Viet Nam News
LÂM ĐỒNG — The rain was coming down harder and harder, but Gạo kept moving around Bảo Lộc Lake in the central Highlands province of Lâm Đồng, picking up needles left by drug users. She then carefully put the needles into a plastic can before bringing them to a medical waste container at Lâm Đồng Hospital No 2.
Nguyễn Thị Gạo, 54, a teacher from Bảo Lộc City, has been doing this every day for the past three months. She often goes around other spots used by addicts, such as small alleys and parks to collect the needles. Gạo collects needles on the weekend or when she has free time after classes. Each day she picks up between 10-50 needles.
“Needles stuck on trees or grass are often swept away into Bảo Lộc Lake by downpours, making them easier to recognise and pick up. So I often make use of heavy rains to come to the lake to collect the needles,” she told the Quân đội nhân dân (People’s Army) newspaper.
Gạo remembered the day she took her students to Đồng Nai River Park to practise taking photos and suddenly found a lot of needles on the grass.
“It was so horrible. These needles could harm other people if they stepped on them,” she said. “After that day I decided to collect those needles.” She initially focused on the park and then expanded her search to other areas.
“There was a time I went to Bảo Lộc cemetery and saw a group of children playing with needles they took. It was so dangerous,” she said. “Drug addicts can use drugs anywhere and throw the needles away at random.”
Initially, many people thought that Gạo was crazy. “Many people think that I have a mental illness to collect needles like that. Even my daughter thought so,” she said.
However, she didn’t care. “I don’t mind what other people think. I want to do what I think is useful,” Gạo said. Gradually, people have come to understand her mission and even to help her.
She is not afraid of being infected by the needles.
“But I am so sad. The needles reveal the dark side of the city as there are so many drug addicts,” she said.
Apart from collecting needles, Gạo also meets drug addicts and tries to persuade them to give up their habit. Many families have asked Gạo to try to convince their children to go to rehabilitation centres, and she succeeded in some cases. When her persuasion efforts fail, she enlists the help of the local police.
She has also proposed to local authorities that they check the hot spots of drug use and come up with proper solutions to deal with the problem in order to ensure public safety.
"Many drug users, particularly users of amphetamine-type stimulants insult their parents and even commit murder when they lose control," she said.
A man living near Bảo Lộc River said the river was beautiful but was also a gathering place for many drug addicts. “Thanks to Gạo’s work, the number of drug addicts has gradually declined and people have more time and places to walk or exercise along the river,” he said. — VNS