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Canadian ‘first-aid’ man helps the have-nots around Ho Chi Minh City

Sunday, March 15, 2020, 14:45 GMT+7
Canadian ‘first-aid’ man helps the have-nots around Ho Chi Minh City
Ben Mawdsley is a 31-year-old Canadian who has chosen Ho Chi Minh City to be his permanent home. He travels the Vietnamese city each day with a first-aid kit, ready to help people in need. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre

Ben Mawdsley, a 31-year-old from Toronto, Canada first fell in love with Vietnam after taking a six-week training course in Ho Chi Minh City. Since permanently settling in the country, he has run a charity club, offered free English classes, and provided first-aid kits and training to the city’s underprivileged.

“It was my destiny,” Mawdsley explained when asked why he chose to made the decision in 2016 to make Vietnam his home.

Mawdsley’s original plan was to take a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course in Ho Chi Minh City and then move on to teach English in Japan, but that plan took a drastic turn when he fell so in love with the city he chose to make it his permanent residence.

'First-aid foreigner'

Though his original plan was simply to teach English, Mawdsley has spent a good chunk of the last four years teaching first-aid to students all across Ho Chi Minh City.

Carrying around a first-aid kit is not exactly a common habit in most countries, but for many Canadians like Mawdsley, being ready for an emergency is a necessity while living amongst the islands, rivers, lakes, and forests that clutter Canada.

The vast remoteness that defines much of the North American country makes it a challenge for emergency vehicles to get where they need to be, thus the Canadian government heavily emphasizes preparedness.     

For Mawdsley, preparedness means carrying a small bag of first-aid essentials – cotton balls, bandages, gauze, pain-killers, antipyretics, needles, rubble gloves, alcohol, CPR equipment – that he can whip out if he happens upon an emergency situation.

To learn how to use these tools, Mawdsley took a First Aid & CPR certificate course with the Canadian Red Cross. 

Now, after trading in the tundra of rural Canada for the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City, Mawdsley still considers his trusty first-aid kit an absolutely essential item, particularly to help tend to any road accident victims he comes across. 

And he has come across quite a few, each time rushing to hop off his own bike to take care of those in need.

“It’s ethics. I can’t do otherwise,” Mawdsley explained, adding that his sense of responsibility to help in emergency situations is derived from another he took during his first-aid course.

In just his first six months in Ho Chi Minh City, Mawdsley claims he had to pull out his first-aid kit on nearly 50 separate occasions. 

According to Mawdsley, his first first-aid situation in Vietnam is by far the most memorable.

After leaving a friend’s birthday party one evening, he came across a traffic accident at the intersection of Dien Bien Phu and Pasteur Streets in District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. 

An automobile had collided with a motorbike carrying two women, one American and one Vietnamese.

The accident had left the American woman with a broken leg while the Vietnamese woman sustained a broken arm and appeared unconscious. 

Though a crowd had gathered, no one seemed to be helping. Mawdsley sprang into action and was able to get the Vietnamese woman breathing again. 

She made a full recovery three months later at Cho Ray Hospital in District 5. 

She and Mawdsley have remained close friends ever since.

Ben Mawdsley discusses the contents of his first-aid kit with a Tuoi Tre journalist. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre

Ben Mawdsley discusses the contents of his first-aid kit with a Tuoi Tre journalist. Photo: Thanh Yen / Tuoi Tre


Mawdsley has made it his mission to ensure those around him are taken care of. 

Not being one for leading an extravagant life, he tends to stay away from luxurious places and live a low-key lifestyle.

When he first started teaching in Vietnam, he worked for an expensive English center but eventually decided to leave because he felt tuition was too high for children from low-income households.

Later, he and some friends founded Audium, a charity group that supports physically and mentally disabled youth in Ho Chi Minh City and its suburban district of Can Gio, with school supplies and household goods. 

The group also offers free weekly English classes for those who cannot afford the tuition at local language centers as well as monthly first-aid training days and free first-aid kits.

To cover his own living expenses, Mawdsley runs his own private business and works as a private one-on-one English tutor.

In his free time, he samples Vietnam’s array of street foods, enjoys beers by the roadside, or strolls through Ho Chi Minh City’s alleyways.

He currently lives in a small 'hem' – the Vietnamese word for alley – in a small apartment which proudly displays a Canadian and Vietnamese flag alongside each other.

His most treasured memory, he says, is watching one of his students use his first-aid bag to help a person in need in the middle of the street.

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