Local man uses life savings to build bridge in central Vietnam

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Le Tat Dung (right) on the pontoon bridge across Vu Gia River in Quang Nam Province that he built with his labor and life savings. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Le Tat Dung still lives in the same leaky steel-roof house that has been his home for many years. He still watches his old television and relies on his motorbike repair kit to make ends meet.

He had planned to use the VND300 million (US$14,343) he had saved over the course of 20 years of working to build himself a new house, but he decided he would prefer to see children and farmers able to cross a local river without having to depend on boats.

After 70 days of construction in which Dung did most of the work himself, a bridge funded entirely by his savings was opened in late January. It crosses the Vu Gia River in Dai An District, Quang Nam Province of the mountainous central region, which is notorious for rough river waters and numerous deaths due to drowning.

"This bridge was made by Dung himself for us to use," said Ba Hung, a 65-year-old local woman, in a March 3 Tuoi Tre report.

"Before, we had to row boats. Children going to school had to be accompanied by parents, and farmers had to go home early, by 5 p.m., or they would miss the boat.

"Now everything is settled," Hung said.

The pontoon bridge supported by 150 plastic oil barrels is nearly 80 meters long and two meters wide. It is kept in place by pillars made from 250 tons of concrete buried at both ends of the bridge, along with cables the size of an adult's thumb. Iron handrails line the walkway made of wooden planks.

With a maximum load of 750 kilograms, the bridge can support motorbikes and bicycles, which guarantees that crops can be transported during harvest time. Tobacco, corn and peanuts are grown on the other side of the river.

A turbine was installed under the middle of the bridge, which allows it to move to make way for boats when necessary.

Nguyen Thanh Nam, a peanut farmer, said the bridge has been "a big relief."

Nam said the bridge has helped thousands of families bring their crops home faster.

"We no longer have to depend on the boat service. We can go to the fields very early in the morning, and work late on moonlit nights," he said.

The bridge has also been a relief to Dung, although he had to struggle to find a chair to seat his friend who came to visit for the Lunar New Year's festival last month. He had to give the guest a motorbike saddle that a customer had given him to fix.

"My house is unsettled, my wife left long ago," Dung said as a way of excuse for the conditions.

"Now my only property is the bridge and the smiles of people using it," he said.

An experienced welder who used to teach mechanics, Dung, now in his 50s, has been surviving as a motorbike repairman and had planned to build a new house, going so far as to invite a contractor over to have a look.

"But then I keep thinking about the children jostling each other with fear on little boats during the flood season, and I remembered how this man [named] May fell into the river with his cart full of corn. So I had to apologize to the contractor, as I had decided I no longer wanted a house," he said.

Dung started work on the bridge in October of last year, driving his motorbike to Da Nang to buy the materials.

He then drew up a blueprint and submitted it to the provincial government in order to receive a permit.

"I also asked the authorities to let me meet with local people to ask for their permission. They applauded thunderously," Dung said, adding that many local men gave him a hand during the construction.

He also had to borrow money to pay for the cement which connects the bridge to the road. But he was only able to round up VND40 million, which was only enough for one end of the bridge.

"The other side is still a mess, as the truth is I'm completely broke"¦ I might need some more time," Dung said.

Dung shed tears at his bridge's opening ceremony, seeing children jumping with joy and adults as happy as if they were at a festival.

With the bridge, more people from both sides of the river managed to visit each other during the Lunar New Year holiday, and vehicles can now transport people in cases of emergency across the river without having to wait for a boat, the donor said.

Local authorities have considered collecting a toll to pay for the bridge's maintenance, but Dung objected, saying that the local people were too poor. Instead, he is in charge of fixing the bridge when needed.

His friend, who visited Dung for Lunar New Year's after not seeing him for 25 years, said that Dung and his house were old and ragged. 

But Dung said, "No problem.

"Just live on. As long as everyone is happy, it's okay."

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