Ho Chi Minh City, 2021 – Despite being globally appraised for successful Covid-19 containment measures, Vietnam still faces devastating economic and social challenges caused by the pandemic. Particularly, the economic disruption precipitated by national social distancing campaign has imposed sweeping impacts on the informal sector, include women, migrant and unskilled laborer. Ticking all the boxes aforementioned, the family of Truong Van Minh, 42, and his wife Pham Thi Dam, 32, is among those hit hardest.
Minh and Dam come from an impoverished household in Thạnh Lợi commune, an arid rural area in Mekong Delta, Southern Vietnam. Without proper education and good health, they are trapped in poverty as the family struggle to make ends meet. Determined to break this deadlock, they moved to Ho Chi Minh city four years ago, leaving behind their small children Ngoc, then 10, and Danh, 4. Minh luckily secured a security guard job for a local bank, while his wife worked as domestic maid for a foreigner. The couple rented a small shanty room, not too far from where they work, and saving most of their income to send home. Their $300 remittance monthly has kept the kids at school and provide them 3 square meals per day.
“We only get to meet our children several times a year. This year, I thought we would just come home a few days to celebrate Tet with them. When we were about to leave, the pandemic outbroke severely in Ho Chi Minh city. I lost my job as my employer returned to his country, and it is difficult to find another one against the pandemic background. My husband and I discussed carefully and we decided to move back home to live with our children.” – shares Dam.
The young couple does not have the labor skill for factory jobs, nor enough saving to setup a home-based business. Thereby, they resort to casual, temporary jobs such as porter and selling lottery ticket. Overcoming casual fatigue triggered by congenital heart diseases, Dam pedals around the village all day on her bike, with a bundle of lottery tickets tucked in her pocket. She treads the streets and tries to sell her tickets quickly before rushing home to cook for her children. On a good day, she makes around VND 150,000, enough to keep the family of four survive just above the breadline.
The situation got worse in March, as Vietnam went into 15-day nationwide social distancing to curb Covid-19. “I stayed home and stopped selling lottery for one and a half month. We were so scared, so even after the ban was lifted, I dared not fare far from home. It was a very hard time,” shares Dam. Since the door to earning a living closed, Minh and Dam struggle to tend for their families. They grapple with even basic charges such as food or electricity, and being dragged deeper into poverty. Ngoc, the couple’s daughter, recalls: “My mom did not say anything to us, but I saw her crying at nights. There was nothing to eat at home sometimes.” Dam’s health deteriorated quickly over these months as they could no longer afford her VND 1-million medical treatment bill each month.
The family hit the rock bottom in May when their weathered house got collapsed after a heavy rain. They were forced to live in a small shack next to their old house. The shack was very small and made of asbestos sheets patched together, dripping every time it rains. They did not have a latrine so they had to use one in an abandoned school building nearby. By all means, this shack where they lived could hardly be called homes. For Minh and Dam’s family, whose decent meals would include plain rice and salt, an adequate home is just a far-flung dream.
In July, 2020, Habitat for Humanity Vietnam visited the family for the first time. After several rounds of assessment, the family was named a Habitat home-partner. At first, they refused to participate as they could not afford the counterpart fund. Regardless, Habitat Vietnam’s officers and local authorities insisted in supporting the family and nudge them toward reaching their dream. Six months later, the family finally moved into the first, decent house.
“I cried when I set the first step into this beautiful house, but those were happy tears. It was just like a dream. I thought to myself, my wife children will be sleeping in a safe house now. I am forever grateful for that,” shares Minh.
Being asked what she loves most about her new house, Ngoc timidly grins: “I love it that now our family could stay together under the same roof. When mom and dad were away working, my brother and I missed them so much each day. I love my new house and I always help mom take care of it after school.” Ngoc and Danh are bright students. Ngoc even won golden medal at her school’s Mini-Olympic. The new house will keep them stay healthy and focused on the education that will unlock doors in their future.
Housing has always been a matter of life and death. Having a home is central for shelter against rain, storm, cold or heat. It is also the first line of defense against extreme events and crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Habitat for Humanity Vietnam will continue our efforts to facilitate programs that contribute to the realisation of the right to housing for everyone.