HCMC expats look out for each other amid pandemic

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenJuly 18, 2021 | 04:16 pm PT
Regardless of where they are from, foreigners in Saigon are extending a helping hand to each other and even locals to help cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday morning Robin Deepu, owner of a restaurant in Saigon’s District 2, and his employees cooked meals for 400 people and took them to locked-down areas and hospitals in the city to donate to expats, locals and frontline medical workers.

"Both expats and Vietnamese are facing a lot of difficulties at the moment, and I just want to share their burden," Deepu, an Indian businessman living in Vietnam for more than 10 years, said.

He added that some expats, hit severely by the economic impact, have contacted his restaurant and asked for help.

He promised he would keep feeding people for free until the pandemic is over.

"All of us are suffering from this, but I think I can help them, so here I am."

His restaurant in Hoi An and another in Saigon’s District 1 are closed due to the pandemic.

Deepu is among many foreigners living in Saigon who are helping their fellows navigate the Covid storm.

Robin Deepu prepares meals in his Indian restaurant in Saigons District 2. Photo courtesy of Robin Deepu.

Robin Deepu prepares meals in his Indian restaurant in Saigon's District 2. Photo courtesy of Robin Deepu.

The pandemic continues to cripple the economy. As of Monday morning, the city, also the nation's Covid epicenter, has recorded 32,926 cases in the current outbreak.

Since Vietnam closed its borders in March last year and commercial flights are yet to resume, many expats have been stranded since they cannot afford the expensive repatriation flight tickets.

Far away from their support systems and nowhere to turn to, they seek help from charities.

But many feel judged when they show up because they are not Vietnamese.

"Because expats cannot rely on the Vietnamese government’s food banks and many do not have family here. They have to seek help from local charity groups but then people looked at them oddly when seeing expats ask for assistance," CJ van Vurren, an English teacher in HCMC, said.

As a result many expats are supporting each other by giving out food and other necessities.

Since van Vurren runs an animal rescue group, she is well known in the expat community, and so many have reached out to her for help.

The South African, 33, has been handing out 40 packages of food and other essential necessities to help locals and expats since the beginning of June.

Each contains rice, beans, eggs and instant noodles to feed a family of four, and other items like soap.

"Since I want to give them a home-away-from-home feeling, I add food items that are from where they are from. For instance, I add more pasta and sauce for Italians, corn and bread for people from Nigeria, and rice, instant noodles and Asian seasoning for those from the Philippines."

As many people feel embarrassed, and also to mitigate the Covid infection risk, she puts these packages in front of people’s houses and leaves without waiting for them.

But after the city began stricter social distancing last Friday, she has posted on Facebook to find those in need and bought food and essentials, getting them delivered directly to their houses.

"Be the best person you can be and good things will come to you," van Vurren maintained.

People have been touched by van Vurren’s kindness.

Moana Tranh, a Filipina living in District 9, is grateful for the food she has been providing since she cannot get any help from her family in the Philippines, especially since they are mourning her sister who died of Covid last month.

To show her appreciation, she sent over to van Vurren a picture of her family member standing next to the food bag with a message saying "thank you so much."

Many other samaritans have also created Facebook and Instagram pages to offer help to anyone in need.

Kuwaiti man Ali Al said: "I just want to extend a helping hand. Together we can make a difference."

It does not matter to him whether the person he helps is a local or foreigner.

The business owner living in Binh Thanh District has told many friends to share his contact details with people in need.

A family member of Moana Tranh, a Filipina living in District 9, poses for a photo next to the food package sent by CJ Van Burren. Photo courtesy of Moana Tranh.

A family member of Moana Tranh, a Filipina living in District 9, poses for a photo next to food packages sent by CJ van Vurren. Photo courtesy of Moana Tranh.

Many expats are also extending a helping hand to needs locals and Covid frontline workers.

Gaveau Patrick, a French businessman in Binh Chanh District, supports a religious organization to give food to the poor, old and disabled people.

"In times of struggle, we have to unite," he said, adding the organization mostly helps people in District 8, with support from the local authority.

Trevor Long, an Australian living in District 2, has raised money from expats in Saigon and friends in Australia to buy rice, noodles and vegetables for the needy.

The owner of a restaurant in Thao Dien Ward has also coordinated with the local police, who have helped him identify those in need and reach out to them.

Long said on Facebook: "The police responsible for controlling these locked-down areas are also now through us providing the food for them. Not their job, so very commendable indeed."

But there are also some difficulties.

The semi-lockdown and shopping fever in the last few days have made it hard for him to buy the things he needs.

"The meals now have no egg because I cannot buy them," he said.

He can get rice, potatoes and vegetables, and is currently looking for a source of protein to improve the meals.

Logistics is another issue these days. Normally, the organization that Patrick supports buys rice from Can Tho City and vegetables from Lam Dong Province, but now truck drivers cannot go out of the city while those in other places are worried about entering Saigon, a Covid hotspot.

But shrugging aside the challenges and the economic difficulties, Deepu, van Vurren, Ali Al, Patrick, and Long all told VnExpress International they would continue to look for people who need help.

Deepu said: "Saigon has given us a lot, we are a part of this city. And helping others is always the right thing to do."

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