|Reason to smile: Tran Van Cuong (left), a mental patient whom Nhan (middle) and his wife (right) takes care of.
by Duy Ngoi
Pham Van Nhan ignored the difficulties and the gossip from others each time he would harbour vagrants and underprivileged people at his home and help them reunite with their families.
Nhan and his wife Lam live in Thanh Hai Commune of Thanh Liem District, in the northern province of Ha Nam.
We visited his house along National Highway 1A on a rainy morning to hear his story. Clad in patchy clothing, Nhan was busy repairing a bicycle for a customer.
Nhan was born in 1963. His father died soon after and his mother married another man, so his grandparents raised him. After finishing seventh grade, Nhan volunteered to join the army. In 1981, he came home on leave and married Lam, a poor girl from a nearby village.
In 1982, he was demobilised. Although the young couple worked hard, their lives still remained difficult. Two years later, he and his wife moved to a new home beside Highway 1A to repair bicycles.
Along with this change began his adventures with vagrants and underprivileged people. Over the past 30 years, Nhan has helped countless numbers of mentally disturbed people to reunite with their families.
"One afternoon in 1984, while we were drying straw, we saw a boy, about five years old, walking in the street and crying," he recalled.
Nhan told his wife: "That little boy has lost his way." Without hesitation, he persuaded the boy to go to his home for a bath and a meal. Nhan spent time to take the boy out on the streets and showed him around, in hopes that the child would remember the way home.
For some days, he quit his job and took the boy to nearby regions, but had no results. Feeling no discouragement, he took the boy up to the Khuat Bridge, approximately 10 kilometres from his home.
As they walked down the bridge, Nhan saw an old man sitting beside the road, crying. The boy recognised his grandfather, and both of them felt so happy about reuniting and thanked Nhan.
Finding much meaning in what he did, Nhan felt happy as well. Next morning, he met a woman who "continuously cried then laughed". Guessing that the woman had lost her sanity, he led her to his home and asked his wife to bathe and feed her.
"The woman looked so frail that I had to call a nurse to treat her. Two months later, I managed to contact her family and asked for them to pick her up. The family thanked me and wanted to offer me some money, but I refused," Nhan recalled.
|The hit list: Veteran Pham Van Nhan keeps records about the people with mental problems that he has helped. — VNS Photos Duy Ngoi
From then on, Nhan met more people who appeared to be mentally deranged.
Every time he travelled on the road or heard of news about vagrants, Nhan would bring them to his home, take care of them and help them find their relatives.
So far, he has helped people from Ha Nam, Thanh Hoa, Hai Duong and Nam Dinh, as well as Ninh Binh, Bac Giang, Lang Son and HCM City.
Since Nhan's family is poor, his act of quitting work to pick up and help vagrants and underprivileged people prompted numerous requests for help from others. Someone called him "batty Nhan", but he didn't care.
"For me, the greatest happiness is to help others," he said. "Once, I was poor, suffering and disadvantaged because I lacked my parents' love, but the lives of those who wander are much more difficult than mine."
"I also learned a lot of things that inspire me to do good work. My family is not well-off, but I am willing to help vagrants come back home."
Each rescue case he has handled had unique features. But the most poignant case for Nhan was that of Tran Van Cuong, from the town of Voi in the northern province of Bac Giang, who has lived as a member of his family for more than four years.
Lighting a cigarette for Cuong, Nhan recalled: "It was a hot summer night. My wife and I were asleep when suddenly, we heard the sound of breaking bottles outside. Knowing something bad was happening, I picked up a lamp to light up the highway and saw a man holding a broken bottle, covered in blood, walking and cursing."
Sensing that the man had lost his sanity, Nhan went out and spoke to him using a gentle and soothing voice and soft words of advice, helped him into the house, cleaned and bandaged his wounds and asked his wife to feed him.
"It was late at night, so I arranged a bed for him, then went back to my bed," he said. "But when we woke up the next morning, we did not see the man anywhere. It was raining heavily outside, and I feared something bad had happened to him, so I rushed out to find him. Finally, I found him crouching behind a cluster of banana trees."
They could not find Cuong's family, so Nhan and his wife treated him as a member of their family during the last four years. Every day, Cuong did odd jobs such as sweeping the yard and feeding the chickens and pigeons.
Other people used to laugh at Nhan and call him a "batty" man. But today they have a high respect for him. His reputation for picking up and caring for mentally disturbed people has since spread.
"The most important thing is to spend money to call the 1080 telephone exchange service of other provinces to ask for information about missing people. Thanks to that, I can find the address of their families," noted Nhan.
"Seeing people are happy, I am also excited because I have done a good job," he added.
Lam expressed understanding for the good work of her husband when she said: "I just support him to help them. If we can find their families, the sooner the better. Now, as long as my husband and I still have good health, we will still do this job."
Nhan helps an average of four people a month. In addition, he and his wife give first aid to victims of traffic accidents.
He was recently honoured with a Certificate of Merit from the Ha Nam Province People's Committee chairman for "Achievements in Charitable Activities in 2013".
After more than 30 years of helping people, Nhan experienced much joy when the little boy he helped in the past received him as an adoptive father, and now has his own family, with two children.
"Now I have adopted a number of children from the south and the north," Nhan said with a broad and radiant smile on his face. — VNS