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​Vietnamese man provides free funerals to destitute for decade

Monday, August 27, 2018, 16:13 GMT+7
​Vietnamese man provides free funerals to destitute for decade
Ngo Thanh Liem reads a notebook succinctly recording the lives of deceased poor people he helped, in Kien Giang Province, Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

A middle-aged Vietnamese man has spent around ten years offering decent gratis funeral services to the poor as an act of kindness shown to a humans' final ineluctable journey.

Amiability is possibly an unforgettable impression one may receive from the first meeting with Ngo Thanh Liem, a resident in Kien Giang, a large province that overlooks the sea to the southwest of Vietnam.

Liem said he followed in his family’s footsteps working as a tailor for several dozen years before deciding to give up the job in 2008, at 57, when his hand began shivering uncontrollably and his eyesight was faltering.

He turned to charity work and public-spirited efforts instead.

Liem said the greatest tragedy of a human is dying without anyone giving them a proper funeral.

He had seen a number of deceased destitute people who were placed in a coffin carelessly made of low-quality woods before being cremated.

He has solicited financial support from individuals, community-founded associations and local charity organizations for a decade, providing about 20 free funeral observances to poor dead people every year.

The costs he covers involve buying flowers and incense sticks as offerings, and renting chairs and tables for attendees at a funeral and a prefabricated frame in which the social function takes place.

He gives the remaining money from the ceremony as a donation to Buddhist pagodas where he asks to perform a cremation and keep the ashes.

All short stories of the poor deceased people Liem has helped are found in an A4-paper-size notebook that he calls a ‘life record.’

“I wrote down their plights in detail so that I can remember how they lived, where they lived and how they died. Their offspring and relatives can have some knowledge of them when receiving their urns,” Liem said.

A general sentence of the death of the needy in the record reads: “The poor mentioned here were usually homeless. The place they stayed while making a hard living was also the place where they drew their last breath.”

For example, a 63-year-old woman who took passengers across a river in her canoe died right in her boat; and a lonely woman whose children were forced by poverty to work far away had her funeral held near a spot along a riverbank where she used to live all her life.

Some accounts may generate an additional sense of fear in some readers.

A 66-year-old down-and-out who sold lottery tickets as a livelihood died during a night sleep under a bridge where he lived, and her body was covered with ants at the time of the discovery.

Liem developed a strong sympathy for the poor.

“I’m willing to help the needy, however far away they are. No one deserves to depart this life in isolation and loneliness.” Liem said.

“I help them out of the love of one human being for another.”

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Thai Xuan / Tuoi Tre News

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