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Amazing characters in Vietnam compelled to help when people are most in need

Nothing could be more gruesome than pulling the badly decomposed bodies of a mother, around 30, and her two- year-old daughter out of the Saigon River.

But that is exactly the type of thing that a couple in their fifties who live on a boat in the river near Binh Loi Bridge in Ho Chi Minh City do regularly.

On Thursday, they found the mother and daughter tied together floating in the river.

Police couldn't identify the pair who were buried by local authorities after post-mortem examinations.

Fifty-year-old Nguyen Van Chuc and his wife used to fish in their boat on the Saigon River for a living, but stopped when pollution killed all the fish. Fortunately, they were hired by local authorities a few years ago to maintain the navigational buoys on the waterway near Binh Loi Bridge.

During Chuc's time as caretaker, he has saved many people who have fallen or jumped from the bridges and performed the awful task of fishing out dead bodies from the dirty water. Chuc does it all voluntarily.

He said he had never been more saddened than when he found the mother and daughter dead in the water.

Chuc said suicides were more common on Binh Loi Bridge than the nearby Binh Trieu and Saigon bridges.

"Some people who tried to commit suicide blamed me for saving them," he said. "But it's my fate to save people. I couldn't live a peaceful life if I just watched them die without doing anything."

He said he couldn't remember how many people he had saved.

"They were committing suicide for different reasons - lovelorn, unable to pay debts, losing money in gambling, or old people abandoned by their children."

Chuc recently saved a student who was showing off to his friends by jumping from the bridge to swim ashore. The boy got a cramp and started to drown.

The student regained consciousness after Chuc resuscitated him. His friends on the bridge had thought he was dead.

A bridge worker, Tran Dinh Duc from Nghe An Province, who Chuc saved after a work-accident fall, even asked him to be his adoptive father. Chuc was very moved. Sadly, another man involved in the accident was swept away by strong currents and drowned.

Raising money for the less fortunate

Another woman who performs selfless work in her community is from the Central Highlands Kon Tum Province.

Small trader Kim Cuong at Kon Tum Market said besides her job, she also collects donations for people in need.

She said she became involved in charity work in 2001 when she encouraged other small traders to donate to disabled children.

Cuong used to be seen around the market carrying Doan Thi Nguyet, a poor local who was paralyzed by a disease, to help her beg for money. She recently bought a wheelchair for Nguyet from the alms they received.

"I used to carry her on my shoulder but I have grown too weak recently," Cuong said.

Last year, she collected donations for a poor man who was badly injured during a traffic accident. The man was saved by surgery paid by the VND4.35 million (US$250) Cuong raised.

Cuong and other small traders raised another VND13 million to help a poor student who suffered a broken leg in an accident. Without surgery, the boy might have lost his leg.

Presently, she is raising money for a local family - the husband is paralyzed and the wife has cancer. Their seventh-grade son might be forced to drop out of school because of poverty.

She also asks for food at the market and weddings to supply charity meals at local hospitals.

The woman's drive to reduce people's pain and suffering has helped many. She and some other small-traders at Kon Tum Market have donated to build four houses for the poor in the province's Kon Tum Town.

"It's my purpose to help others, not to be recognized as a charity worker," she told an official who offered to put a plaque on the houses in her honor.

Sharing rice

Meanwhile, in central Binh Dinh Province, people from a village in Vinh Thanh District have resumed a community practice that began in 1945 of giving rice to the poor.

Vinh Thinh Commune, which is home to Kinh and people of the Ba Na ethnic minorities, has 617 of its 1,600 families living in poverty but none of them go hungry thanks to the "charity rice jar."

Each family voluntarily keeps a jar and adds a handful of rice everyday. They put all the rice into a common bucket every three months to donate to poor families.

"The commune has a total of 275 charity rice jars," local Bui Van Gan of Vinh Thinh Commune said. "Others communes are looking to follow this donation method, including Vinh Hoa and Vinh Thuan communes."

He said many families have escaped poverty thanks to the donations.

"Some locals that used to collect rice from the donation are now able to donate since they got back on their feet," Gan said.

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