Next-door Samaritans make HCMC Covid lockdown bearable for many

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenAugust 10, 2021 | 04:16 pm PT
Kindness and financial and mental support from other people have become a silver lining for Saigonese during the dark days of Covid-19.

It has been three weeks since Nguyen Thi Thien ventured out for food amid the stringent coronavirus lockdown.

But the 25-year-old woman, who lives with her colleagues in a building in HCMC’s District 11, has a neighbor who is willing to go out and buy groceries for the whole floor since he is vaccinated.

"He is the only one living on the floor to be fully vaccinated, and so he volunteers to go out and buy essentials for all of us," Thien says.

Many of her neighbors in the building also share vegetables and fruits, she says.

"Amid the Covid upheaval, we have learned to love our neighbors."

She is among millions of people in HCMC who have found a silver lining amid the month-long Covid lockdown in the city: love and support from neighbors.

As of Wednesday morning, the southern metro has recorded more than 130,000 Covid cases in the current outbreak that started in April.

Saigonese wait to have Covid-19 tests in Saigons Binh Tan District, June 22, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

Saigonese wait to have Covid-19 tests in Saigon's Binh Tan District, June 22, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Huu Khoa.

While the Covid outbreak is putting life on hold, there is lots of goodwill with people giving groceries and food to neighbors.

Le Vu Manh, who lives in a building complex in a locked-down neighborhood in District 3, was touched to receive a package of vegetables and fruits from a man he has barely spoken to in the past.

The man, who lives in the same neighborhood, brought the packages from neighboring Dong Nai Province and distributed them to all households in the area.

Their contents included rambutan and lime, which have become a luxury for many HCMC residents amid the lockdown, Manh says.

"He ran up and down many times to give each household a package for free. All I could say to him was thank you."

But he was deeply moved to see many of his neighbors finding ways to bring cheer to others.

With many people staying put at home amid the lockdown and Covid fears, some have taken it upon themselves to shop for vulnerable and susceptible demographics like the elderly and unvaccinated.

Nguyen Khai Hoang, 23, has been doing grocery shopping for both his family and a 73-year-old man near his house who lives alone after his son and daughter-in-law were quarantined.

Since each household in his ward is allowed to shop once a week, the queue in front of supermarkets can get pretty long.

So whenever his mother sends him to buy groceries for their family, she also tells him to pick up some for the man as well.

"She told me it’s important to look out for and help others as much as we could during this challenging time," Hoang says. His mother sometimes makes stew and puts it outside the man’s front door.

"We also keep a watchful eye on him since he is old and vulnerable."

Neighbors have also stepped in to support people who have lost their livelihoods to the pandemic and struggle to pay their rent.

Thien’s neighbors for instance pooled VND3 million ($131) for her to pay her landlord in June and July, and have promised to keep doing so until she returns to work.

"The landlord showed her support by reducing the rent, so we show ours by giving money to those in need in this building," Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tram, Thien’s next-door neighbor, says.

Similar scenes of solidarity emerge from all over epicenter HCMC, showing that people look out for each other during difficult times.

In the last few days videos of people performing music from their balconies to cheer up neighbors have emerged on social media.

"All of us have been exhausted by this pandemic, and the music has brought us together," Nguyen Hoang Duc Anh, a resident of Thao Dien Ward in District 2, where many DJs performed from their balconies with flashlights and rounds of applause from their neighbors last week, says.

Open heart

People have created many online communities to locate those in need, verify their information and send support.

On Facebook groups like Giup Nhau Mua Dich (Helping Each Others Amid Pandemic) and Toi La Dan Quan 10 (I Am District 10 Resident), Saigonese look for people who face financial and other difficulties due to the lockdown.

"I have a fever and sore throat, but I cannot go out of my locked-down alley and have no medicines, can you please support?" a person asked on Toi La Dan Quan 10.

Dozens of people responded, asking about her health condition and things she needs.

"Please show me photos of your house and alley to verify your information, I will buy the medicines and give them to you before the nighttime restriction," one local promised under the post.

In the last few weeks Facebook has become a place for many people to solicit support and donate essential items.

Manh, who has both received and given a lot of support to neighbors, says he is not surprised to see people’s kindness in Saigon.

"These feel-good stories ... If not in Saigon, where else can they be?"

On cue, a neighbor brings over some fruits, and he goes to his balcony to receive them.

"If you live in Saigon with an open heart, you will perceive kindness, even from strangers."

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