Saigoneers lend each other helping hands amidst Covid-19

Having their lives turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic, the people of Saigon still maintain a positive outlook and always want to do their part in supporting front line workers and less privileged members of their community.

In an alleyway on Le Quoc Hung Str., Dist. 4 is the home of Do Pham Nguyet Thanh, Specialist at the Biomedical Research Center of Pham Ngoc Thach University of Medicine.

She and her family are working non-stop making face shields for doctors, law enforcers and volunteers in Covid-hit areas across HCMC.

Thanh’s department is tasked with testing 500 – 600 Covid samples per day which wear out herself and others, but she is insistent in helping keep her colleagues safe with the help of her whole family.

“I got my family on board with making these face shields while we practice social distancing. This will make for great memories as we spend time together, making a difference in fighting the pandemic and hopefully getting all of our lives back to normal soon,” Thanh said.

As soon as they heard the Covid situation in Go Vap got complicated, the family immediately started making face shields for front line workers.

“When the news first broke that Go Vap’s situation is getting worse, the Youth Union in Go Vap Dist. contacted me. We’d had about 150 face shields left in stock since last year and got them delivered to the union for volunteer sample takers over there.

But 150 is just a drop in the bucket, so we decided to make more. We didn’t have any sponsors at the time and paid for all the materials out of our own pockets. The situation was pretty tense in Go Vap so we had to keep up the pace,” she said.

And so, the family of a dozen banded together, creating around 1000-1200 face shields each day.

Thanh picked up on how to make these shields from colleagues at the Children’s Hospital 1. After a while, the family started to modify the products slightly, like making the panel wider to cover both the user’s face and hair, using thinner foam strips to allow the skin to breathe, using velcro pads so the user can easily adjust the width, and adding plastic buttons at the back for more support.

This is the second time Thanh’s family is making these face shields; the first was during the peak of Covid in April 2020. This time, they made around 10,000 pieces to send out to lockdown areas and hospitals across HCMC. The family has made 25,000 face shields in total.

Mrs. Pham Thi Thom, Thanh’s mother, said: “This isn’t hard labor but it’s very time-consuming. The older family members would get tired sitting in one spot the whole day, so we would take turns if someone needs to stretch their back a little.

I wasn’t confident that I could do this at first, but of course I want to support my daughter because helping people is what she does. Then I also came to realize this is a meaningful thing to do for the sake of our community.”

The Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union of the Banking Sector in HCMC is the main sponsor for Thanh’s family whose volunteers deliver the face shields to hospitals and lockdown areas.

Tran Thi Ha Thanh, Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union of the Banking Sector in HCMC, told: "We have raised around US$3,055 for the production of the face shields. The demand for this gear is skyrocketing so we are working to raise more funds and get at least 2,000 more created for locations in need.”

For the past few days when the HCMC Hospital for Tropical Diseases got hit with a few Covid cases, Thanh’s family also prepared 700 packed meals for medical workers and staff members there.

Thanh calls them “appreciation meals” since they represent the gratitude that people have for medical workers, not just in fighting Covid but also for the career path they chose.

Municipal leaders and local authorities as well as philanthropists and corporations have offered “rice ATMs” and free essential products for underprivileged people and those in lockdown.

At Dist. 7’s Cultural Center for Children, the rice ATM and free product aisles are in place. Despite the large number of people present, social distancing and health declarations are being implemented thanks to volunteers giving instructions at the site.
Undeterred by the summer heat, they carefully instructed and helped pack the goods for elderly citizens.

“I’m really glad to be doing my part in bringing spring to the people. It’s no big deal for me compared to the middle-aged and elderly people who have to stand in line for so long," said Nguyen Quy Thuy Duong, member of Dist. 7’s Youth Union.

To Quang The, member of the Vietnam Youth Federation in Dist. 7, said that “I’m part of the group directing people on the outside to maintain social distancing and make sure they get to where they need to be as soon as possible. 

I think all the young people here don’t really think about themselves getting spent.

Giving people the help they need is what really matters; it lifts our spirit.
We’re still young and full of energy, and we’re always willing to set aside some personal time to help the community during social distancing.”

The program was set up by the Vietnam Fatherland Front Committee, Standing Committee of the Youth Union and Labor Confederation of District 7, lasting 10 days from June 9 – June 18, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Each person can take home 3kg of rice along with instant noodles, eggs and vegetables, etc.

Mrs. Le Thi Be Lon, a resident in District 7, said that “I’m stuck at home with my children. My husband is a motorbike taxi rider but he’s not making much. I’m grateful to get some rice and instant noodles here.”

“It feels great to come back to my family with food; my grandchildren are always delighted to see me. Thank you very much to the workers, " said Mrs. Pham Thi Yen from the same district.

Besides Dist. 7, other localities like Dist. 1, Dist. 8, Dist. 4, Phu Nhuan Dist., Thu Duc City, Thanh Loc Ward in Dist. 12 also establish “rice ATMs”, set up free food and supply stalls in quarantine areas and supermarkets, and go shopping for or deliver fresh groceries to households in lockdown.