UCA News

Vietnamese Catholics do Lenten charity one scrap at a time

Volunteers in some 30 parishes in Thua Thien Hue province collect and sell scrap to support the poor during the Lent
Catholic volunteers carry scrap on a cart on a street in Phu Hau Parish in Hue on Feb. 26

Catholic volunteers carry scrap on a cart on a street in Phu Hau Parish in Hue on Feb. 26. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: March 16, 2023 11:02 AM GMT
Updated: March 16, 2023 11:03 AM GMT

On Sundays, Paul Nguyen Gia Phuoc sets out in old shorts, a polo shirt and a cap, to join fellow volunteers in wheeling two carts on the streets collecting used items from local families.

They unload the carts at the church compound, separating and sorting scrap materials into paper, plastics, and metal including electric cookers and bicycles, and sell them to a dealer.

The two groups with 12 members each dedicate six hours every Sunday during Lent to raise money for people in difficult situations across the Phu Hau Parish based in Hue, the capital of Thua Thien Hue province.

Phuoc, who earns 3.5 million dong per month as a goods shipper, said the groups collect some 50 kilograms of scrap each Sunday and earn over two million dong (US$100).

He also saves 80,000 dong (US$3.5) each week by not playing billiards and instead donating the amount to the parish’s charity.  

“It’s important that we find great delight in our charity work for Lent, which provides us with opportunities to visit, talk, and build up good relationships with our neighbors,” the 34-year-old single man said.

Many people including followers of other faiths willingly give scraps to them and serve them with cool lemonade and bubble tea as an appreciation for their efforts, he added.

“Our work also aims at raising public awareness of classifying scrap materials from home and sharing what they do not use with others,” he said.

In the past, people would casually throw used items outside their houses, in gardens and open spaces rather than recycle them.

The latest statistics show that the province of Thua Thien Hue daily generates about 600 tonnes of unsorted solid waste, most of which is buried in the ground and the rest is burned or used to produce organic fertilizer.

Phuoc said all families have scraps and old things that are no longer used so they donate them to charity while also helping protect the environment.

The parish serves 582 Catholics among a population of 8,000, most of whom are Buddhists, Protestants, and atheists.

Local Catholics started to collect old items in Lent to help people in need in 2015. Many people now collect the scrap from their neighborhoods and workplaces and bring them to the church compound.

Simon Le Van Phuc from Trieu Trung Subparish with 170 members in Huong Tra district said his eight-member group gathers scrap materials from local people on the weekend.

Phuc, a 45-year-old father of three, said many people including followers of other faiths willingly offer them their old bicycles, walking sticks, wheelchairs, electric fans, and walkers, that they no longer use.

“Those things are in good condition so we clean, polish and give grease to them before providing for the elderly, people with physical disabilities and in need,” the farmer said.

“Collecting scrap is considered as menial work but we do it proudly as we provide delight and sympathy to others,” he said.

Mary Goretti Nguyen Thi Yen Nhung, a secondary teacher from Dien Loc Parish, said she along with seven volunteers collects scrap from local people on a weekly basis to earn 20 million dong (US$870) a year and provides food for 18 poor families.

Nhung, who started to collect used items in 2018, said they also collect and repair old schoolbooks and storybooks and then give them to 80 local students.

“We are happy to make rubbish useful to people in need,” she said.

Michael Nguyen Van Kha from Phu Hau Parish said local families traditionally reduce their daily living expenses in Lent to support people in need.

Kha, 60, said his family saves 400,000 dong per week by limiting their food expenses and donating it to the parish’s funds for people in need.

He said the parish plans to offer rice to 100 displaced families in the Phu Hiep ward, who used to live on boats in rivers. They now sell food and lottery tickets on streets, carry goods by tricycles, cultivate crops, and do manual work to put food on the table.

Le Viet Hoa, who worked at building sites for a living, said he has been unemployed since February due to cold weather.

“I have to pledge my motorbike of three million dong to help cover our daily needs,” Hoa, 30, said. His wife works for a local garment factory.

He said they are living on donations from local Catholics.

Some 30 parishes in the province are now engaged in collecting scrap to support the poor during Lent.

“Our voluntary work aims to bring people together and help them share what they have with one another and work for a cleaner environment. That’s the way we live out Lent,” Phuoc said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

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