An interview with Hang Dam, country director for Holt Vietnam, about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting children and families in Vietnam — and how sponsors and donors are meeting their most urgent needs.
How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting children and families in Holt’s Vietnam programs?
We in Vietnam feel so blessed to be safe up to this point in time. All of our children are safe. None of them are diagnosed with the illness. But the pandemic has caused so many difficulties for the parents because so many have lost jobs. Even with the social distancing period over in Vietnam, many families still face difficulties finding a job due to the number of companies that had to close down or ran out of business. Families have fallen into financial crisis and are struggling with daily living and needing basic necessities for their children.
During the social distancing period, some of the children in the orphanage needed ongoing medical care and the pandemic created a barrier for them to access it. Most of them had to stay inside the orphanage and could not go to see the doctor, so they received treatment under the supervision of the medical staff in the orphanage.
What are the greatest risks to children right now?
In June, I took a trip to a couple provinces and visited children and families. I really feel how their lives change when the parents don’t have income, they stay home, they don’t have anything to eat and the children can’t go to school.* Their lives are really disturbed and affected.
Some parents [living in the city], because of the pandemic, they have to send their children back to their hometown so they can stay with the grandparents — separating the children from the parents. If children are cared for by the grandparents or relatives, we cannot measure how much care and supervision they get. But because they are not staying with their parents, some of the children suffer.
The parents who have no job and no income keep wondering, “Okay, what are we going to eat? How can we feed our children? Oh, the school year is going to come … We have to pay for uniforms, books and supplies. How can I get the income to pay for that?”
Has the pandemic put kids in Vietnam at greater risk of child labor or child trafficking?
In two families I visited over the summer, the grandparents told me that during the daytime the children helped them do some kind of labor to get income — for example, collecting the mango seed. The children went around the village to collect mango seed and bring it home and clean it for selling. The way the grandparents defended it is [by saying] that the children have more time, since they’re not in school, to help earn income.
But when the families get used to that and see that the children can bring in income, the chance of them returning to school is lower. That is why we try to stay connected with the parents, with the child, and provide them even small support to give them the encouragement and the commitment they need to send their children back to school when it reopens. If not, the rate of dropout will increase.*
How are sponsors and donors helping to meet the basic needs of children and families affected by the pandemic?
With the support from our sponsors and donors, we are able to provide the children with nutrition support and hygiene and sanitation supplies to make sure that they are safe from COVID. We also provide the children in the orphanage with vitamin supplements to build up strong immune systems and we look for unmet needs of kids in the orphanage. Based on the specific issues, we meet their extra needs through the support of sponsors and donors.
We also increased our effort to conduct needs assessment of the families and provide basic necessity support — food and some financial capital for them to start a small business. Within the last couple of months, we were able to serve 50 families with capital and basic necessity support.
With the help of sponsors and donors, we have also provided school supplies, materials and support so that the children can come back to school and back to their routine.
What would you like to say to Holt sponsors and donors directly?
We really appreciate all of the support that you’re providing during this difficult time, knowing this is a global issue. Your care and contribution to help the children is really, really important for them. With your support, we are able to bring in daily food for the children who are struggling with hunger. We also provide support to parents who lost jobs. All of this is very critical to the children at this difficult time.
*In most provinces, in-person school has now reopened for children in Vietnam.
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