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Church responds to Vietnam's forgotten Covid-19 victims

Catholic organizations step in as government fails to help those in need during the coronavirus crisis

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

Published: September 10, 2020 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: September 11, 2020 10:04 AM GMT

Church responds to Vietnam's forgotten Covid-19 victims

Caritas workers load rice on to a truck to take to people hit by the Covid-19 crisis in Hai Duong city on Aug. 25. (Photo: caritasvietnam.org)

Mary Nguyen Thi Quang, 78, sells salt, fish sauce, cooking oil, sweets and soft drinks at her house for a living.

“I earn some 100,000 dong [US$4.30] a day, which is not enough for us. We have to spend our capital, which is running out,” Quang said.

She and her 83-year-old husband, who suffers heart problems, have depended on the low income from their shop for the past few months. Few customers visit her shop due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The elderly woman from Yen Bai city said authorities refused to grant allowances to her family as they have the shop for a living. “We elderly people deserve to get allowances because we have no other income and are also hit by the coronavirus,” she said.

In April, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved a 62-trillion-dong financial support package for an estimated 20 million people badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals and households were expected to receive monthly allowances of 250,000 to 1.8 million dong each for three months until June.

However, the Labor, Invalid and Social Affairs Ministry reported in August that only 17.5 trillion dong of the rescue package was disbursed to some 16 million people.

Experts said the aid disbursement was a low figure since it is complicated to confirm beneficiaries’ conditions to receive the funds. They blamed authorities at localities for passing the buck and delaying the disbursement for fear of being punished if they made mistakes.

They said daily earners and those without contracts have no access to the funds as they could not complete complicated procedures required by local authorities. Those people form the majority of the pandemic-hit victims.

Official corruption

On Aug. 25, state-run Vietnamplus reported that many poor households from Xuan La hamlet on the outskirts of Hanoi were not given the financial aid, which other families of wealth received.

It said some daily wage earners who lost their jobs have asked for the aid many times, but officials refused to approve.

Local authorities admitted that they failed to list all Covid-19 victims deserving financial support in the hamlet of 4,000 people.

In May, Prime Minister Phuc banned authorities from forcing poor people to refuse financial aid after media reported government officials in the northern province of Thanh Hoa paid house-to-house visits asking thousands of poor families not to receive the money. They threatened to deny those families access to bank loans with low interest rates if they refused.

Many accused the authorities of forcing victims not to take the money so that they could please their superiors or put it in their pockets.

The government plans to launch a second support package for businesses, cooperatives, individual business households and workers hit by the pandemic. Benefactors will be given access to the new package worth 70-90 trillion dong with low interest rates in the remaining four months of the year.

The Labor, Invalid and Social Affairs Ministry proposed beneficiaries of the package include those who have to rent accommodation and raise children under six but who lost their jobs, had their employment contracts suspended, and temporarily do unpaid work. They will be granted 1 million dong ($43) a month per person or child for three months maximum.

Maria Pham Thuy Tinh, owner of a small restaurant in Yen Bai city, said the government should simplify administrative procedures so that the funds could benefit many Covid-19 victims.

Tinh said the second package should focus on those who are really affected by the pandemic, not on paper.

She received only 1 million dong from the first package in July, adding that she should have been given 3 million dong for three months.

Tinh said she earns some 150,000 dong a day while in the past she made 500,000 dong. “The income is not enough for me to support seven people in my family,” she said.

“We are disappointed with the first rescue package because many people in need have not received the funds,” Tinh said, adding that many people could not present required documents to get the funds.

John Nguyen Ngoc Hong, 20, said that before the coronavirus outbreak he worked as a daily wager and earned some 3 million dong a month at a carpenter’s shop.

“I have been unemployed for months since the pandemic has hit wooden furniture sales, but I have not been received any allowances from the government yet,” said Hong, who lives with his parents.

“I was paid daily and had no employment contract. How can I show enough documents to get the allowance? If the government does not make procedures simple, numerous jobless workers like me will suffer.” 

Hong warned that the unemployment rate will rise in the coming months and society will face various problems.

Church support

Lovers of the Holy Cross Sister Mary Do Thi Quyen, who works in Lai Chau province, said the livelihoods of Hmong villagers have been completely destroyed by the Covid-19 crisis. They found themselves jobless as they could not work in other places or in neighboring China.

Sister Quyen said in May three hungry Hmong girls died tragically after they ate poisonous mushrooms. Their parents and relatives worked away from home while they collected mushrooms. Local Catholics helped organize their funerals.

The nun said many people have to collect vegetables and fruits from forests for their food and wait for the crops next month.

Few benefactors make donations to local people as they are also affected by the coronavirus. As a result, the nuns have nothing to feed them.

“May God end the pandemic soon so that benefactors can visit and provide basic supplies for local people,” Sister Quyen said.

Father Joseph Nguyen Tien Lien, pastor of Mai Yen Parish in Son La province, which is home to various ethnic groups, said many patients suffer lack of food at local hospitals.

Father Lien said Catholic groups provide free food for hundreds of patients and their relatives at hospitals each day. He called on benefactors to cover the costs.

The priest leads visiting Catholics from other places who offer gifts to poor families and flood victims.

Father Vincent Vu Ngoc Dong, head of Caritas in Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, called on local people to make donations to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, the biggest festival for children in the year, which falls on Oct. 1 this year.

Father Dong said Caritas plans to hold celebrations for children with grave difficulties, especially those who are affected by the Covid-19 crisis.            

Archbishop Joseph Nguyen Nang of Ho Chi Minh City called on Catholics to work with people from all walks of life and provide material and emotional support for patients and those who live in miserable conditions.

“We should show that we are Jesus’ apostles by doing charity generously and expressing our solidarity with other people,” Archbishop Nang said.

He also urged people to pray for the world to overcome the deadly pandemic as religion is the soul of human life. “Human beings will lose their direction and not know where to go without religion,” he said.

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