How faceless heroes are enabling nation to tide over Covid crisis

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenAugust 31, 2021 | 04:45 pm PT
People all over Vietnam are helping strangers survive the coronavirus crisis, giving them shelter and food and even burying their dead.

The last day of the month is when Nguyen Thu Thao, 52, collects rent from tenants who lease rooms in her house in Hanoi’s Long Bien District. But in July she stopped asking for rents, and in fact has been giving her tenants money to buy food and groceries amid the semi-lockdown.

"I can live without their money for some months. My difficulties are nothing compared to what they are facing," she says.

Most of her tenants are workers and students from out of town who are stranded in the capital due to the travel restrictions.

"Two students told me they had been eating instant noodles for two weeks, so I got them some rice and meat."

The woman is among millions across the country who have shown kindness to their fellows amid the Covid-19 outbreak, which has caused many people to lose jobs and made them unable to feed themselves.

While tens of thousands of frontline workers have been combating the novel coronavirus across the country, many people have formed volunteer groups to help people in need amid the lockdowns and economic crisis.

Employees at a restaurant in HCMCS District 1 give food to people severely hit by the new Covid-19 outbreak, June, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Employees at a restaurant in HCMC'S District 1 give food to people severely hit by the new Covid-19 outbreak, June, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

For instance, in the last few months, as HCMC grappled with its worst coronavirus outbreak, hundreds of people have been providing free meals to disadvantaged people and frontline workers.

From managing volunteers to finding ingredients and working with authorities to get travel permits, many have been working around the clock to feed people.

Many restaurant owners, despite not earning a dong amid the lockdown, have been giving away thousands of meals daily.

Ngo My Dung, owner of Xich Lo Quan Restaurant on Tran Hung Dao Street, said she sends more than 2,000 meals a day to poor people and those living in locked-down areas. "I spend around VND35 million ($1,532) buying ingredients and cooking every day. The restaurant is closed, but I can manage this, so I want to support poor people."

Nguyen Anh Tuyet, a teacher in Hanoi’s Long Bien District who buys groceries and food for her students stranded in the city, said: "The pandemic is a chance for us to grow our kindness and humanity."

On Facebook, a number of groups have sprung up to locate people in difficulties, verify their information and send food and medicines.

Giup Nhau Mua Dich (Helping Each Others Amid Pandemic) is one of the most popular groups for people to solicit support and donate essential items in Saigon.

Later, when Hanoi entered a semi-lockdown in late July, a similar group was set up.

To ensure their assistance reaches the right people, these online Samaritans work with local authorities.

The new outbreak has caused a surge in demand for oxygen, and many people are buying cylinders and donating them to Covid patients.

Starting setting out in early August, the Facebook group 'Tram Oxi Cong Dong Saigon' (Saigon Community Oxygen Station) has raised funds to buy or borrow more than 1,000 oxygen tanks to benefit more than 2,000 patients.

With more than 1,000 volunteers working around the clock to find sponsors, buy oxygen, coordinate with patients and doctors, transport tanks to those in need and to factories to refill them, the group aims to buy more tanks and other medical devices for people battling the virus at home.

People stranded in cities, mostly migrant workers and students, have been supported by their landlords and others.

In Hanoi, Nguyen Xuan Thong happened to see many people struggling under the overpass near Pham Hung Street and decided to provide them shelter until September 6 when the lockdown will end.

He used his 10-storey building in Thanh Tri District, which serves as his office and workplace for more than 50 employees, to provide free accommodation for them.

He had earlier refused to rent rooms though many people had asked him, but now provides apartments to the stranded people on the fifth and eighth floors, rice, instant noodles and a daily allowance of VND50,000 to each person.

Thong said: "I myself come from a poor farming family in the central region. I came to Hanoi alone and with nothing to start a business, so I understand the hardships people are facing and what they need."

Nguyen Thi Binh in HCMC’s Binh Tan District thought she could provide people in dire circumstances with a place to stay for free and in July contacted many of her friends to ask if they knew someone who needed help.

Within a week nearly 20 migrant workers came to her place, and have since been staying there for free and are given rice, noodles and other basic food items.

Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has called on localities to provide support so that people could stay put and not return to their hometowns, threatening fresh outbreaks.

A man holds an oxygen tank as part of the Oxy ATM initiative giving oxygen to the needy in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Hoang Tuan Anh

A man holds an oxygen tank as part of the Oxy ATM initiative giving oxygen to the needy in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Hoang Tuan Anh

Free burial service

The pandemic has robbed people of the opportunity to arrange traditional funerals for deceased family members or say their final goodbyes.

As of Wednesday morning, nearly 458,000 have been recorded in 62 of the country’s 63 cities and provinces, only except the northern Cao Bang Province. More than 11,000 have died.

An 18-member support group seeks to help ease the pain felt by Covid-hit families by providing free burial services for deceased people.

Families just need to provide the death certificate and other documents, and the group takes care of all the other tasks, from cremating the body to bringing the ashes back to the family or sending them to a temple.

Nguyen Thi Ha Nhi, 26, a female volunteer in the group, said: "Tears still fall from our eyes every time we go to a house to pick up a deceased person. We feel sorry for families losing their loved ones, many dying alone and in pain because of Covid."

The work is no less important than saving lives during the pandemic, but many people are scared to work with the dead, especially those who died of Covid.

Giang Thi Kim Cuc, 33, the leader of the group, is in charge of both driving the ambulance and putting the deceased in coffins. She said the group needs more people who know how to drive vehicles and are not afraid to working with the dead.

"It hurts, but we must be calm to help people with the cremating and burial. If we cannot control our emotions, we cannot do the job."

Citing a Vietnamese proverb, that says a little help goes a long way in difficult times, landlord Thanh in Hanoi said: "What I have done to help people is a small part, but I will do my best as long as I can."

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