A new concrete bridge connecting Gia Canh Commune with Phú Lợi Commune in Đồng Nai Province. VNA/VNS Photo Lê Xuân
The roads children are forced to take to school in the poor mountainous district of Ngọc Định in the southern province of Đồng Nai used to be a hazard, particularly during stormy weather.
Ramshackle wooden bridges would become unstable, and were sometimes swept away.
But now all that has changed thanks to local man Nguyễn Ngọc Sơn who has been raising funds to build concrete bridges.
Over the past five years, Sơn, 56, from the province's Gia Canh Commune, has poured all of his enthusiasm and kind-hearted support into finding donors for the construction of seven solid concrete bridges to replace makeshìft and outdated ones across rivers and canals throughout poor areas in the district.
The bridges have not only helped with connectivity in the area, they have provided safer conditions for children to go to school.
Sơn said the idea to replace the degraded bridges came when he witnessed the death of two pupils who were crossing a wooden bridge over a canal in Ngọc Định Commune on a rainy day.
He remembers clearly that tragic day when a group of five children were swept away due to the fast flowing water.
Local residents managed to rescue three of them, but it was too late for the other two.
Định Quán is an underprivileged district where many people lie in poor conditions. In order to cross waterways, they had to use wooden planks to make temporary bridges.
In the rainy season, these temporary bridges proved to be highly risky and dangerous. Accidents occurred often causing injuries and even death.
Trần Thị Yến, a resident of Hamlet 6 in Gia Cảnh Commune, said her family lived right next to one of those bridges and she had witnessed many accidents. She and her family had also rescued many victims who fell into the stream.
She recalled that on numerous occasions she had heard a loud splash that alerted her that someone had fallen in.
People shouted and rushed to the bridge to save them.
Yến revealed her young daughter had also slipped and fallen into the water.
From then on, every day, Yến and her husband had to take turns taking their child across the bridge before going to work.
Yến said the old wooden bridge had been replaced by a concrete one thanks to support from Sơn, who she is extremely grateful to.
Sơn said he had vowed to wipe out the threat and started reaching out to his friends for their help.
“Through some of my contacts, I got in touch with people at a local association called ‘Nhịp Cầu Vui’ (Joyful Bridges) and found common thoughts and voices,” said Sơn.
Sơn organised visits for the association’s members to local areas where bridges needed replacing. Surveys were conducted and residents were spoken to about their feelings, hopes and needs.
“Then solid concrete bridges were built over the rivers and streams to replace the dangerous wooden ones," he said.
Creating trust among local people and donors was very important on his mission.
After the bridges were completed, they were opened with the attendance of local authorities, sponsors and residents, said Sơn.
Lê Thị Thúy, a cashew farmer from Phú Lợi Commune said the new bridge had helped her family’s production.
“Before it was difficult to transport our harvest, I was forced to sell our products to traders for a very low price. Since 2017 when the new bridge was built, cars have been able to reach our farms directly so competition is higher, and like many farmers, we are no longer forced to sell at low prices. Our life has improved, and our children can go to school without worrying about accidents during the rainy season,” said Thúy.
One of these bridges connects Hamlet 4 in Gia Canh Commune with Hamlet 6 in Phú Lợi Commune.
The bridge cost over VNĐ100 million (US$4,300) and was opened in 2017.
To date, Sơn has raised funds to build seven bridges in Gia Canh, Ngọc Định, La Ngà and Thanh Sơn communes at a total cost of VNĐ615 million.
He has also raised VNĐ390 million to provide 650 scholarships for poor students, a regular annual allowance of VNĐ3 million each for 16 students until university entrance and a monthly subsidy of VNĐ300,000 each for 32 elders in the district.
In addition, Sơn has called for support for the construction of a house worth VNĐ45 million for a family in the district.
He said this year, he expects to raise funds for five more bridges in Suối Nho, Phú Tân and Thanh Sơn communes.
Vice Chairman of Gia Canh Commune’s People’s Commitee Đào Ngọc Ánh said local authorities appreciated Sơn’s charity work and would do their best to help him in the future. VNS