Nev Tickner shares bananas for children at SOS Village in Dien Bien Province. PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
An Australian retiree has devoted the last five years to philanthropic projects in Dien Bien, the northwestern province of Vietnam famous for Vietnam's namesake victory over the French, Tuoi Tre reported.
Nev Tickner, 60, traveled to Vietnam in 2009. After visiting Malaysia and Laos, he decided to settle down in Dien Bien.
He rented a small room at the Muong Thanh Hotel -- just a bed, a fridge and a shelf loaded with books about Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap.
A photo of President Ho Chi Minh hangs on the wall next to a certificate from the provincial Red Cross which roughly translates to “Humanitarian Heart of Gold."
“I don’t know why they gave me that certificate or how valuable it is,” he smiles and shakes his head.
Nev read a lot of books about the historical battle of Bien Bien Phu and always wished to visit the site where the battle occurred.
After he arrived in Dien Bien, he didn't know anyone there and was unable to speak Vietnamese.
One day while walking down the street, he got to know Dang Viet Dung, a receptionist at Bien Bien Phu-Hanoi Hotel.
Dung and his friends later told stories about former Vietnamese soldiers and eventually invited him to visit Noong Nhai Village where 444 Vietnamese people were massacred by the French on April 25, 1954.
On that day the French napalmed the village and killed its residents, mostly elderly people, women and children.
Nev felt sorry for the victims and asked Dung what he could do for Dien Bien during his time in Vietnam. Dung told Nev he could visit the SOS village a home to 46 underprivileged children.
From then on, Nev’s days in Dien Bien ceased to be solitary and boring.
In addition to his reading and research, Nev played with the kids of the SOS village, taught them English and bought them gifts. He sometimes organized sports for them.
In the summer, he hired cars to take the kids around town, stopping at swimming pools. He also bought herds of chickens and pigs for the kids to raise.
Every few weeks, Nev's neighbors watched the tall, white-headed foreigner leave his hotel with a huge sack of clothes, books and toys.
He'd hail a xe om (motorbike taxi) and disappear toward some poor, remote village.
Over the past five years, Nev has continued to renew his visas. He said that though he has three children and seven grandchildren back in Australia, he always feels at home in Dien Bien.
When his pension could no longer foot the bill for his charity work, Nev decided to go into business. He's sold everything from wine to dried meat to boost his income. Wherever he goes, whomever he meets, Nev talks about the children in the SOS villages and the poor parts of Dien Bien. He usually shares photos of the kids on his Facebook page so that he friends can see them and send them gifts.
Gradually, Nev became close to a Vietnamese war veteran named Binh who hails from the northern province of Thai Binh.
The old veteran has lost his whole family, except for an 18-year-old niece named Trang who suffers from Down's Syndrome.
Binh and Trang used to live in a hut near the Muong Thanh Market in Dien Bien. Two months ago, Nev bought a pair of plane tickets for Binh and his niece to get back to Thai Binh.
The pair soon returned to Dien Bien as their poor relatives in Thai Binh could not help them. Nev then bought a cart for Binh to sell roasted pork to make ends meet.