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Communities in Vietnam reach out as fight against coronavirus goes on

Wednesday, April 08, 2020, 17:52 GMT+7
Communities in Vietnam reach out as fight against coronavirus goes on
Ngo Khac Vu (center, with a blue mask on), a high school teacher, hands a packet of masks and soap accompanied by a slip on COVID-19 precautions to the elderly and peddlers at markets in Mo Duc District, Quang Ngai Province, central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Mai / Tuoi Tre

A high school teacher has lent a hand to stall the spread of the novel coronavirus by giving away free masks and soap donated by others to vulnerable yet ill-informed peddlers in rural areas in the central province of Quang Ngai, while another man from Ho Chi Minh City is trying to keep his community fed and full with food and other essentials.

The ongoing novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may keep others inside and daunted, but not Ngo Khac Vu, a high school teacher from Mo Duc District in Quang Ngai.

Through what he has done over the past few weeks, he has struck the right tone among at-risk yet nonchalant peddlers in raising awareness of what to do to avoid ending up the next victim of the pathogen.

Vu’s decision to spread on the bottom-line message followed the government’s calls for locals to join hands in containing the virus.

He now begins each day with early visits to the marketplace in his neighborhood where he hands out face masks and soap to the elderly and peddlers while trying to draw their attention to the life-saving message.

'Put the mask on'

"Haven’t you learned about coronavirus? Just put the mask on," Vu said to a senior woman he bumped into at the market before handing her a packet containing some surgical masks, a bar of soap, and a leaflet on how to stay safe from the virus.

The slips, printed at his own expense using his photocopier, contain helpful nuggets sourced from the Ministry of Health on how to wear masks, wash hands with soap properly, and fill out health declaration forms.

Vu said it all came down to his visit to the marketplace around ten days before the prime minister declared COVID-19 a nationwide pandemic on April 1, during which he was surprised to see so many elderly shoppers and vendors without a mask on.

Frustrated that the most at-risk group who constantly comes into close or direct contact with others is showing a disregard for the disease precautions, the teacher decided to step in and do whatever he could to bring about change.

He scraped up his piggy-bank money and collected donations from his former students to buy his first batch of masks and soap.

Before long, he was already finding himself giving away many more of the protective items at markets in the district’s communes including Duc Chanh, Duc Nhuan, Duc Hiep, Duc Thang, and Duc Loi. 

As comments and text messages from donors came flooding in following his posts on Facebook giving updates on the charitable endeavor, Vu has managed to raise more money for reusable cloth masks.

He handed out a total of approximately 3,500 surgical and cloth masks within ten days.

"I’m lucky to have my family’s wholehearted support as my wife and two daughters help prepare the gift bags each night," Vu said.

"I’m just a messenger. What really matters is the love of the many people who silently contribute to its upkeep in order to help the community."

The reward he got is seeing more masks on the faces of the market-goers and positive changes in the locals’ mindset.

Appreciative of Vu’s gift, Ba Phuong, 76, a resident in Duc Chanh Commune, now insists her family members put on face masks whenever they go out.

“Considering Vu’s efforts and the fact that more are having masks on in public places, I feel ashamed of refusing to wear one. My grandchildren are now not allowed inside unless they put on masks and sanitize their hands properly,” she said.

Apart from the marketplace, Vu’s other destinations include administrative offices where many locals visit for paperwork every day, as well as grassroots clinics to help shield medical workers and first responders against the virus.

Le Minh Viet, chairman of Duc Loi Commune, warmly embraces Vu’s efforts.

“We keep the masks and hand sanitizers donated by Vu at hand in case local residents may need them when they visit our office,” Viet said.      

Vu plans to gift a batch of reusable cloth masks, for which he has placed orders with a producer in Da Nang, approximately 130 kilometers from Quang Ngai, to patients and their caretakers at Quang Ngai General Hospital.

"I’m just doing my humble part in the critical situation. Improved public awareness means that we will likely win the battle in the shortest of time," Vu said hopefully.

Free meals for poor laborers

During the past days, local media have been publicizing kitchens and individuals offering free food and essentials to needy residents in Ho Chi Minh City, around 750 kilometers south of Quang Ngai. 

Among them is Truong Nhat Hoang Quan, 28, who has given away free boxes of rice topped with meat, fish, and eggs every afternoon in Alley 108 on Hau Giang Street in District 6 since early this month.

The recipients are needy inhabitants in the neighborhood or passers-by who are no longer able to earn a living for at least two weeks due to a recent suspension of lottery ticket sales, or those struggling to put food on the table through odd jobs including scrap collection.

Truong Nhat Hoang Quan and his relatives prepare free meals for the needy in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The sign he's holding reads, 'Free non-vegan meals. You can take one if [you are] in need. If you are doing fine, please leave it for others.' Photo: Minh Vu / Tuoi Tre

Truong Nhat Hoang Quan and his relatives prepare free meals for the needy in District 6, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The sign he holds reads, 'Free non-vegan meals. You can take one if [you are] in need. If you are doing fine, please leave it for others.' Photo: Minh Vu / Tuoi Tre

On March 29, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved a plan by the Ministry of Finance to cease all lottery activities, alongside a more drastic measure green-lighted two days later to curb the transmission of COVID-19 in the country through government-mandated social distancing between April 1 and 15.

A total of 150 such portions given away since April 3 thanks to donations from Quan’s family members and friends have filled both the underprivileged’s stomachs and hearts.

"Giving a hand to these people, who already struggle to scrounge up enough cash to afford rent and food, means a lot at this critical juncture. I hope to raise more funds and offer more free meals each day," the young man said.

Vietnam has confirmed 251 COVID-19 cases so far, with a total of 126 having been released from hospitals.

No fatality associated with the disease has been recorded in the nation to date.

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