When families lose breadwinners to the pandemic

By Phan Duong   October 8, 2021 | 03:22 pm GMT+7
Huynh Thanh Hau has been plunged into hardship after Covid claimed his wife, leaving him to raise their children on his own.

Every day, he wakes up early to do chores, prepare food for his 13-year-old son and practice bottle feeding his seven-month-old baby. The 39-year-old dad from Binh Tan District doesn't find these tasks are too difficult to handle.

The two things he struggles the most to cope with are finding time to help his older son with his studies and not knowing the vaccination schedule for his children.

"Normally, my wife takes care all of these things," he said.

Huynh Thanh Hau and his eldest son in their home in HCMCs Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/Tan Phat

Huynh Thanh Hau and his youngest son in their home in HCMC's Binh Tan District. Photo by VnExpress/Tan Phat

On Aug. 23, nine out of 10 members of his family tested positive for Covid. Hau followed his mother-in-law to hospital, while the others were treated at home. Every day he video-called them, watching his wife cooking and taking care of theirchildren. But one morning in early September, he received news his wife had succumbed to Covid.

While the whole family was receiving treatment, the father had to ask a neighbor to take care of his seven-month old.When he picked him up later, the little boy could only find comfort in sleep.

After learning how to bottle feed, Hau’s cousin later taught him how to make baby food.

At the time, he would sometimes stop by the room where his older son was studying online to encourage him.

With Hau's savings nearly exhausted, he can't ask his grandparents to take care of his kids so he could go to work, with recent Covid infection having left the elderly couple weakened. Instead, he plans to wait until the youngest child is one year old and let the baby attend daycare. Presently, he has no idea how to earn money, especially as a single parent.

In Vietnam, there are no accurate statistics on the number of families who have lost either two breadwinner to Covid. Ho Chi Minh City has recorded over 400,000 Covid cases and over 15,000 deaths in the ongoing Covid wave. Besides, more than 1,500 children in HCMC have lost their parents, according to the local Department of Education and Training.

According to a report published in May last year by American nonprofit Global Fund for Widows, Covid-19 has ravaged families and created unprecedented numbers of widows around the world. In addition to the pain of losing their husbands, widows will have to struggle to rebuild their lives.

Vo Thi Ngoc Ha from District 12 admits that carrying the family alone is a heavy task.

"When my husband passed away, I felt like everything was crumbling down on me," she said, adding the only reason that pushed her forwards is her two children, 13 and 18 years old.

Vo Thi Ngoc Ha in her home. Photo courtesy of Ha

Vo Thi Ngoc Ha at home. Photo courtesy of Ha

Over the years, her husband has been the main breadwinner of the family, while she took care of the kids.

"To help our eldest son relax after studying, he let me take the kids on a vacation in southern Tay Ninh Province while he staid back in the city alone to work," Ha recalled a story from four years ago, adding her husband passed away in late July.

Now, Ha is the sole breadwinner in the family. Fortunately, a friend helped her find a job as a receptionist.

"The boys used to only listen to their father. Now they sometimes don't listen and ignore what I say. I am asking a colleague of my husband's to come talk to them," she confided.

In some countries, people who have lost their spouses to Covid-19 have found ways to connect with each other. In America, there is a Facebook group that gathers thousands of people, where they share stories about their sudden separations, no-show funerals, economic worries and other burdens when raising kids as single parents.

In India and Indonesia, there are organizations that provide psychological support and help those who have lost a spouse to earn a living. Governments in other countries have also stepped in to help this group stabilize their lives.

According to Associate Professor of Anthropology and Sociology Nguyen Duc Loc, director of the Institute for Social Life Research, families that suddenly lose a spouse can suffer consequences that can last for several years.

Loc said the issue of social security and ensuring livelihoods should be on the city's agenda as a priority no less than others when implementing the current economic recovery plan. Solutions should pay attention to the perception and behavioral patterns of each population group. The policy should not only focus on supportive financial packages, but also mental support, so "they can quickly adapt to the recovery period of society."

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