Viet Nam News
by Tâm Bình – Thu Hương
Võ Thị Thiền from Phong Mỹ Commune in the southern province of Đồng Tháp is always seen busy raising her ducks to save every penny - for charity.
Thiên is not well-off, but she is rich in her generosity. Since 2000, she has supported and built about 30 new houses for poor residents of the commune and the vicinity.
Though it is not hard to find Thiền’s house, which is located in the middle of nowhere by following the pathway along the canal, it is not easy to find her at home.
“She is absent from home all the time. If she is not busy fixing some houses, she can be found leading her ducks to the nearby fields,” says Nguyễn Văn Phương, the village chief.
Thiền had just returned home after helping her neighbour Ba Tâm to fix his house on the day that we arrived. She warmly welcomed us into her house and invited us to drink sweet-smelling lotus tea with which Tư Lớn, for whom Thiền has just built a new house, presented her a few days ago.
“Though I’m old, I’m still healthy enough to work. Money can be spent, but only neighbours’ affection remains, so I support people with more difficult lives, also to set examples for my descendants,” Thiền said.
She is modest about her contributions, calling them minor deeds dictated by her heart and not by a desire for fame. She might play down her good deeds, but seems to remember clearly how disadvantaged are the recipients of her generosity, like widower Hồng without children, 80-year-old Tư Lớn living alone, Được Em’s poor family with many children, etc.
“There are still many poor people, what a pity that I could not help them all,” Thiền said.
She does not seek donations and uses the money she earns. She not only raises ducks, but also plants rice on a three-hectare field and sandalwood trees on her land to have wood to build houses for the poor. The ducks and rice bring her a stable income, a considerable amount of which has been used for local charitable activities.
According to village chief each year. She has also supported many families with money or building materials to fix their dilapidated houses.
“In addition, as soon as she hears about a muddy road causing difficulties for children going to school or adults going to work, no matter how far away it is, she will immediately buy material to pave the road,” he added.
Thiền said her charitable work is a way for her to repay that with which life has endowed her family, especially when they were mired in poverty.
“In 1978, after overcoming the war and a historical flood, all the villagers lived in hunger. My family had no rice but to use sorghhum to cook porridge,” recalled Thiền.
“Then we ran out of sorghhum and had to boil green bananas to alleviate our hunger. My father had to struggle very hard to feed his many children. One day, when we got so hungry, he took a risk and stole a rice basket from Tư’s family in the nearby hamlet.
“Unfortunately, he got caught by Tư. He was thinking that he would be put into jail but then, unexpectedly, Tư lifted the rice basket to his shoulders and gently asked him to take it home,” she said.
Never forgetting Tư’s kindness, which helped his and others families to emerge from poverty, he started to help poor households in the village.
After he passed away in 2000, Thiền took up her father’s dedication to charity.
“I used to feel very worried, because I did not know how to help the poor while my family was not well-off and my children were still young. One day, I took the risk of buying 200 ducks, while praying for my father’s help in raising them and earning money to help the poor,” she said. “I felt as if my father had supported me because the ducks grew very quickly.”
She used the first money earned from selling ducks to buy land and set up a house for Sáu Việt’s family, her neighbours. They had no children and had to live in a hut on a villager’s land.
After the initial success, Thiền realised that the ducks could offer a stable income for charity, and started to raise more. In all, she has raised more than 6,000.
“For so many years, I’ve been pretty lucky at raising ducks. Few have died even when epidemics broke out, but the price they could fetch was my biggest worry,” Thiền said.
“At times, the ducks were sold at a very low price. I prepared all the wood but still lacked money, so had to delay building houses for the poor until I saved up enough.”
In the past 16 years, despite many ups and downs and a difficult life, she has not been discouraged, carrying on with her charity and fulfilling her role as a wife and mother. Not only is she an active member of the local association for the elderly, she has also educated her children to be beneficial to society.
Recently, Thiền was presented with a certificate of merit by the Đồng Tháp provincial authority in recognition of her significant contribution to local charity.
“Located in a remote area, Phong Mỹ Commune is home to many poor households, many of which have stable and better lives thanks to Thiền’s help. She has set a good example that needs to be praised and followed,” said chief Phương. VNS