Santa Claus did not surprise children at the Viet Nam National Pediatric Hospital this Christmas.
A whole bunch of Santa Clauses did.
The Santas were members of the Charity Singing Group, who had raised money by singing on the streets of the capital city.
For several weeks, two or three days a week, between 7-11pm, the group carried loudspeakers and microphones and went around the area surrounding the night market in Hà Nội, singing and asking people to contribute to their fund.
Comprising people of all ages and walks of life, members of the group share two passions: singing and helping poor people.
Established in May, the group has raised over VND282 million (US$12,000) to support many poor patients in the capital city pay their medical bills.
The idea for the group came to Trần Phương Anh, manager of a small hair salon in the city without much thought.
“I love singing boléro songs everyday, which annoys my neighbours sometimes. One day, I asked myself why can’t I sing on the street and see if any passers-by would donate to my charity box. I thought about it for half-an-hour and decided to go ahead,” Anh recalled.
The very next day, in the afternoon, Anh and a friend hit the streets with their sound equipment. Their first performance went pretty well. In just two hours, they raised over VND1.6 million ($70). Approximately the same amount of money came in on the following days.
After the success of her three first performances, Anh received a lot more support from her friends. The first money collected was donated to a school building programme in the northern province of Sơn La and for the treatment of five-year-old Vàng Mí Chá, who accidentally got shot in the head.
The group’s work was quickly recognised and supported by the Department of Social Work at the National Pediatrics Hospital.
After each donation, they received a letter of thanks, and the department also provided information and pictures of the patients who needed help. This helped the group post specific information on the banners they made for their performances.
Social media sites like Facebook or Youtube boosted their popularity and many expressed their desire to join the group. From an initial four members, the group has grown to 30 regular members who directly get involved in its operations, and it has another 986 members on its Facebook page.
“There is no special requirement to be part of the Charity Singing Group,” Anh said. “We work with a voluntary spirit. No salary, no reward. There is work for anyone. Some members are not good at singing at all, but they are still with us since the early days.”
On average, there are about ten members that join the group’s outings. Those who can sing well take turns to perform, while others carry the donation box or carry the banner and letters of thanks.
“It is a sensitive thing to ask for other people’s money, so we need to win their trust with these letters and real pictures of the patients who need help. It is too much to expect people to put money into our charity box without actual evidence,” Anh said.
“We raise about VND4 million ($176) per night, five per cent of which is spent on the operational part, like buying new microphones, printing banners or making uniforms. The rest is donated to meet the medical expenses of many poor patients across the city at the Việt Đức Hospital or the National Pediatric Hospital.”
The group has also contributed to other charity events like Pink Mid-Autumn Festival or Pink Christmas for poor children, held at the National Pediatrics Hospital. They recently supported flood-affected residents of Hương Trạch and Phương Điền communes in Hà Tĩnh Province with a donation of VND34 million ($1,500).
The increasing number of its members led to another idea: Cleaning the streets that the Charity Singing Group passes through. The motto is: The streets are clean whenever we go.
People living in areas around the Old Quarter are now used to seeing the Charity Singing Group, and they are welcomed without reservation.
“I’m keen on listening to them singing. They sing very beautifully, and it is even more beautiful that they do it for charity. The streets are cleaner and get more lively when many of them arrive,” said Lương Anh Quân, a resident of Hàng Tre Street.
Anh said the encouragement and affection that they’ve received in recent months will keep the group motivated.
“We have so many unforgettable memories like being invited to drink iced tea or eat plums, fried cakes for free by street vendors, or being charged just half the price when the motorbike keepers find that we are members of the Charity Singing Group. We can never forget seeing the elderly living in old houses throwing to us money with rubber bands around them, or wading through water to collect rubbish on rainy days.
“I want to divide the group into several smaller ones to sing over a larger area to collect more money, and to help more people, not just poor child patients but also others like the disabled or the homeless.
“I hope that our group will continue to give a helping hand to many small lives, which is also our slogan.” VNS