An English teacher reaches out to Hanoi’s homeless

By Trong Nghia   September 12, 2018 | 09:30 am GMT+7
Christopher Axe knew what to do as soon as he saw homeless Vietnamese people. He’d been there before.

The Hanoi Railway Station is one of the hotspots in the capital city for the homeless. They gather there once the city has gone to sleep, taking refuge for the night.

On a Thursday night at around 10pm, groups of homeless people had replaced the crowds of passengers when Axe arrived at the station along with 20 or so volunteers.

They carried with them bags full of neatly organized hot, nutritious meals and other necessities.

Knowing their “delivery” guys had arrived, the homeless people, elders and children included, rose and stood in line to receive food, drinks, clothes, footwear, and even toothbrushes and toilet paper.

No one pushed anyone or cut the line because everyone knew that Christopher and his team were well organized and would arrive there every Thursday at this hour.

“I have been here for almost a month, if it wasn’t for this meal, I would have gone to sleep with a roaring belly many nights, ” said Bui Thi Thu Hang.

The fifty-year-old woman had come from the northern province of Hoa Binh to Hanoi, to try and make a living by wandering around the train station and seeing if any opportunity came up.

She is one of hundreds of beneficiaries of Help Hanoi’s Homeless (HHH), a charity founded by Axe which has been distributing 100 donation bags once every week at three locations in Hanoi.

At first Axe personally made the meals to ensure enough vegetables and protein were included, and to make sure they were hygienic. After learning about his work, some restaurants decided to chip in, reducing his workload.

Christopher makes sure that his team conducts the charity in a polite and safe manner.

Christopher makes sure that his team does the work in a respectful, organized manner.

It is difficult to imagine that Christopher Axe was once homeless. He majored in literature from a prestigious university in Manchester City, UK. In 2014, with no stable income, he could not sustain himself. After maxing out on his savings, he got kicked out of his house.

“I used to sleep in parking lots for many years and ate free soups from the vending machine. It was this slimy green liquid that had zero nutrition value. When I came to Vietnam about a year ago and came across the homeless people here, I knew exactly what to do to help them, ” Axe said.

Social prejudice

He recalled that when he had no roof over his head, people did not see him as a human being, the common perception being that the homeless are drug addicts, or lazy or stupid, and a threat to society.

“In my experience, the homeless people I met were in fact abused women running from domestic violence, orphans, and elders who were too weak to work, ” Axe said.

Christopher was a homeless before he is an English teacher and a fiction writer. His experience allows him to empathize with the homeless in Hanoi for the last year. Photo courtesy of  HelpHanoihomless.

Christopher Axe, once homeless himself, is now an English teacher and aspiring writer. His experience has allowed him to provide genuinely useful assistance to the homeless in Hanoi for a year. Photo courtesy of HelpHanoihomless.

The English teacher’s commitment to help the homeless has seen him come up with a map that highlights 35 locations in Hanoi where the homeless usually converge so that philanthropies know where to help out.

To fund his project, Axe has contacted different organizations and established a network of “rescue boxes” to be placed in various streets, which contain instant noodles and sausages.

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A “rescue box” attached to a traffic sign offers  food for those in need. Photo courtesy of HelpHanoihomless.

At the Hanoi Railway Station, the distribution of food and other items finished at 1am. Axe returned home to continue writing his novel and prepare English lesson plans for the following day. He teaches at a center in Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi.

He lives in the comfort of a fully furnished home, but never forgets the nights spent sleeping next to trash bins.

Even to his students, he imparts the values of appreciating life and helping others in need.

This is how he introduces himself to his students: “I was a homeless man.”

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