The story of Nguyen Van Ghe and his wife Thai Thi Thao, both in their 70s, began five years ago when a cemetery near where they live in Phu Tho Commune, Tam Nong District, located in the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Thap, was slated to be cleared without any plan for relocation.
Seeing how locals were struggling to find a resting place for their deceased family members, the couple made up their mind to earmark 1,000 square meters of their paddy field for building a new cemetery using their own money.
“There was no real reason behind our decision; we just did it seeing that many were in need [of a cemetery],” Ghe said casually.
When your correspondent visited Ghe and Thao on a rainy afternoon, the couple was still busy with construction materials they had prepared for the expansion of the cemetery.
From the initial cemetery, they have gradually doubled its size to cover an area of 2,000 square meters, accounting for one-tenth of their paddy field area, at their own expense of at least VND300 million (US$13,400).
Over 130 people of all religions rest at the cemetery, each of whose stories Ghe said he had somewhat learned personally, a habit he had taken up subconsciously.
Many of those resting at the couple’s cemetery were either ill-fated or so poor that their family could not afford to find them a place at other cemeteries.
Ghe does not charge any and would often even spend his own money building a proper tomb for the deceased if their family is too hard up.
The man said in helping others he had found peace in his mind, an outlook on life that had kept him happy and healthy despite his age of 78.
Whenever the couple does not work in the fields, they would be taking care of the tombs at the cemetery and offer joss sticks to those who have not been visited by their family members for a long time.
A heart of gold
In 2007, when there were no ambulances in their commune and an emergency patient could be made to wait for hours before they could be transferred to a hospital in the city, Ghe and Thao spent their entire profit from that year’s rice harvest buying a charity ambulance.
Last year, they bought another, more modern ambulance to offer free transport for emergency patients.
Apart from his involvement in such charitable activities, Ghe is often seen on his iconic Honda Cub motorbike going around his neighborhood asking for donations to help the less unfortunate and those suffering financial hardship in the commune.
Ghe is also the forerunner in such activities as repairing local bridges and cooking free meals for the poor at a district-level hospital.
He had lost count of how many charitable activities he had done so far in his life, the man said, noting that he was not too bothered.
“Maybe that’s how I have overcome the physical limitations of my age, and I plan to continue doing so for as long as my health allows me to,” the 78-year-old man said smilingly.