British man brings warmth to the homeless
Every Thursday night at 10pm, at the main train station, Ga Hanoi (120 Le Duan), people often see a group of around 20 people busily distributing food, medicine, clothes, and other items to homeless people. Then they move on to two other locations nearby where people who are disadvantaged know to go for some much-needed help.
These volunteers are from different countries, but share the same generosity and passion for charity. They are members of Help Hanoi's Homeless, founded by Christopher Axe, a 28 year - old man from Manchester, England.
Christopher Axe (left) and a teammate prepare food to bring to the homeless. Photo: Mi Nguyen / Hot Table.
Four years ago, before founding Help Hanoi’s Homeless, Christopher had experienced the feeling of being homeless. Christopher said: “Homelessness is often linked to the consequences of falling out of debt, alcohol, addiction, gambling etc. But in fact, there are many other reasons leading to that, for example, you or your family members fall sick, an unfortunate accident, a fire, etc. Those unexpected events can make you homeless in one second.”
The experience of being homeless came to Chris in 2014. After graduating from university in his home country, the young man traveled to New Zealand on a holiday working visa, feeling excited about the new journey of working and living abroad.
However, on the contrary of his dream, life on the new land was very difficult. At the beginning, he found a temporary job to earn for a living. These happy days didn’t last long though. A few months later, his holiday working visa expired and he lost the job. When personal saving had been run out, Chris could no longer afford to pay for rental expense and other necessities. As a result, he became homeless. "Homelessness is a scary feeling. You are often in the cold, filth, and in horrible condition of being scorned, shunned".
The turning point of Chris’s homeless life came in an unexpected incidence. One day, while sitting on the pavement of a street, he saw a young man being beaten by a gang of people. Chris rushed there in an attempt to stop the violence, and got a severe head injury. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he met his saviors, who are family members of the young guy whom he had tried to save. They were the one who didn’t mind taking the homeless stranger home after he was discharged from the hospital.
"They cleaned my wound, gave me food, arranged a decent sleeping place, they did not stereotype my homelessness reason like alcoholic, gambling or anything... They are my precious saviors and whom I am very grateful for." He recalled.
Assisting homeless foreigners
Fortunately walking through the darkest time thanks to the kindness of unknown people, Chris realized the importance of community’s support for the homeless and started to incubate an idea of a project to help the homeless. Leaving New Zealand, Chris travelled to Prague, Czech Republic, where he found a job to earn for his own living and help those who were in difficult situation.
With the help of friends who shared the same interest in charity, “Help Prague's Homeless” was established.
Along with other group members, Chris distributed blankets, warm clothes, food to many homeless people during cold winter. Since he left Czech for Vietnam, “Help Prague's Homeless” have been well maintained and thrived with hundreds of active members.
Chris helps a homeless guy on Hanoi street. Photo: Vnexpress
The way of “Help Hanoi's Homeless” work is quite similar to Help ++ Prague. Every day, after finishing his teaching work in an English center on Ngo Quyen street, Chris spent most of his time on coordinating the group activities.
Every Thursday evening, he and associates, who are about 20 in number and are both foreigners and Vietnamese, get together in a corner of Hanoi railway station on Le Duan Street. In their saddlebags, they keep hot cooked rice and necessary items like clothing, shoes, toothbrushes, soaps, toilet paper etc. These are the "gifts" for the miserable lives who spend their days in dark corner of the station.
On average, Chris's Help Hanoi Homeless trips stops at three most-populated homeless places, like Hanoi Railway Station, Long Bien Bridge, Thien Quang Lake. His group gives away around 100 gift sets a day. Specially, to ensure hygiene, every meal is carefully prepared by Chris and his friends, using freshly bought ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables, etc).
In order to mobilize more sponsorship for Help Hanoi’s Homeless, Chris has partnered with many other organizations. Together they have provided a network of "relief boxes" containing dried food (instant noodles, sausages, etc) in some street corners. Similar to how it was done in Prague, Help Hanoi's Homeless also built a map showing about 35 locations in Hanoi, which are home to many homeless people, so donors could easily find it and help them.
In the future, Help Hanoi's Homeless hopes to be able to help the homeless to escape poverty in a more sustainable way. For instance, in addition to being provided with food and necessities, the homeless will be equipped with relevant knowledge, skills and English language. “It starts with a few hot meals, then education and employment initiatives begin to form, and soon enough, big changes begin to take shape. We have to start at the bottom, on the front lines, on the streets,” says Chris.
To improve the effectiveness of activities, Help Hanoi's Homeless has partnered with many NGOs, volunteer organizations including: Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam, Blue Dragon, (ẤM) Warmth, etc.
Activities of Help Hanoi's Homeless are updated in its Facebook group : https://www.facebook.com/groups/HELPHANOISHOMELESS/
( Translated by Hue Minh )