Nguyen Mai Linh, a student at the Foreign Trade University in Hanoi, was relieved to be helped around 10 p.m. as her motorbike broke down and surprised that the men did not ask for payment, even though midnight services are often expensive.
"I had a flat tire on my way home from a part-time job. There were no motorcycle repair shops where I was, so I had to walk some distance. I asked a friend for help, and he gave me the phone number of the Hanoi Rescue Team. When the team members finally arrived to help me after a short while, I was quite surprised," Linh told The Hanoi Times, adding, "Even close friends might not be enthusiastic about going to help at that time, so I was very moved. The Hanoi Rescue Team are precious friends you only meet when something happens," she said.
The friendly volunteers of the Hanoi Rescue Team are always ready to help motorists whose vehicles break down late at night when most others are asleep. They are true "heroes" for saving several passers-by from nighttime accidents.
Hanoi Rescue Team volunteers to stand every night at the Khuat Duy Tien-Pham Hung intersection, west of downtown Hanoi, with a sign that reads "Spread kindness - Be kind!" They are ready to act right after getting information about a city vehicle accident.
Members of the Hanoi Rescue Team. Photo: Tho Quyen
Information about the person in need, the type of vehicle involved, and the location is shared through calls to the hotlines 0934343427 and 0963313004, as well as the team's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/CUUHOHANOI. The team members set off as soon as they have the information.
Established in 2017, the Hanoi Rescue Team assists all riders with vehicle breakdowns when all motorcycle repair shops are closed. All team members are volunteers. "Both my teammates and I have had problems with my motorcycle in the past. When I see people moving motorcycles in the middle of the night, I feel compassion. So we shared the same spirit, came together, and formed a team," said Nguyen Tho Quyen, head of the 10-member team.
"We usually start at 9 pm and stay on standby until 1:00 am the next morning, fully available for anyone in need. Each incident takes about 20-30 minutes to resolve. Although the midnight rescue is hard, seeing the joy of people in need motivates us to continue our work," Quyen told The Hanoi Times.
He added that the 10 people on his team were responsible for four districts in Hanoi. Around 10 pm, Quyen's two phones started ringing nonstop.
On Duong Dinh Nghe Street and Nguyen Trai Street, two girls tried unsuccessfully to start their motorcycles. The gang quickly split in two and rushed to help. More than ten minutes later, Vu Tran Minh Vuong and Nguyen Cong Dung, members of the Hanoi Rescue Team, showed up on Duong Dinh Nghe Street where Nguyen Mai Linh, the girl mentioned above, was calling the team's hotline number and waiting for help.
Cong Dung huddled in the cool of the late Hanoi night with his sleeves rolled up. He asked Vuong for help, reaching into his pocket for a flashlight while his other hand quickly set up the necessary instruments on the sidewalk. After about 30 minutes, a new tire was mounted on Linh's motorcycle.
Quyen (L) and his teammates repair a motorbike for free for a passerby. Photo: Hanoi Rescue Team
Quyen said the team could continue its operations for the past years thanks to donors' financial support, many of whom are strangers.
"Thank you" is the greatest motivation
For the team members, their own experiences of needing help at night and the fact that people are helpless in searching for a mechanic have motivated them to take action.
Vu Tran Minh Vuong, a 21-year-old resident of Hoang Mai District, joined the team three years ago. His parents were unhappy that he came home late, but he had no intention of quitting. "In the future, when I get married, if I have time, I will still work with the team," he said.
"I can't remember how many people have had their bikes repaired by me, but each time I was thanked, we both felt happiness and gratitude. The fact that so many people have returned home safely makes me very happy," Vuong told The Hanoi Times.
He said his team can help not only Vietnamese but also foreigners living in Hanoi. "One day, a restaurant owner called to say that a foreign friend's motorcycle had broken down and told him to wait for us on Hang Dau Street. After we arrived and helped the foreigner fix his vehicle, he was very moved and fired by our help. With the hotline and Facebook page, we no longer have to go out on patrol to find other people with broken vehicles," Vuong said.
A rescue team member repairs a motorbike for a foreigner at Hang Dau Street in Hanoi. Photo: Tho Quyen
Mai Nhat Minh, a student at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities at Vietnam National University-Hanoi, received help from the team last month.
"I was deeply moved. It was 1 am when they finished repairing my motorcycle. They refused my invitation for tea and left to fix someone else's motorcycle," Minh told The Hanoi Times.
"I thought that life is so meaningful thanks to their kindness. I wish them health, peace, and happiness," the boy added.
Nguyen Cong Dung, a 22-year-old from Ba Vi District who works as a car salesman, said: "I am also pleased when I can help people. The team once traveled more than 30 kilometers in the rain to Hung Yen, neighboring Hanoi, to help a girl in Hai Duong Province return home. Everyone was exhausted but very excited after work.
Dung has become braver and more responsible since joining the Hanoi Rescue Team. Dung never got discouraged even though he had to sleep on the street or stand in the cold rain every night. As the group expands to help more people, he hopes everyone on his team will return home safely every night.
Members of the rescue team repair three motorbikes for passers-by at a time. Photo: Hanoi Rescue Team
Captain Quyen added that the ten members of the Hanoi Rescue Team are of different ages and from different hometowns and can help 10 to 20 passersby a day. Quyen noted that in addition to motorcycle repair skills, new volunteers are also trained in self-defense and first aid.
The rescue team is not made up of professional repairmen. They still have their regular jobs during the day. Every month, the team organizes training sessions for new members. Lessons include motorcycle repair, self-defense, and first aid in emergencies.
"We share our knowledge of mechanics and effective night rescue techniques. This is the way I want to live. I do not care about money when I join the team. I enjoy helping others," Quyen shared with The Hanoi Times. "My family was very happy and often urged me to do this job well, even though I was busy. Without support from family members, it will be difficult for me and the other team members to continue our humble but meaningful efforts," he said.
Though they have only met once or twice, the team's unreciprocated support has left the people with the lovely impression of friends who "can" come together when something happens. Hanoians are grateful for what they are doing.