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Covid-19 destroys livelihoods in Saigon

By Diep Phan   July 1, 2021 | 06:59 pm PT
The Covid-19 economic crisis continues to pose a threat to financial stability for Saigonese, driving people further in debt with no way out.

Thinking about the unpaid house rent and the money he needs to retrieve his ID card from a pawn shop, Huynh Van Binh heads out on his motorbike at midnight hoping to earn some money amid the social distancing. His family has run out of rice to eat.

A few days ago exactly VND50,000 ($2.17) was left at home. But he did not go to the charity place that distributes rice to needy people thinking there were less fortunate people than him who needed it. He was healthy, and so he thought he could work to earn an income.

Binh helps people move house as a side job to earn extra money. Photo courtesy of Binh.

Binh helps people move houses as a side job to earn extra money. Photo courtesy of Binh.

A year and a half ago, the 35-year-old never thought his family would fall into such a miserable situation like this. Binh worked as a freelance tour guide and supplied goods for a cruise ship, and knew three foreign languages - English, Thai and Filipino.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak he earned several million dong (VND1 million = $43.45) a day. His wife worked for a leather shoe company and had a steady income. The family of five lived in a spacious and comfortable rented house in Go Vap District.

But the pandemic upended his life. With the tourism industry falling into a deep slump, Binh became jobless. He soon turned to construction work and doing odd jobs like helping people move houses to support his family.

To reduce expenses, the family moved to a smaller apartment and he had to sell many of the items at home. His wife's motorbike had to be pawned to pay tuition for their three children.

In the meantime, his wife was also laid off because the company did not have any orders, making life even more stressful.

After being unable to pay the boarding fee for three months, he had to let his child miss school for a few days, telling the school they were ill, while he could borrow some money. The parents later had to withdraw from attending school since they couldn't pay the fee.

However, what Binh and his wife are most worried about is that if they cannot find steady jobs soon, their daughter will have to miss one school year. On top of that, they still cannot pay last year’s school fees for their older son.

Tran Thi Thuong, 33, has to go on Facebook to seek help from the community, asking for milk for her 11-month-old daughter.

Thuong designs clothes for a customer in Go Vap District. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Thuong designs clothes for a customer in Go Vap District. Photo by VnExpress/Diep Phan.

Thuong and her daughter live in a rented room on Duong Quang Ham Street in Go Vap District. Earlier the head of the design department at a famous lingerie brand based in Saigon, she quit and started her own garment factory with dozens of employees in District 12. But when the pandemic hit, domestic orders dried up and exports could not be done, and she had to close her factory and work for a smaller factory.

Since she was pregnant with another child, she only received and made garment order at home, earning only enough to make ends meet. But since the beginning of this year she has been unable to earn anything because of the resurgence of Covid and the fact she has had to take care of her young child.

When her savings were about to run out, she solicited donations of milk on a Go Vap resident group on Facebook.

Many kind people responded and Thuong got enough diapers and milk for her baby for more than two months.

Seeing that she was a designer, one person sent fabric to her to stitch and make clothing samples for her shop.

Go Vap District has just ended its lockdown, and Thuong and her children relocated to the neighboring province of Binh Duong so that she can work for a textile company here.

"I am young and healthy and have a career, and so as long as the epidemic is under control, I can continue to earn a living," she said. Her eyes suddenly lit up when on a newspaper on her phone she saw that the city will offer relief to unemployed workers affected by Covid-19.

It is nearly 10 o'clock at night, and Binh has finished a day of helping people move and returned home. After avoiding the landlord that morning, who was lying quietly upstairs, Binh did not dare to come downstairs. But he plans to give his motorbike to the landlord as a kind of guarantee for the house rent and go to work by bus.

Before turning into a familiar alley leading to his home, he suddenly turns back.

"I will do a couple more rounds of the area to see if anyone needs a motorbike taxi or if there is any charity place giving out free rice," he says.

Nguyen Thi Kim Anh, chairwoman of the people's committee of Ward 8 where Binh's family lives, said: "Since the beginning of the outbreak until now the ward has supported many households living in difficult circumstances.

"As for Binh, the chief of his residential area may not be aware of his circumstances to report to higher authorities or it may be that the ward has announced support policies but Binh did not know where to go to receive the support package."

"But last week Binh received some support package to help him tide over this tough time."

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