own.
“His parents died and he and his older brother stayed with their grandparents, who are poor and sick,” said Thắng.
“His brother had to drop out of school already, and the little boy was intending to quit as well.”
Thắng and his friends gave two bicycles to the boys, along with some school supplies with the hope that they would continue their studies.
“I don’t want to be seen as charity and advertise with poor children who don’t have chances in life.
“Instead of just simply handing out free fish, I want to give them the rod so they can go out and fish for themselves, or in this instance, go to school and have better opportunities.”
Spreading the good deeds
Thắng’s good deeds have been an inspiration to many others.
Phạm Nguyên Soái, a young artist in Hà Nội, a friend of Thắng, is following his lead.
“I had this idea two years ago but haven’t had the chance to do it yet. When I saw Thắng’s post on Facebook I’m glad that my idea was finally realised,” Soái said.
Soái is now also receiving old bikes to repair them and give them to children in Hà Nội. Another friend of Thắng's in HCM City is doing the same thing.
“I’m glad that several people have contacted me to either offer help with the repair work, to donate their used bikes, or to set up a similar model in their areas,” Thắng said.
“If every locality can do this, the number of bikes given to children in need would be significant, and that would really do something to change their future,” he said.
If you would like to help, contact him via his Facebook page: facebook.com/erasewhile. —VNS