Volunteer road repair crew unsung heroes of Hanoi

By Quynh Nguyen   May 26, 2023 | 02:30 am PT
A group of seven people was pouring asphalt into a 3-meter-wide pothole in the 10 p.m. darkness near the Phap Van – Cau Gie Highway in Hanoi.

After filling the pothole, five members of the group used tools to spread the asphalt evenly while the other two directed traffic around the worksite.

Pham Van Hieu, 32, signaled for his truck driver to approach the spot where the asphalt had just been poured. The driver rolled his wheels over the new section of road, and then rolled the truck backwards over the newly-smoothed surface again.

"It’s firm now, thank you," said Chien, a 57-year-old woman and a member of the group. "We didn’t have to use a lot of strength to flatten it out."

After nearly two hours, the pothole was fixed and traffic rolled smoothly through the intersection. This is just one of thousands of road patching sessions that Hieu and his group has administered over the past decade.

Điều phối viên hướng dẫn tài xế xe tải cán qua đoạn vừa rải nhựa đường để ép phẳng, tối 17/5. Ảnh: Quỳnh Nguyễn

A member of the group instructs a truck driver to roll the wheels over the pothole that was filled with asphalt on May 17, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

It all started from a sleepless night 13 years ago.

After seeing many women, children and old people getting into accidents because of pothole-peppered roads near his home, Hieu decided to get out of bed and bring his own tools to patch up the roads by himself.

At first, the only materials that Hieu had to fill the potholes were bricks, rubble and cement, so the patch-jobs only lasted a few days each. But when someone told him that asphalt was more durable and effective, Hieu began visiting construction sites and asking to buy some. When workers learned Hieu’s purpose, they often gave him asphalt for free. But sometimes he still had to spend money from his own salary.

Many people have called Hieu crazy for going out every night to repair roads. His family also tried to stop him because they were worried he might get run over by some passing motorist in the middle of the night.

"But it’s too hard for me to quit once I made my decision," he said. "Fortunately, after a while, everyone understood and supported me."

Anh Phạm Văn Hiếu (32 tuổi) ở xóm Hạ Hồi, huyện Thường Tín, Hà Nội cùng các thành viên vá đường, đêm 17/5. Ảnh: Quỳnh Nguyễn

Pham Van Hieu, 32, in a road patching session on May 17, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Hieu’s work has been acknowledged far and wide. Now he’s got a number of students, workers and relatives from Thuong Tin District asking to give him a hand.

Young people handle the road work while the elderly – including Hieu’s aunts and uncles – are in charge of logistics. Depending on the area and the location, the group can include just a few people, or a few dozen workers.

Hoang Tung from Ha Hoi Commune has been a part of Hieu's road patching group for nearly two years. He’s often busy with work from his day job in the evenings, but the 33-year-old man and his wife try to attend at least a few road sessions a week.

"I want to use my strength to contribute to society. In addition to reducing the number of accidents due to potholes, I hope roads in the district will get more and more beautiful," Tung said.

As one of the key members of the group, Le Van Dung, 26, from Le Loi Commune, Thuong Tin District, started patching roads in 2022. Dung and Hieu not only patch roads in their home districts but also in other parts of Hanoi and even neighboring provinces.

"There were many times when Hieu and I carried six bags of asphalt around the city and didn’t get home till dawn," Dung said.

Các thành viên trong nhóm tình nguyện của anh Hiếu dùng búa đập nhỏ các mảng nhựa đường để san lấp vào các ổ gà, ổ trâu bị sụt lún trên đường tỉnh 73, thuộc địa phận xã Tô Hiệu, tối 17/5. Ảnh: Quỳnh Nguyễn

Members of the group fix a pothole on May 17, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Nguyen

Dao Chinh, a resident in To Hieu Commune, Thuong Tin District, said he was familiar with and grateful to the group of people fixing potholes throughout the district, especially the section near the gas station in Mui Village.

"Many accidents happened here because of potholes. These people fix the roads voluntarily and didn’t ask for money. Thanks to the group, the roads are safer and people can avoid tragic accidents," Chinh said.

Many people advised Hieu to stop the dangerous work and leave the roads for the government to fix, but he and his group insist that they want to do it for the safety of the people.

"As long as there are potholes, I will keep patching them," Hieu said. "I don't want to see any more terrible accidents."

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