HÀ NỘI — Teacher Ngô Mạnh Cường, 60, was one of the few residents of Ha Noi’s outer district of Ứng Hòa honoured for their virtues and contribution to society in the city last year.
A pedagogy major, after graduation Cường was assigned to teach in Hòa Bình District for two years, then transferred to Sơn Công secondary school in Ứng Hòa District’s Sơn Công Commune, 87km south of Hà Nội.
In his thirty-five years living in the community, Cường has helped many of his poor students continue their education and dozens of disadvantaged neighbours overcome life’s struggles, either with his own money or with support from donors.
Cường started making humanitarian efforts in 2004, when during a class, one of his student asked to go home early to prepare a mourning ceremony for his mother on the first week after her death.
“I couldn’t hold back tears, looking at the sorrowful face of the seventh-grader,” he told Hà Nội mới (New Hà Nội) newspaper. “He had already lost his fisherman father to the sea a few years before moving here.”
Despite his meagre income and the fact that he was also raising three children, Cường used his own money and called for donors to put his student through high school. The student, now a pharmaceutical diploma holder working in Hà Nội, sometimes takes his family to visit his old teacher.
“My students’ success motivates me to keep on doing well,” Cường said.
His passion for social work was probably in his genes, he added. “My family was a well-off landlord with many helpers that we hired, but my mother often gave away money and rice to the poor,” he said.
“My father worked as an inspector at a local labour department and was always eager to handle paperwork to help labourers that lost their jobs.”
Knowing he couldn’t support all his disadvantaged neighbours, Cường took advantage of his connections to invite journalists from newspapers to visit and write about them to call for donors. Sometimes he penned the articles himself.
With this method, he helped raise some VNĐ200 million (US$8,800) for an operation on a twelfth-grader with tumors in his kidney. He also helped build a house for an old couple, who had to to raise their grandchildren in their eighties as their son was mentally-ill and daughter-in-law had passed away.
Last year Cường formed a charity group, consisting of teachers at his school and schools in adjacent areas, aiming to create a stable foundation for disadvantaged students.
Although less than a year old, the group has garnered donations to buy clothes, textbooks and learning tools for eight orphan students, collaborated with a textile company to give coats to 45 disadvantaged women, and provided financial support for 10 extremely-poor households in the commune.
At the moment it focuses on mobilising capital to build a house for a mentally-ill resident and her child before winter.
Vũ Thị Thanh, chairwoman of the labour union of Sơn Công secondary school, said that such a compassionate person like Cường is “so rare”.
“The last tens of years we have got used to the image of him – skinny, gray-haired with dark tanned arms – cycling to work and to visit his disadvantaged students, rain or shine,” she said.
“He is not only fulfilling the duties of a teacher but is also a shining example of maintaining a simple and compassionate way of living,” she added.
Cường’s support means a lot to his students, said principal of the school Nguyễn Văn Võ.
“The majority of our 300 students came from farmer families that don’t have any side jobs and struggle financially,” he said.
“Cường’s compassion gives them the opportunities to get an education and hopes for a better future, which is an admirable virtue for all of us to follow,” he said.