A 66-year-old widow collects very moderate toll fees for a one-km path she and her husband built on their own six years ago.
They call her Mrs. BOT, but as an endearment, not a derogatory epithet. The term, build-own-transfer, otherwise carries the connotation of many expensive toll fee stations along Vietnamese roads.
Mrs. BOT of the southernmost province of Ca Mau is a total different story.
Truong Thi Yen, 66, is at her home in Ca Mau Province, where she and her husband built a concrete road for locals for free. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Hanh.
Residents of Cai Doi Nho A hamlet are grateful that Truong Thi Yen and her husband Pham Van Khuong invested their own hard-earned money, tens of millions of dong, to build a concrete path in 2013. They leveled the muddy ground, bought construction materials and hired workers to build the path. (VND10 million = $431).
The path, which lies on their land, is frequented by many hamlet residents and outsiders. It connects the rural hamlet to the main road leading to the center of Phu Tan District in Ca Mau.
The couple also planted two rows of cajeput trees on either side to create shade for the path.
The cemented road that’s 0.5 kilometer wide and one kilometer long in Cai Doi Nho A hamlet in Phu Tan District, Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Hanh.
At first, some people in the hamlet thought the couple were crazy to invest so much money in the construction. The negative comments were quickly replaced by admiration and gratitude as they realized how convenient it was for them.
All villagers who wanted to use the path did so freely until 2015, when Khuong passed away, leaving Yen in a makeshift dwelling, mired in financial difficulties.
It was then that the people in the hamlet advised her to introduce a toll fee for whoever chose to use the path.
Yen charges VND2,000-3,000 (less than a cent) a bike. Pedestrians and students are exempt from the toll. The 0.5-meter wide road is too small for a car to drive on.
Yen collects VND70,000 (3) a day. She spends about half of this on herself and saves the other half to pay for whatever repairs the path may need.
“This work primarily benefits the people. I can’t get rich from it,” Yen said.
Mrs Bot uses a three-meter long bamboo section as a barrier at the entrance to the path. She has hung a few bricks on one side and tied a long rope to the other end to create a lever. The long tree stretches to her home where she collects the fees and pulls on the rope to lift the barrier for people to pass through.
The bamboo section is raised for bikes to go under.
A resident bends a bit to go past the bamboo barrier, which works as a toll station for a concrete road built by Truong Thi Yen (R) in Ca Mau Province. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Hanh.
“I travel to and from this place several times a day. If it weren’t for Yen’s road it would take me much longer. Her road saves me from driving five kilometers or more,” said Nguyen Van Khuong, a seafood trader.
Yen’s household is classified as poor, said Huynh Van Lo, head of Cai Doi Nho A Hamlet.
She has five married children who are also poor. When Khuong passed away, Yen inherited a few pieces of land for her to grow shrimp. But financial difficulties forced her to pledge the land for a loan.
Lo reaffirmed that local residents and authorities both supported her work.
“Using Yen’s road, we shorten the distance to neighboring districts by nearly two kilometers and the fees she collects is not much,” he said.
Le Van Bac, the commune chairman, said when Yen and her husband built the path, the road connecting the hamlet with Phu Tan District center had not been completed, making it difficult for the locals to get there.
He said: “People who find it useful to use Yen’s road pay voluntarily. No one complains.”