The smile catcher

Thanh Nien News. Original Vietnamese story by Tuoi Tre

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A 69-year-old photographer has volunteered with a community charity project for 10 years

Phan Cu, a volunteer photographer for the community project Football for All in Vietnam, with disadvantaged kids in the central province of Thua Thien - Hue. / PHOTO COURTESY OF TUOI TRE
Whenever the Norwegian-initiated Football for All in Vietnam (FFAV) project holds football activities for children in the central province of Thua Thien – Hue, Phan Cu is there.
He carries with him four different cameras, constantly snapping photos of little ones playing football. He captures the smiles of not only young well-to-do students, but also barefoot kids from poverty-stricken homes in remote rural areas, as well as kids who suffer from cerebral palsy.
After every event, he chooses his best shots and gives each child a free print of his or herself in action on the pitch.
Some events drew over a thousand children and Cu gave out over a thousand photographs, printed at his own expense.
He said he came to watch the project's first events in Thua Thien Hue in 2003 -- which aimed to develop non-competitive football among children -- because he loved kids and wanted to take photos of them.
Later when FFAV’s director came to dine at Cu’s restaurant, Mandarin Café in Hue, the director asked him to work as a photographer for the project, taking photos of children for its archives.
Cu accepted the offer “immediately” because he thought that it would be “wonderful” to do something for children.
Chau Hong Tinh, an officer with the FFAV project, often shows off the group's dozens of albums full of photos taken by Cu: “Thanks to Cu, we are able to keep many of the kids' most beautiful moments.”
Coach Vo Quoc Thinh, who has trained disabled children for ovet 10 years, said that in contrast to the general belief that kids with disability are shy, they smile and act naturally in front of Cu’s camera, because they are “familiar” with it.
“When I saw smiles on the kids’ faces, I knew that I must do something more for them,” Cu said, recounting the feelings he had when he first spent time with the kids as a volunteer photographer.
And so he did.
Last year, he opened a FFAV corner where hundreds of pictures and football T-shirts are displayed together with the project’s logos and posters at Mandarin Café, which has been recommended by many guidebooks for foreign tourists.
He can be seen often at the restaurant explaining the photos in the new corner to his customers. He also displays his photos of Hue there. 
As a result of putting the kids' photos on display, dozens of foreigners have contacted FFAV, offering financial support or volunteering to take part in the project.
Tinh said Cu established the FFAV corner without telling anyone.
“Only when we visited the restaurant later, did we realize that he had devoted a whole room to FFAV. Everybody was moved by his dedication,” Tinh said.
“FFAV is a community project, so I think the more people know about it, the more it will benefit then kids,” Cu said, when asked why he opened the FFAV corner.
“As long as the kids are happy, I’m happy. There’s nothing special about it,” he said.

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