Big-hearted rice donations soften Covid-19 blow

By Nguyen Dong   September 5, 2020 | 04:27 am PT
A group of volunteers in protective clothing sanitize their hands carefully before handing out rice and money to poor families in Da Nang.

"Hello, is this Hien’s number? We will be at your place in 10 minutes to give you rice," said Duong Thi Phuong, 44, member of a volunteer team. Wearing protective clothing and a mask, she then got on her motorbike and headed to Ton Dan Street in Da Nang’s Cam Le District.

Do Thi Kim Hien’s house is located deep inside a neighborhood cleared for future construction, so Phuong had to pass a flooded landfill to deliver the rice, making sure Phuong too wore a mask and sanitized her hands upon receipt.

Hien, a single mom, works as a trash collector to raise three children. But the Covid-19 semi-lockdown in central Da Nang City has kept her home with no source of income. Hearing about Phuong’s group, she called them to ask help.

"I received 10 kilograms of rice the other day, so now we have 20 kilograms, enough for 10 days if we cook two kilograms per day," Hien said.

A volunteer on her way to give free rice to poor families. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

A volunteer makes her way to hand out free rice to those in dire straits. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Phuong, lecturer at Vietnam - Korea University of Information Technology and Communications, has joined the volunteer team to distribute rice to the poor for the past 10 days.

Most beneficiaries live in small alleys difficult to access, with some requesting assistance but refusing to supply their home addresses.

"Dropping rice at their homes help us ensure it goes to those in true need," Phuong explained.

Nguyen Thi Hien, 32, employed at Tran Nhan Tong Primary School, also joined Phuong’s group even though she herself has been struggling to look after her mentally disabled children.

"Distributing rice to those in need make me realize how fortunate I still am," said Hien, adding her family has helped her look after her children while she supports others amid the new Covid-19 wave in Da Nang.

Hien and Phuong's daily list of 20 beneficiaries include mostly migrant workers, the blind, cancer patients, from different walks of life.

Phuong (L) and Hien go to a poor neighborhood with a bag of rice. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Phuong (L) and Hien visit a poor neighborhood with a bag of rice. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Their mission is overseen by Nguyen Binh Nam, 41, electrical engineer at Central Power Corporation, who helps connect donors, volunteers, and those in need.

In April, his crew had conducted two initiatives to provide free meals and rice to locals. Late July, when Covid-19 community transmission resurfaced in the central city, he used donations totaling VND500 million ($21,669) to buy protective clothing, masks and medical gear for hospitals in Da Nang and neighboring Quang Nam Province.

When those hospitals received support, he turned to local residents.

"The new outbreak is more severe than the last. The longer the semi-lockdown continues, the emptier the rice boxes of the poor," Nam held, adding he has called for more assistance since August 15.

In all, VND400 million has gone to support 600 poverty stricken families.

Along with a 10 kilogram bag of rice, the team also distributes VND0.3-1 million to certain households. Daily financial reports are published on Nam's Facebook page.

"Overcome the storm in our city," written envelope messages state.

A poor woman receives rice and an envelope of money. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

A happy local receives a bag of rice along with much needed financial support. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong.

Nam explained he wanted to avoid gathering and crowds, requiring his teammates to travel from house to house instead.

The 50 volunteers include business people, soldiers, university lecturers, engineers. With the number of those in need increasing, Nam has called on other volunteer groups in the city to join forces.

"I was most touched when a man strapped to a wheelchair rejected our help, saying he was alright and that we should allocate his 'provisions' to someone else," he recalled.

Nam also heads the "Ban Thuong Nhau" (People Love Others) Club, which has over the past decade raised funds for the construction of 15 schools in mountainous areas of Quang Nam’s Nam Tra My District and Quang Ngai’s Tay Tra District. The club further supplies those schools with meat and milk.

According to Tran Van Man, vice chairman of Nam Tra My People’s Committee, Nam’s group has supported locals for years, from meals to facilities for poor students facing many difficulties in the pursuit of education.

"Nam and his teammates work from the heart, not for personal benefit or fame. We have worked together for years and have faced no obstacles," Man maintained.

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