Young shoe repairman offers free service to the poor in Saigon alley

By Bui Thu, Thanh Nien News

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Nguyen Quoc Cuong repairs a pair of flip-flops at his tiny stall in Ho Chi Minh City. Photos: Tran Khang Nguyen Quoc Cuong repairs a pair of flip-flops at his tiny stall in Ho Chi Minh City. Photos: Tran Khang

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Sitting behind a tiny desk in an alley off Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Nguyen Quoc Cuong patiently sews the straps back to an old worn-out pair of flip-flops. 
The 18-year-old is famous in his neighborhood not only because of his cobbling skills, but because he never charges customers from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds. 
In front of his desk hangs a small board that says he will give free fixes to lottery tickets vendors, cyclo drivers and blind people. 
Cuong says there are other small shoe repair shops just like his around the city where poor people can have their old shoes fixed for free. He earns around VND3 million (US$130) per month.
One of his neighbors, after learning that he had quit school, taught him the trade so that he can help himself and others. 
“There are many poor people who can't even afford to have their shoes repaired. We just want to make life a bit easier for them," Cuong says.  
The young man says he quit school three years ago, after repeating sixth grade a couple of times.
“I couldn't study. I asked my mom to let me quit so that we can save money for my younger brother to stay in school,” he said with a smile. 
Cuong opened his tiny stall around six months ago, with the help of his mentor, Tuan. 
Over the past two decades, Tuan has taught shoe repair skills to several young people and helped them set up their own stalls. Besides Cuong's, there are eight other shops around the city. 
At each of those shops, Tuan has written a piece of advice for the students: “To be successful, you have to work. To be respected, you have to be honest.”
 Cuong says he gives free fixes to lottery tickets vendors, cyclo drivers and blind people. 
 The life motto written by Cuong's mentor. It reads: “To be successful, you have to work. To be respected, you have to be honest.”
 Nguyen Quoc Cuong poses with his mentor Tuan.

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