|Medicine man: At the entrance of Phan Dinh Phung Street's 96 alley, Do Van Ut checks an outdoors cabinet containing free medicine for people in need. — VNS Photo Van Dat
by Van Dat
Fifty-three-year-old Do Van Ut says he'll remember the face of the young man until he dies.
"My tears fell when I saw him crying and laughing at the same time. He was crying because he had lost his wife, and he was laughing because he finally could do something for her," Ut recalls.
The man and his wife, he says, had moved from An Giang Province in the Mekong Delta to HCM City to find work. One day, while both of them were crossing the street, his wife was hit by a car. She was rushed to Hospital 175, where she died.
Desperate, the husband, who had no money to pay the hospital fees, asked for help from patients and their relatives.
They told the man about Ut, whose generosity and care for the poor had become well-known through reports in the media.
After getting the phone call, Ut was able to raise VND140 million (US$2,000) for the man and also offered him a free coffin.
He was only one of many poor people Ut has helped over the years.
A motorbike repairman who works on the pavement near Alley 96 on Phan Dinh Phung Street, Ut also donates coffins to the poor.
His most recent act of kindness was for a family in Hoc Mon District's Xuan Thoi Son Commune.
"A woman came to me needing a coffin. Her 55-year-old brother was about to die. I've helped three to four families in the last several months. I don't need to verify their poverty status because no one would want to use a donated coffin for their loved one," he says.
UD9t knows several people he can call for help when someone is in need.
One woman, who rides an old motorbike, is always ready to help.
"She refuses to leave her address and even her name. She gave me her phone number and asked me to call her any time I needed a sponsor. Looking at her motorbike and her clothing, I don't think she's wealthy," Ut says.
And just last month, the owner of the coffin shop agreed to give him three coffins for people in need.
Ut says he began working with the owner in 2001 when he was looking for a coffin for a poor family.
A friend told him about the coffin-shop owner, who was involved in charity as well.
Normally, a coffin, funeral service and transport fee cost about VND110 million (US$470).
"For wealthy people, this amount of money is nothing. But for the poor, it is a big issue. Those who cannot afford it call patrons for help. Several people are ready to help," Ut says.
The 'fairy alley'
Because of its reputation for altruism, the area near UD9t's motorbike repair shop is often called the "fairy alley" by local residents. Before 1975, a drugstore named Tien (fairy) was located there.
UD9t says that several traffic accidents occur near the spot every day. In the past, he would look for iodine and medicine for first aid purposes, but it often took too long.
"Sometimes, by the time I arrived at drug stores, they were closed," he says.
So in 2012, he put up a medicine box on the wall where people in need can get free drugs when they are sick.
Some of the medicine is donated by local residents, and others from people overseas.
"After newspapers wrote about me, the number of people sending medicine increased," he says. Most of the donors are anonymous.
UD9t also provides free drinking water at his repair shop.
"Water and ice are not expensive. After pumping a motorbike air tube, I buy some ice and water for VND12,000 and put it in a stainless steel tank that I have placed on an electrical pole. With a little bit of labour, I can help others," Ut says.
He has also erected a sign that says "Services are free for the poor and disabled".
"Sometimes, I offered free air tubes for disabled customers," he says.
UD9t's kind-heartedness has inspired many people who live in the alley.
Once a week, he and a group of other residents offer free vegetarian meals to the poor, and motorbike taxi drivers also give them free rides.
Despite their generosity, UD9t and his neighbours, who eke out a living every day, have little money themselves.
With his job, he earns between VND1100,000 and 200,000 ($4.80-10.60) a day, while his wife works as a domestic helper for other families.
When asked why he wants to help others, UD9t says that even if he were very ill or dying, money would not make that much difference.
He says that after his parents died, he sold his house to have money to do business.
But the business did poorly and he lost everything.
He and his wife and son then moved to a nine square-metre room, where they still reside. — VNS