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The gentle warrior against litter

HOI AN (ANN/THE VIETNAM NEWS) – For nearly eight years, the sight of an elderly man pushing a handmade cart to clean up litter around Hoi An’s Cua Dại beach has become a familiar and cherished sight for locals and visitors alike.

Without seeking recognition or reward, he quietly dedicates himself to beautifying this historic town.

Affectionately known as “The Trash Collecting Old Man,” Nguyen Thuong, 68, resides in Hoi An’s Cua Dại Ward.

Every day, he navigates the streets and beaches with his cart, meticulously gathering even the smallest scraps of rubbish.

His routine involves stopping every few metres, traversing roads and pathways, ensuring every area is left immaculate.

Reflecting on his journey into litter collection, Thuong shared that his path changed about nine years ago after experiencing a stroke while working as a chef at a local hotel in Hoi An City.

PHOTO: ANN/THE VIETNAM NEWS

When he regained consciousness, his hearing was gone and his limbs were paralysed. He spent nearly half a year in the hospital, but his condition did not improve, so his family brought him home for care.

“At that time, everyone thought I wouldn’t walk again, but I tried to exercise to improve my health,” Thuong told baotainguyenmoitruong.vn.

“At first, I kept falling, but with more walking, my health improved and the illness started to recede.”

Once he could walk again, Thuong pondered how to repay his second gift of life. During his exercise walks, seeing nylon bags and masks discarded along the roads sparked the idea of combining exercise with picking up trash to protect the environment.

When he first started, some people found it strange to see him wandering around picking up trash. Some even got angry when he reminded them about littering, calling him “crazy” and idle, wasting his old age on “silly” things.

His family also tried to stop him, but he was determined.

After much persuasion, his family understood and let him continue his meaningful work. The prejudices and mockery from others gradually faded.

For nearly eight years now, except when he is ill, whether it is sunny or raining, the old man roams all the streets and alleys picking up rubbish, wherever it is, he is there.

Sometimes, he even helps elderly residents and schools clean and tidy their places without accepting any payment.

PHOTO: ANN/THE VIETNAM NEWS

With money saved from collecting recyclable bottles, Thuong has invested in two vehicles: a pushcart and a bicycle.

These two vehicles have become his companions on his unpaid mission to keep the ancient town clean.

“On good days, I use the pushcart, and on tiring days, I ride the bicycle. Only when the weather changes, and I feel unwell, fearing a stroke relapse, do I stay home,” he said.

“If I don’t pick up trash for a day, I feel restless and uneasy. Carrying the communal burden makes me happy,” Thuong says with a gentle smile.

On his cart, Thuong has pasted many messages he wishes to convey: ‘For the future of our children, let’s keep the environment clean and green’, ‘Small actions, great meaning’, ‘Protect the environment, do not use plastic bags, do not litter’.

He hopes the messages will encourage everyone to join in protecting the environment.

Environmental role model

Now, the image of a thin but kind-faced man picking up litter to beautify the ancient town has become familiar.

The residents’ thoughts and views on Thuong have changed and they understand and appreciate him more.

Nowadays, most residents along the streets where Thuong’s trash cart passes have become more environmentally conscious, properly disposing of trash and keeping the streets cleaner.

A group of students from Da Nang University, inspired by his actions, voluntarily join him in picking up trash.

Every weekend, this group travels from Da Nang City to Hoi An City to accompany him in cleaning alleys and beaches.

Despite the lingering effects of the stroke, leaving him deaf in one ear and needing a hearing aid for the other, Thuong remains undeterred.

Each month, his family spends over VND1 million (USD40) on his medications. However, he consistently refuses support from the local People’s Committee for his efforts.

For him, this is a meaningful task he has pledged to himself to carry out for life, without seeking support from anyone.

When society needs it, he is always willing to give without expecting any return.

“I’m old and staying idle at home is boring. Seeing the streets and beaches full of dirt and rubbish, I just clean up,” he said.

“Seeing clean streets makes me happy, without expecting compensation or praise. As long as I can, I will continue to contribute, so Hoi An becomes more beautiful and everyone enjoys fresh air. I will continue this unpaid work until I can no longer walk or pick up litter.”

Nguyen The Hung, vice chairman of Hoi An city People’s Committee, called him a hero of the ancient town. “Thuong’s actions are a worthy example for everyone to follow,” Hung said.

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