Nguyen Quan Tan in Ho Chi Minh City, who went from seriously contemplating suicide to rebuilding his life from scratch, has spent the past eight years volunteering to fundraise, give away food, and build charity schools and bridges for needy people.
Tan, residing in Go Vap District, has been doing his best to support the community by providing food, clothes, and hope for the homeless and the hungry throughout the city and in other localities during the time span.
The 31-year-old man has also raised funds to build several new schools, wells, and bridges while handing out scholarships to disadvantaged students to give them a much-needed kick-start in life.
Few know the young man has bounced back from a reclusive, suicidal stint following the dismal failure of his start-up to get where he is today and pay it forward to the community by helping thousands of poor people.
Rising to the challenge
Back in 2013, Tan poured his heart and soul into a bubble tea shop, which he opened shortly after graduating from college, with his own savings and loans from family members.
The young man was driven into a corner mentally when he finally had to close down the shop over repeated losses within the same year.
The devastating blow left him shutting himself away for almost three months and refraining from opening up about his predicament to his own parents out of embarrassment.
The nearly VND20 million (US$866) from selling his motorbike was able to last him for only one month.
Unable to sell the shop while falling behind with the rent, Tan turned to his friends for help, to no avail.
The situation spiraled downward to the point where he seriously contemplated taking his own life.
|Nguyen Quan Tan (C) hands out free food to local people in flood-hit areas in Phuoc Son District, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam.|
He bought some sleeping pills, ready to end it all.
The night before ending his life, he texted a friend in another country to pour out his heart and say his last farewell.
The friend stayed up all night and encouraged him to press on before transferring him $500 the following morning.
The friend’s money and words of encouragement pushed Tan out of the dark time to keep believing in his path.
The following day, he managed to sell his shop for a sum that helped him stay afloat for a few more months before landing a job as a clerk at a local hospital.
Tan said he is deeply grateful to the friend, who helped him realize his life is too precious to be thrown away.
“I paid $500 back to the friend, but they told me to keep it to find something else to focus on or take a trip to recharge my batteries," Tan recalled.
"I’m so grateful,”
The young man remained despondent and withdrawn from most social contact for three months following the incident, until one night when he spotted an elderly woman scavenging for leftovers from a trash can on Ly Thai To Street in District 10.
“I’m still young and healthy, so why keep despairing?” he pondered.
“Why not make the most of the second chance I was given and help those facing the same circumstances,” he explained how he began his charitable deeds eight years ago.
A hand that reaches out
Shortly after starting all over, Tan is set on helping people in need and giving positive force to someone out there.
Starting with only VND500,000 ($22) in 2013, he and some roommates began their good deeds by preparing and distributing free sandwiches to the homeless across Ho Chi Minh City.
“After the first two or three drives, I began turning my thoughts to those in remote areas who are struggling to put food on the table,” Tan recounted.
A native of Dong Thap Province in the Mekong Delta, Tan and his like-minded friends held their first charity trip to Dong Nai Province, neighboring Ho Chi Minh City, with only more than VND10 million ($433).
Despite operating without any official name, Tan’s ever-expanding network gradually grew from the initial 10 members, with funds donated by the man himself, other members, and kind sponsors from across the country.
He proudly said the participants in each charity trip can now fill a 45-seater bus.
Tan shared the gratitude he feels to his friend and from those who have received his help has been the fuel that keeps him delivering free food and raising funds to build schools and bridges over the past eight years.
His group’s gifts, mostly food and necessities, reach more than 1,000 disadvantaged people each year.
Tan revealed he typically organizes charity trips three times a year, in January, May, and September.
Over the last eight years, his footprints have been left in nearly 25 provinces and cities.
Tan added his group traveled to Ben Tre Province, also located in the Mekong Delta, in April, and has plans to visit the south-central province of Ninh Thuan and Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands later this year.
Helping others is a way of life, the man said.
Nguyen Quan Tan (fourth left) and other volunteers are seen at the opening of a bridge to traffic in Ca Mau Province, Vietnam in this supplied photo.
“On public holidays or days off, I choose to visit the needy in far-flung areas instead of indulging in luxury at high-end spots,” he said.
Tan noted though the localities his group focuses on are mostly located in the proximity of Ho Chi Minh City, they reach out to flood and typhoon victims in northern and central provinces as well.
Their charitable work does not stop at gifts though. They have built wells, schools, and bridges for villages in mountainous areas that lack connections to the outside world.
Tan revealed he comes back full of positive vibes from each charity trip.
“Giving others is giving myself," he noted.
"Whenever I’m down, I take a look at the photos capturing the people I’ve helped.
“It’s not always easy but I want to step up."
Tan shared he would not have been able to help so many people on his own and he is thankful for the contributions from his network of volunteers, who he considers an asset, and for the donations given to his cause by many other benefactors.
There is, however, one thing that Tan is always concerned about.
“We aren’t capable of providing the poor with the fishing rod, or jobs yet," the man said.
"We just resign ourselves to filling their stomach, which means gifting them the fish, for now.”
Tam has just walked away from the position as head of a human resources department at a café chain to launch another start-up with some partners in producing T-shirts, uniforms, and safety gear.
“I want to donate part of my profits in case we fail to raise funds for the charity trips,” he explained.
Around two weeks ago, Tan traveled to Nam Po District in the northern province of Dien Bien to build a school in an alpine area.
He also provides books, stationery, and uniforms for two ninth-graders from now until they finish high school.
His dedication has earned him trust and respect from fellow members.
“I consider Tan my next of kin," said Truong Thu Hoang, a five-year member of Tan's group.
"We all love him as he’s really good at organizing the trips and always places others before himself.
“He’s very transparent about how he uses the funds for charity work."