Covid-19 paralyzes civil society looking out for the vulnerable

By Sen    April 19, 2020 | 05:15 am PT
Covid-19 paralyzes civil society looking out for the vulnerable
A mother and daughter in Hue, central Vietnam, are among the beneficiaries of a water access program spearheaded by Hearts for Hue organization. Photo courtesy of Hearts for Hue.
Almost all civil society organizations in Vietnam have reported difficulties supporting their beneficiaries as Covid-19 containment policies suspend traffic and deplete funds.

A survey by Hanoi-based Management and Sustainable Development Institute (MSD) asked 101 organizations across Vietnam about the impacts of the novel coronavirus outbreak on them and the new challenges they were facing.

As many as 64 said they were unable to reach and support their beneficiaries due to the social distancing campaign, while 31 said they failed to mobilize resources to address emergency needs. Also, 21 organizations reported failure in responding to changing demands of their beneficiaries.

The majority of survey respondents work in issues related to child rights protection, people with disabilities and poor people.

One of the participants, Truong Trong Khanh, Chairman of Hue-based Hearts for Hue, a non-governmental organization, said he and his team have not been able to reach their 1,000 beneficiaries since Vietnam began its social distancing campaign on April 1.

"They have many difficulties when it comes to getting essential goods, many families have no incomes," Khanh said.

Unable to make physical contact with them, the organization, which supports poor people in the central city of Hue with education, healthcare and livelihood support programs, has sent them 2,400 sanitizers and 5,400 face masks with the help of local authorities, Khanh said.

The organization plans to donate 5,000 chickens and provide poultry farming training for 60 families and build a kitchen for a kindergarten in Hue as soon as the social distancing campaign ends on April 22, he added.

The survey findings also highlighted the pandemic’s impact on children with disabilities, with the support they depend on getting suspended temporarily.  

Another survey respondent, Dinh Thi Lan Anh, President of Hanoi-based Vietnam Association of Parents of Children with Cerebral Palsy, said her team has not been able to provide home-based rehabilitative treatment for more than 2,000 children across the country with this condition, a neuromuscular disorder that interferes with movement, muscle coordination, and gait.

"Exercises and therapies for children with cerebral palsy had been suspended due to Covid-19 prevention and control. But they have special needs for medical therapy. Their condition may worsen without such treatment," Anh said.

It's difficult to remotely instruct parents on how to help their children do rehabilitative exercises. "A lot of parents in the association don't have phones or other devices to learn about this remotely. Normally, the association would send volunteers to their homes to help but during the pandemic, this could not be done. The kids are being taken care of but their treatment is postponed," Anh said.

Another major program Anh's organization has had to postpone because of the Covid-19 crisis is giving families special shoes tailored specifically for children with cerebral palsy.

"Because of social distancing, the association can't bring the shoes to the kids and make adjustments for them on the spot, so the children don’t have the shoes needed for their special muscle training. If we wait until the end of the epidemic, I'm afraid their feet's shape will change and differ from the already made shoes," she said.

The delay in operations was the biggest challenge facing most respondents. Plans made before the Lunar New Year, during which Vietnam reported its first Covid-19 cases, were either postponed or canceled.

The delay has also pushed a handful of non-profit social enterprises to the fringe of a permanent shutdown.

The survey found only 30 percent of organizations suggested solutions for the continuation of business operation.

Among them are acting on contingency plans and switching to online working. Most of the participants have been working remotely and made use of tech tools to run their organizations. Some events and activities were also hosted online.

"The pandemic presents a challenge, obviously, but this is also an opportunity for us to focus on organizational capacity development and risk management," an unnamed respondent said. 

A few of them suggested switching from on-site client support to online support. For example, they could host virtual classes for students, online training sessions for parents, and launch online communication campaigns.

Financially crippled

The pandemic has cast a monetary dry spell across virtually all sectors and Vietnamese local NGOs and community-based organizations are no exception.

One out of 10 organizations face downsizing as they are unable to pay staff salaries and office rent and lack technological tools to operate efficiently during the social distancing campaign.

Meanwhile, one out of three surveyed organizations said they were concerned about their post-pandemic future in terms of raising funds and accessing other resources. They reckon the crisis will cut funds coming in from international donors and business partners.

The pandemic has also hit for-profit organizations in other domains, including travel and aviation. The small and medium businesses in Vietnam have also suffered.

Vietnam recorded a decade-low GDP growth of 3.8 percent in the first quarter after non-essential businesses and tourist destinations were ordered to close. Last year GDP growth was 7.02 percent, the second highest in a decade behind the 7.08 percent in 2018.

The nation has confirmed 268 cases so far with 65 still under treatment and others discharged from hospitals.

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