Despite her own combat against cancer, Phan Thi Binh has done her bit over the past few decades through different initiatives to provide free-of-charge ambulance service to poor patients from across the country and essentials to those no longer able to earn a living during COVID-19 outbreaks among other good deeds.
Over the past three years, the 66-year-old woman from Hanoi and her group have been on duty 24/7 to make sure their ambulance service is accessible to all those in need, no matter where they are from across the country.
The life-saving service is just one of the senior woman’s extraordinary contributions to society.
Her various initiatives have been a mainstay for dozens of years, providing food and necessities for thousands of people in need.
Binh’s decade-long fight against breast cancer shows how strong she is.
As she has recently experienced metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body, the elderly woman is now on chemotherapy.
Her debilitating condition, however, cannot keep her from reaching out to those in distress, dedicating herself to a cause she really cares about and truly making a difference.
To her beneficiaries, Binh is a gold-hearted angel who shows up at a time when they need kindness more than ever.
Though Binh prefers to stay anonymous, they know just how extraordinary she is and keeps her ‘hotline number’ in case someone they know may need it.
‘Amazing woman changes the world’
Despite her worsening illness, Binh tries her best to make the world a little sweeter place to live in and not allow any life to be lost when she knows she can do something about it.
Among her beneficiaries is 50-year-old Tran Quang Dinh.
Two years after he was carried back home in the northern province of Nam Dinh from Hanoi-based National Institute of Burns on Binh’s ambulance, Dinh is grateful to the Hanoi woman for her much-needed help.
Dinh told the story of an accidental fall 24 years ago that left him paralyzed and bed bound since.
His life turned to tragedy and he has since been unable to make a single movement and his body is full of bedsores.
With his family already struggling to pay hospital bills, Dinh said he would not have known how they would survive the ordeal without Binh’s free ambulance rides.
Binh recalled how the idea of offering the gratis service first crossed her mind.
“It would be great if I can give them free rides back home,” she shared.
With a plan in mind, she flew to the southern province of An Giang in the Mekong Delta, home to many charity models to learn how to properly adopt one.
The senior woman saw herself flying back and forth between the north and south in the two following years to garner more experience and set up connections.
In late 2018, with her daughter’s support, Binh sold her plot of land in Cam Ranh City, located in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa, for an ambulance.
With a dozen volunteers including Ba Be, Vu and Khan stepping up to lend a hand and working around the clock, Binh’s ambulances have rushed hundreds of poor patients from across the country to hospital for emergency care or transported them back home, dead or alive.
“We offer patients, mostly those in critical condition or on tight budget, the rides back home absolutely for free, wherever they are from,” Binh said.
As words spread, first on social media and later through hospitals’ social work departments, Binh began receiving more emergency calls.
Binh distinctly remembers a call which came through from a man desperately in need of a ride for his dying father.
“Please help us, Ms. We’re from Cao Bang [a northern mountainous province], and only have VND3 million [US$131] left,” the son sobbed.
“Our dad is dying, we’re afraid he can’t make it home,” the voice said.
Immediately, Binh dispatched an ambulance to the man barely clinging to life.
Binh added the memory and the dying man’s look at her are etched in her mind, as he tried faintly to express his gratitude.
The man passed shortly after the vehicle got out of the city.
There are times when Binh’s condition takes a turn for the worse, but she never misses a distress call.
Once, she mustered all her strength to summon volunteer drivers right after receiving a call asking the body of a deceased child to be transported back home in Ha Giang Province, also in the north.
It took the vehicle almost an entire day to traverse treacherous terrain and bring the dead child home.
Binh believes the gratis ambulance service is her true calling.
“I almost never cease thinking about what to do to help tomorrow, even in beds, and I’m on the phone most of my waking time,” the elderly woman shared.
‘Until my last breath’
Since her husband’s passing, Binh has always worked tirelessly to help those in distress, in one way or another.
Her apartment on Linh Dam Peninsula, off Hoang Mai District, Hanoi, where she lives on her own, often resonates with incoming calls.
Many of the neighbors are used to the sight of the woman collecting used clothes and sending them to needy people in mountainous areas.
The frail woman is determined for her good cause.
“I will continue to help others until I draw my last breath,” she said.
As the novel coronavirus outbreaks over the past two years put charitable activities on hold during the social distancing periods, Binh offered to Hoang Mai District Medical Center they could use her ambulances to transport COVID-19 patients to quarantine areas.
As local governments and residents in southern localities struggled to curb the spread of the virus around July last year, Binh’s ambulances once again came to the ‘rescue’, carrying loads of vegetables and essentials to affected people, particularly those who were unable to scrounge up enough cash to afford food and other necessities.
Apart from the free ambulance services, another of Binh’s charity initiatives, Tu Tam Group, is also active in preparing free food servings for in-patients and their care-providing relatives at hospitals.
The woman with a big heart has also joined with hospitals to provide nearly 400 free-of-charge cataract surgeries.
For her tireless efforts and excellence in charitable activities, Binh was named by the Hanoi People’s Committee as one of its nine ‘Outstanding Capital Citizen’ honorees in 2021.
She spent her entire award and some more from her own pocket, totaling VND25 million ($1,095), on more veggies for quarantine areas.
The gold-hearted woman is also working to launch an alternative medicine clinic which will offer free treatment to patients.
“People often wonder where I get all the money for charity over the past dozens of years,” Binh shared.
She added there are three things on her bucket list: opening a free traditional medicine clinic, a nursing home for the elderly and an orphanage.
“I can’t rest in peace until I fulfill these three wishes.”
Binh’s positive energy and efforts have inspired many.
Vu Van Anh, a university lecturer in Hanoi, along with her two young daughters, is among Binh’s active volunteers.
“Everyone calls her the living ‘Buddha’. She [Binh]’s always willing to spend all her time, energy and even money from her own pocket helping some of the country’s neediest,” Van Anh said.
“I really appreciate her empathy and kind-heartedness,” said Linh Dan, one of Van Anh’s daughters.
“I’ll help homeless people if I see some near my school,” the sixth-grader added.