Mr Dong – now a successful cyclo business owner

Upon reaching my hotel in Hue during my third visit to Vietnam, I was approached by a
dignified man of perhaps 50 years who offered his services as a cyclo (three-wheel cycle)
guide for the day. He had excellent English, and knew his city intimately, so after a fine day
we dined together.

I learned that like almost all operators around Vietnam, he rented his machine. His average
earnings were about $5, of which $2 went to the owner of the vehicle by way of a rental
that could buy 3 cyclos a year.

He knew that, of course, but he did not have the $200 capital required to buy his own
machine. He was working on it, and told me proudly that he had $70 saved up. It would
have been more, but bad floods the year before had cost him his house. However, he said,
his family had been lucky as they all survived – a typical Vietnamese attitude to disaster.

When I came across him the next day, having had a few hours to mull over what he had told
me, I told him I would wire him $130 (my funds were running low as I was self-funding my
research) so that he could buy his cyclo. In return he would someday help a stranger. We
shook hands and parted company.

A year later, during a follow-up trip to Hue, I found him on his cyclo. It was now sprayed
a splendid metallic purple, and sported a new soft seat and chrome mudguards. Mr Dong
was a very happy man. His small business was doing fine, but more importantly, he had of
course saved $2 per day for the previous year, which plucked his family out of the poverty
trap they had been caught up in.

During my last visit to Vietnam the following year, I found him astride a small motorcycle.
He and his brother-in-law had pooled resources. His successful cyclo business had enabled
them to raise money for the motorcycle, and they now alternate between vehicles. Brother-
in-law’s 2 children are assured of education also, and of course his family is now also out
of the poverty trap. The $130 was worth $750 a year to him in rental savings alone but had
brought 2 families financial independence and freedom.

Friends had suggested that Mr Dong might gamble or drink away the money, but he just did
not look the type. I had an idea by then of just how deeply the commitment to family runs
amongst the Vietnamese, and was confident the money would be put to good use. That was
how I learnt you can change 7 lives or more in a major way for $130.

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