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|Masks are much-needed on the frontlines during the ongoing health crisis|
In early March, when regulations to wear a mask in public places had not yet been issued, many people living in the mountainous district of Van Yen in Yen Bai province could not purchase medical masks because of the scarcity and high price since the outbreak began.
In order to solve those difficulties, members of the district’s dance sports club came up with the idea of sewing cloth masks for people, especially those in difficult circumstances living in the district.
The skilful members voluntarily contributed towards the costs as they donated more than 10,000 masks to hospitals, bus stations, markets, and highland communes. Kha Chu, the member of the dance sports club who first proposed the idea said, “We feel proud that this small work has helped many local people to be safe.”
From a spontaneous activity, the movement was later replicated by the Yen Bai Women’s Union and received enthusiastic support from more than 2000 women’s associations in the province. More than 100,000 cloth masks were distributed to members, residents, and forces directly participating in the prevention of the pandemic in Yen Bai.
In many other localities, the movement of sewing masks also took place vigorously and attracted the participation of many organisations and sponsors. Many companies have been transformed into mask factories during lunch breaks. Many individuals, even without any experience in the textile industry, also participated in the campaign.
The touching stories related to the cloth masks have been shared daily in the media. Also in the media was the story of a special 97-year-old tailor, Vietnamese heroic mother Ngo Thi Quyt in Ho Chi Minh City, who crafted masks for the poor. And the story of doctors and staff from the city’s Tu Du Hospital, taking advantage of the lunch break to make cloth masks for colleagues and patients’ relatives.
Doctors at Can Tho City Maternity Hospital made thousands of masks for the isolated areas of the city and the people of Riverside, California in the United States as a gift to show the friendship and solidarity of Vietnamese people. Although the cloth rags are still rudimentary, they ensure quality and can be reused many times, not only contributing to minimising waste in the environment but also the providing a contribution from many individuals and organisations to protect public health and giving priority to medical masks for anti-pandemic doctors and staff on the frontline.
In addition to sewing and giving out free masks, many creative ideas about other anti-pandemic products for the pandemic were also carried out by youth groups and individuals in localities. Recently, Reuters published the story of a small merchant in Ho Chi Minh City that produced homemade face shields for frontline medical workers. During the time of social distancing Quach My Linh – a 30-year-old merchant selling hats at Ba Chieu market – came up with the idea of making plastic face shields. This product can be worn with a mask, helping users avoid droplets containing germs from infected people.
In just a few days, Linh and her team made nearly 1400 face shields to donate to three hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City. Linh said, “I want to make these masks to help medical workers stay healthy. If they are healthy, they can protect us.”
The article was republished by many major newspapers such as The New York Times, US News, and The Chronicle Herald in Canada as a testament to creativity and the spirit of fighting the pandemic of the Vietnamese people.
The droplet shield was later replicated and improved by the youth unions and other organisations to donate to doctors, soldiers, and other people in places seriously affected by the pandemic.
Along with the determination to win over the disease, the movement to create cloth masks, shields, and other innovations such as handwashing sinks from recycled materials and rice ATMs is helping those in difficult circumstances and are being replicated in many localities across Vietnam.
Nguyen My Tra, a journalist from the Radio Voice of Vietnam, is also the creator of unique masks made from handmade silk material at Phung Xa Silk Village in My Duc, Hanoi. Tra said that when her colleagues called for donations to support the frontline doctors to fight the pandemic, she donated 10 homemade silk masks.
The buyer is a nano PhD from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology. “She really liked the idea of a pretty silk mask with traditional village patterns so she decided to help me upgrade using antibacterial silver nano technology,” Tra said.
She then gave Tra 30 extra silver-coated pads with encouragement to continue producing. With such support, Tra has improved from two layers to three, with space to add nano silver or activated carbon pads depending on the user’s preference. She washes the silk, dries it, then soaks it with water again before cutting and sewing. It takes around an hour to complete one silk mask. The highlight of the mask is the traditional decorative moon pattern woven on silk fabric. Currently, she has changed to silk material produced in Nha Xa Silk Village in Ha Nam province.
Each mask costs VND100,000 ($4.30). Many of her friends also signed up to buy masks to give to foreign partners or friends, so her two children also participated in the “production line” at home.
She shared, “Between bags of materials and modern motifs, I chose silk and traditional patterns. For me, this is to do something together to love and bond with family. Each of us did one stitch according to our own strength. The seams are not perfect as we are unprofessional – we just hope when people hold or wear it, they will feel a positive energy. Though foreigners usually do not like wearing masks, they like my silk masks.”
More than 10 days after its inception, a “rice ATM” in Ho Chi Minh City has created a strong wave and the idea has spread throughout the country with similar models in Hanoi, Hue, Danang, and the Central Highlands. But Hoang Tuan Anh, CEO of PHGLocks, the first founder of the rice ATM project, is always busy with plans to find new points and fix arising technical problems.
At first, he thought of buying a few tonnes of rice, packaged into 2-kg bags to donate. But other charitable gift points gathered too many people, so he immediately came up with the idea of automatic rice conveying by tube and ensuring a distance of 2m/person as prescribed. Thanks to the support of the company’s technical staff, the first rice ATM was born and officially operates at Vuon Lai street in Tan Phu district.
With more people getting rice, the number of people also offering it is increasing. From the plan to distribute 500kg of rice per day to the end of the month, Tuan Anh’s rice ATM projects are expected to continue for at least the next 3-6 months. “The development of the project these days has completely surpassed our expectations,” Tuan Anh explained.
The beneficiaries of rice at these ATMs are poor workers, people in difficult circumstances, and those without income due to work affected by the coronavirus. Each person will receive from 1.5-2kg after each press of the button.
Currently, Tuan Anh has installed five rice ATMs in Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding areas. He said that the service would later be designed in a container for easy transport. These movable rice ATMs will also be used later when the pandemic is over or when floods come.
With great support and widespread demand in localities, Tuan Anh hopes to donate or transfer technology to have 100 rice ATMs everywhere. Meanwhile, the recipient of the rice does not have to search too far. He shared, “Social distancing for me no longer means a slow day for me. On many days I only have 2-3 hours to sleep, but the support and response of people has encouraged me to try.”
A zero-dong supermarket, also called Happy Supermarket, was opened at the Grand Plaza building in Hanoi’s Cau Giay district in order to provide food and necessities for the poor during the pandemic.
The supermarket operates by focusing on human resources, location, and service. The shelves are lined with rice, eggs, cooking oil, salt, sugar, clothes, and other necessities. People are assisted by support staff to select the items on demand, and orders worth VND100,000/person ($4.30) will be offered for zero.
Every day about 100 employees alternately transport goods from 8am-6pm, ensure order, and remind people to disinfect and maintain distance to ensure safety. Nguyen Quang Huy, representative of the organiser of the supermarket, said that the project was implemented from April 11, opened on April 13, and has served more than 100 disadvantaged people around the Hanoi area.
It is expected that the supermarket will operate for some time but the operator is planning to maintain it long-term if there are other units participating and supporting it.
With a budget of VND10 billion, the system of these supermarkets has been deployed in many provinces and cities such as Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, Thai Nguyen, Hai Duong, Lang Son, and Thua Thien-Hue.