Crippled village

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Brick-making plants provide the residents of an impoverished Mekong Delta village with a source of income, but are also the cause of horrible industrial accidents


Ngo Thi Thai Ngan, 12, lost her right arm in an accident at a brick-making plant in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang

Located along the Chac Ca Dao Canal in An Giang Province's Chau Thanh District sits Cut village. The name of this small brick-producing hamlet translates to "crippled."

Nguyen Van Truong, a 54-yearold local, said that, since the village's first accident was recorded 12 years ago, more than 25 people have been maimed while doing the brutal work.

The machines do not discriminate and the victims include young men, women and children.

Truong sadly extends his handless arms and recalls the single careless instant that changed his life forever: 7 a.m. on July 7, 2007.

"[These machines] can crush limbs in an instant," he said. "First you feel a gut-wrenching pain. You might have lost your hand or foot; if things turn out worse, you may have lost a whole arm or leg..."

The village's latest victim is 25- year-old Tran Cong Lanh, who lost his left hand in August, 2009.

Lanh cried when he began to recall his accident.

He will never forget the instant when he decided to spend his lunch break cleaning clay out of a brick-maker. As he worked, the device suddenly swung into operation. Hearing his scream, a worker who had accidentally started the machine turned it off right away.

But, Lanh's hand had been already destroyed.

His family was angry, but they didn't ask the man to pay him compensation because he was also desperately poor.

After the accident, Lanh turned to selling lottery tickets. His wife still works at the brick plant.

Tears run down his face whenever someone asks him about his impaired arm. The spiritual and financial stress brought about by his accident has made Lanh look ten years older than he is, neighbors say.

Children also follow their parents into the dangerous and unpredictable industrial environment.

Ngo Thi Thai Ngan, 12, for example, lost her right arm four years ago while helping her parents at the brick plant.

That same day a machine at a nearby plant destroyed the leg of another local woman, several villagers recalled.

Such tragedies can be found in households throughout the small village. The endings of these stories are almost always the same: people who were struggling to earn a living now have to struggle more to survive in the wake of their accidents. When injuries healed, some return to the plants for work, only to be chased off.

Lanh said he and his family didn't receive any support from the plants owners following his accident.

Truong, meanwhile, said the employees at his former factory work for VND60,000 (US$3.08) a day without contracts. When accidents happen, good employers visit the victims and pay their medical bills.

Bad ones end up leaving the victims in the lurch, blaming the tragedies on mere carelessness.

As a result, many of the victims said they had no choice but to turn to selling lottery tickets.

Some managed to learn a trade, like repairing motorbikes. The luckiest among them managed to purchase artificial limbs. Child victims, like Ngan, are struggling to go to school with the impairment.

Others have simply given up on life.

Tran Van Hoa, 50, for example, lost his legs five years ago. Since then, the man who was once a breadwinner hasn't done anything but sit still. He became rude and hot-tempered. Following bursts of anger, he cries bitterly, according to locals.

Other locals recalled a 26-yearold man named Thai, who came from another province to eke out a living only to lose his left arm to a brick machine. After the accident, he did not dare return home. Instead, he sold lottery tickets to continue supporting his family.

In 2006, he succumbed to his illness and died. Locals believe his illness was caused by the injury's torture and his meager diet.

An Giang Province's People's Committee, recently ordered all brick plants to upgrade their technology by 2020. This has given local people hope for a better future.

At the moment, however, people continue to struggle under the looming threat of crippling mutilation.

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