Shoeshine boy faces death on the street
  • | | November 19, 2009 10:31 PM

Nguyen Van Sao is suffering from his heart pains on the street everyday (photo by H. Ngân).

Upon first glance, many people at coffee shops think this shoeshine boy must be a drug addict and they are often reluctant to let him polish their shoes. This truly limits his chances to earn money to pay for treatments that could cure his heart disease, making it difficult for his dire needs to be met.

Nguyen Van Sao said people who know him often call him “Tim” for his heart disease (Tim means heart in Vietnamese). He reminisced on the terrible day when his parents took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with the disease. The doctor informed him that we was suffering from stenosed heart valves. He was having difficulties breathing and had asked his parents to take him to the hospital for treatment but they could not do anything to help him as they did not have any money. “My chest hurt so bad I burst into tears, but they just simply could not help me,” he said.

Sao and I were seated at a quiet coffee shop on the corner of Quang Trung and Ly Thuong Kiet streets on a cold autumn morning in Hanoi. Sao felt very weak and was grasping for breath. The people around seemed to take inquisitive looks at his blue lips and lumpy feet because they did not know the truth about his story.

Sao began to tell me a little bit about his childhood. His parents often quarreled and fought with each other, eventually getting a divorce. Sao and his older brother became uncared for children. Sao was looked after by his grandmother and his older brother left home to try and earn a living. He told me that his grandmother loved him a lot and that she often encouraged him when his friends teased him or made him cry.

His parents’ unhappy life obliged “Tim" to wander around the streets and wait for death! (photo by H. Ngân).

At the about the time his grandmother was 80, Sao was on the verge of completing the 9th grade. His grandmother didn't have the money to help him treat his heart disease and therefore, he determined that he had no choice but to leave his grandmother. He headed for the streets, hoping to earn money as a shoeshine boy.

Many people did not know about his heart disease and assumed that he was addicted to drugs. This meant that often times people did not want to allow him the opportunity to polish their shoes because they worried he would just spend the money on drugs. Others, who knew of his situation and the disease he was suffering from, loved him a lot and would often ask him to polish shoes and sometimes even gave him extra money or meals. With the little money he earned everyday, he would spend it on essentials and try to save the rest to visit his grandmother, leaving his heart disease treatment virtually impossible. Sao was very telling and suddenly, he burst into tears, lost consciousness and his breath became weaker.

But the society doesn’t leave Sao alone (photo by Hong Ngan)

He still remembered vividly the day he said goodbye to his grandmother to go back to Hanoi. They embraced each other and cried. She advised him to take care of his health and said that he should call for help if he was bullied.

Sao talked about the beautiful autumn in his countryside (Giao Binh hamlet, Xuan Giao commune, Bao Thang district, Lao Cai province) with rice fields spreading to the horizon of the mountain sides. Sao continued telling his story. He was living in a rented house across Long Bien Bridge and he received help from a driver there. He treated him well, gave him clothes, bedding, sometimes he even offered Sao breakfast and gave him a lift to the centre to earn money. His voice was out of tune and he cried once again...

Our conversation was then abruptly interrupted by a voice which said, “This morning Sao was beaten by the other shoeshine boys beyond the street and he cried”. At this moment, dozens of people were around us. My heart truly felt for this young man.

Ngo Thi Bich Loc – a public vehicle keeper: "I am willing to leave my current job and take care of him in hospital”, photo by H. Ngân)

Hai Duong (at 14, Quang Trung Street) said: “This shoeshine boy has heart disease, his lips are blue, his toes and fingers become dark purple during cold weather. He looks better today but he fell down on the street few days ago when he was having trouble breathing. We love him so much; sometimes we give him money and meals. Foreigners at coffee shops occasionally give him money."

Ngo Thi Bich Loc, a public vehicles keeper (48 Ly Thuong Kiet) added: “Sometimes I would have a meal with Sao at an inn. He has been weaker the past few days and I hate the thought of one day not seeing him again.” Loc shares with me that her economic condition is quite difficult but she is ready and willing to leave her current job to spend time looking after Sao in hospital if he is able to be sponsored for his heart operation.

As we said our goodbyes, Sao said he hoped to visit his grandmother this winter and that he wanted to buy her a blouse to keep her warm in the cold weather in his mountainous region. I rushed to tell this touching story to my friend – Nguyen Tien Binh (at 1406, Licogi 13, Khuat Duy Tien street, Thanh Xuan district, Hanoi) and this story touched his heart so much that he vowed to help Sao before his condition becomes too serious to treat. Tien supported Sao with VND 3 million ($160) via Dan Tri Online Newspaper and promised to find the best way to help him for his heart treatment as soon as possible.

For information on how to contribute, please see below:

Charitable donations please send to:

1.Compassionate Hearts Charity Fund – Dan Tri Newspaper (Hanoi)

No. 2/48 Giang Vo Str., Dong Da Dist., Hanoi (beside Kim Ma petrol station)
Tel: 04. 3. 7366.491/ Fax: 04. 3. 7366.490

* Vietnam Dong Account information:

Account holder: Bao Khuyen hoc & Dan tri

Account number: 10 201 0000 220 639

With Bank: Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade – Hoan Kiem Branch

* US Dollar Account information:

Account holder: Bao Khuyen hoc & Dan tri

Account number: 10 202 0000 004346


With Bank: Hanoi Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade

2. Representative Offices:

Ha Tinh representative office: 46 Nguyen Cong Tru, Tan Giang Ward, Ha Tinh City. Tel: 039.3.857.122

Da Nang representative office: 25 Nguyen Tri Phuong, Thanh Khe Dist., Da Nang City. Tel: 0511.3653.725

Hochiminh City representative office: 40/17/16 Nguyen Van Dau, Ward 6, Binh Thanh Dist, Hochiminh City. Tel: 08. 35107. 331

Can Tho representative office: 53/13 Ly Tu Trong, Ninh Kieu Dist., Can Tho City. Tel: 071.3.733.269



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