Updated: August 04, 2021 08:38 AM GMT
Nuns and volunteers offer food in an isolated area of Thua Thien Hue province on Aug 1. (Photo: UCA News)
Nguyen Thi Kim Thoa stood patiently in the scorching heat wearing a hat and face mask as she awaited her turn to give a health declaration at a checkpoint in Phu Loc district of Vietnam's Thua Thien Hue province on Aug. 1.
Thoa, who worked for years at a garment factory in Bien Hoa, said she became jobless when the factory was closed after the Covid-19 outbreak in early July.
“I have no money and ate instant noodles for days. I had no choice but to sell my gold engagement ring to return home,” the Buddhist woman said.
The 29-year-old, who looked gaunt and exhausted, said she had to pay 2.52 million dong (US$110) for the bus journey home, five times higher than the normal ticket price.
But had she stayed back and got ill, no one would have helped her. Everybody was afraid they might get infected with the deadly coronavirus.
Thoa, who spent 14 days in a quarantine center at Huong Thuy town before making it home, said she was luckier than thousands of others who rode back home on motorbikes.
We cannot sit tight while weary travelers are about to collapse from thirst and hunger
“I am only too ecstatic to be here and offered free food by Catholic volunteers after a 24-hour trip,” she said while holding the package of food in her hands.
Four sisters and Catholics volunteers from Thua Luu Parish are supplying 200 portions of food every day for migrant workers while they wait for health declarations at the checkpoint.
“We cannot sit tight while weary travelers are about to collapse from thirst and hunger,” Daughters of Mary Immaculate Sister Mary Le Thi Thien said.
Sister Thien said she sprang into action after local people told her about large groups of returnees lying on the pavement struck by exhaustion and badly in need of food and water. They also needed to arrange milk for children, the nun said.
Local benefactors made generous donations to the nuns, enabling them to help the people in this time of distress, Sister Thien added.
The media reported a mass exodus from Vietnam’s commercial hub and neighboring provinces to the central provinces by private vehicles and even on foot as economic zones were closed and public transport services suspended to contain the contagion.
On July 31, Truong Xuan Son, who carries rubble for a living, rode with his wife and three children on his motor tricycle from Ho Chi Minh City to his home province of Nghe An, covering a distance of some 1,500 kilometers.
While they were making health declarations at a checkpoint in Binh Thuan province, a lorry hit their tricycle, causing the death of his 15-year-old son and injuring the others.
We rode on mountain passes through the night and suffered a close call on a narrow pass as I fell asleep at the wheel. God saved us
Le Tan Suyen, who worked at a construction site in Binh Duong province, one of the epicenters of Covid-19 infections in Vietnam, said he and his wife rode their old motor scooter over 1,000 kilometers to Hue.
They joined a group of 80 motorbike riders on their way to Thua Thien Hue province on July 27, carrying enough clothes, food, drinking water and gas for the journey as shops and bistros along the road were closed due to social distancing measures.
Suyen said he saw several groups of exhausted riders with families sleeping under trees, at abandoned service stations and on the banks of water streams along the roads. There were women, children and even pet dogs.
“We rode on mountain passes through the night and suffered a close call on a narrow pass as I fell asleep at the wheel. God saved us,” the migrant worker said.
But it was better than staying back with no jobs and money to cover the daily expenses. “We decided to return home because if we had stayed, we would have nothing to eat and may have even died of Covid-19 without even meeting any relatives,” he said.
Suyen, who was covered in dust, his skin weathered by the sun and wind, said it took him 35 hours to finally reach here. “We were exhausted and weak with hunger and thirst when we came. We survived thanks to food and water supplied by volunteers here,” he added.
The quarantine centers in Thua Thien Hue province, which can accommodate 10,000 persons, are overflowing with people returning from Ho Chi Minh City and the southern provinces stricken with the Delta variant of the virus.
We are delighted to help out the migrant workers in whatever way we can
James Le Ngoc Cuong from Trui Parish is among 10 local mechanics who have volunteered to repair broken-down motorbikes of those in distress since July 24.
“We also supply for free 300 liters of petrol, 50 liters of motor oil, 20 tires and inner tubes besides repairing 40 motorbikes on a daily basis,” he said.
“We are delighted to help out the migrant workers in whatever way we can.”
The 30-year-old said he was inspired by his own harrowing experience in 2015 when his scooter had broken down in Quang Ngai province and he had to push it 10 kilometers before finding a repair shop.
Martha Nguyen Thi Ai from Hue said 20 other women from various faiths volunteer to prepare daily food for the 1,000 people housed at the local quarantine facility. They have also been offering food to needy people at various locations in the city since July 24.
Local parishes are offering cash aid, rice, eggs, fish, meat and vegetables to the returning migrants and villagers in isolated areas to help them survive the pandemic, Father George Nguyen Thanh Phuong said
He said Hue Archdiocese has also donated 2.35 billion dong (US$100,000) and 50 tonnes of food to people affected by the Covid-19 outbreak in Ho Chi Minh City.