Vietnam’s 'Love Bus' follows neither a specific route nor a schedule. Instead, the charity vehicle makes its way to localities across the nation to aid those living in poverty and substandard conditions.
‘Xe Bus Yeu Thuong’ (Love Bus) was founded by Nguyen Huu Binh, a lecturer at Van Lang University in Ho Chi Minh City in 2011 and has spent nearly a decade helping the country’s needy, particularly those living in remote and highland regions.
According to Binh, the inspiration for Xe Bus Yeu Thuong came from a story he read as a child which told of poor children in a rural northern Vietnamese locality who spent their days watching trains pass by.
“Seeing children in remote and highland regions lack so many necessities made me want to do something that would bring them some happiness,” Binh told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
“It’s enough [for me] that [the love bus] lets kids have a day of relaxing fun and helps them believe in amazing miracles.”
Together with two of his students from Van Lang University, Binh held the first Xe Bus Yeu Thuong road trip from Ho Chi Minh City to the Central Highlands provinces of Lam Dong and Dak Lak and the south-central provinces of Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, and Binh Thuan in August 2011.
Since that first trip, Xe Bus Yeu Thuong has attracted 200 participants and organized 100 tours through 63 provinces and cities across Vietnam to donate nearly 100,000 gifts to underprivileged children.
“We give presents and also teach kids good manners by serving as role models and ensuring they say ‘Thank you’ when they receive things,” Binh explained.
A place with four no’s
Most recently, Xe Bus Yeu Thuong made its way to Sung Hoa, a secluded village in Ngam La Commune, Yen Minh District, located in the northern province of Ha Giang.
“Do you dare to go with us to the most remote place - where there is no electricity, no clean water, no telephone network, and no Wi-Fi - in Ha Giang Province?” Xe Bus Yeu Thuong wrote in a recruitment post for the trip posted to its Facebook Page.
|Underprivileged children and a resident receive gifts from Xe Bus Yeu Thuong in this file photo.|
Sung Hoa is so remote that even Ha Giang locals have rarely visited the village, primarily because the roads are unfit for motorbikes.
For Xe Bus Yeu Thuong club members to make it to the village, they had to hike from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm.
“As we went there after a flood had caused landslides and made the road muddy, we had to hike into the village without any idea of how long it would take. We just hiked from hill to hill,” said Pham Thi Kim Luc, a 34-year-old Xe Bus Yeu Thuong participant.
The eight-and-a-half-hour hike inspired the group to begin raising funds for a road into Sung Hoa.
By selling hand-made products such as fish sauce, herbal drinks, and jelly, as well as organizing trips and fundraising activities, the group collected VND80 million (US$3,446), enough for them to build two kilometers of concrete road.
“We haven’t earned enough money [to build the entire road], so we’ll build it section by section,” she said.
Beyond one trip a month
Ha Giang in particular, and the northwest region in general, are among the Xe Bus Yeu Thuong’s most visited destinations.
The club goes to the northwest region about 15 times a year, according to Luc.
On each trip, the club prepares a large meal for local children to expose them to foods they might otherwise never have an opportunity to try.
Aside from trips to remote destinations, Xe Bus Yeu Thuong also offers monthly finacial support to help senior citizens, street children, and visually-impaired people in Ho Chi Minh City afford food and housing.
The club members also cook meals for children suffering from cancer at hospitals in the southern metropolis every Wednesday.
The group prepares food, such as dried fish and candied ginger, as well as specialties sourced from different localities, to sell in order to raise funds for their activities.
Although the members have ups and downs on their travels with Xe Bus Yeu Thuong over the past nine years, their desire to help children in need has never waned.
“Everyone else can choose easy tasks. We’ll take the tough ones,” Luc said.