Sacred Heart priests in central Vietnam are working with Buddhist nuns to provide basic material support for people with physical disabilities badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. On May 12, some 10 priests, brothers and lay volunteers visited and offered food to orphans and children with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and impaired hearing and speech at the Buddhist-run Long Tho Center for Disabled Children in Hue City. They cooked and served meals and held traditional games for the children. “We would like to share the love of Jesus with people in need during the Covid-19 pandemic and show solidarity with Buddhist nuns who look after the children,” said Father Joseph Phan Tan Ho, head of the mother house of the Sacred Heart Congregation based in Hue. Father Ho, who works with people with physical disabilities in the central provinces, said his congregation has built a good relationship with Buddhist nuns and the center since 2017. “We often visit them in the summer and on the festivities of the two religions,” he said.
The priest said many local Buddhist families who live in poverty trust the nuns and send their disabled children to the center. The visit was also to observe the Buddhist Vesak festival at the center. This year’s Vesak celebrations, which fell on May 7, were canceled due to the lockdown to stem the Covid-19 pandemic. The government lifted coronavirus prevention measures on May 8. Buddhist nun Thich Nu Thoai Nghiem, vice director of Long Tho Pagoda, said she was moved by the Catholics’ visit and gifts, which were much appreciated by the children. “The center mainly relies on donations made by local benefactors and tourists who visit the pagoda,” she said. “We call on all people to support us because we are facing a lack of food due to the coronavirus outbreak.” Thoai Nghiem greatly appreciated the effective cooperation offered by the congregation. She said the children are often sent to take part in activities with children of other faiths held by the congregation at Christmas and Lunar New Year. They are given bicycles, books, notebooks and meals. Thoai Nghiem, one of five nuns who founded the center in 2003, said three nuns and 12 teachers and nurses serve 87 orphans and disabled children at the only Buddhist center in the city. Nguyen Van My, who has Down syndrome, said he was happy to receive visitors and had a big meal. My, 16, said his four-member family are short of food. His father is a worker at a cement plant and the only breadwinner. Every day he has to take him to and from the center after work, while his mother is paralyzed in her left leg and has no job. Martha Tran Thi Hoa Thom, a benefactor from Da Nang, said the visit was a way of building a bridge between Catholics and Buddhists in working for the common good, especially creating opportunities for disabled children to be brought up and educated well. Father Ho said he also offered money, rice, face masks and hats to 1,600 blind people hit by the pandemic in the provinces of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue. The donations cost more than 200 million dong (US$8,620) provided by benefactors. “We plan to provide healthcare and rice to over 1,000 lepers in Kon Tum province. They are seriously affected by the coronavirus outbreak,” he said. A rapid assessment of the health and socio-economic challenges faced by people with disabilities and their families in Vietnam during Covid-19 crisis revealed that 82 percent of respondents were concerned about protecting their health and 96 percent were worried about their financial security during the outbreak. The assessment announced by the UN’s Development Program on May 12 reported that up to 70 percent of respondents have found it difficult to access medical care, while 22 percent were suffering from underlying medical conditions potentially putting them at heightened risk of Covid-19. As of March, 72 percent of disabled people had a monthly income of less than 1 million dong (US$43). Some 30 percent had been made unemployed due to Covid-19, while 49 percent were working reduced hours and 59 percent had taken a pay cut.
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