Representatives of the Czech Vietnamese community present masks to help fight COVID-19 to Svec Tibor, mayor of Vestec (2nd from left). Photo VNA/VNS Hồng Kỳ
by Dominik Vu
PRAGUE — Vietnamese citizens living in the Czech Republic have united in an initiative to give back to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have given away thousands of homemade face masks, provided food to front liners and organised fundraisers to help tackle the pandemic.
As the country was waiting, the Vietnamese community in the Czech Republic was preparing for the pandemic to arrive. Hearing about the outbreak from their families in Việt Nam, they were instructed to take precautions – such as installing glass barriers in grocery stores to avoid direct contact with customers, purchasing hand sanitiser or wearing face masks.
Early on, Vietnamese wearing face masks in the Czech Republic could encounter social stigmatisation and xenophobia. However, when the epicentre of the pandemic shifted from Asia to Europe, wearing a face mask in all public places became mandatory. There was a lack of face masks in the country, with people on the front lines such as doctors, nurses and law enforcement personnel facing a shortage of supplies.
The Vietnamese community took this as an opportunity to give back to the country which has become their second home, joining a nationwide initiative to manufacture face masks at home and distribute them to those in need. Within days, the Czech Vietnamese were able to deliver thousands of cloth face masks to hospitals, retirement homes, and police stations across the country. In many Vietnamese grocery stores, free face masks and gloves are offered to customers.
The help does not end there, with countless Vietnamese-owned stores across the country providing free coffee, drinks and snacks for all personnel working on the front lines. To make the servicemen and servicewomen aware of this, they mark their door with a big red heart – a symbol that is rather self-explanatory.
Vietnamese restaurants offer free delivery and Nguyễn Hồng Đăng, 27, is one of many who participated. His beverage distribution company provided drinks to the leading Prague hospital dealing with the highest number of cases, as well as the police.
“We just wanted to provide to those working endless hours on the front lines. It is very important for them to stay sufficiently hydrated or regain energy,” he told the Vietnamese Embassy in Prague.
While it’s mostly about spontaneous initiatives of friends and families, there is some level of coordination – whether it’s on a community level, through social media, local associations of Vietnamese or NGOs – such as Làm Cha Mẹ CZ (Being Parents in Czech).
The latter group was the first to respond to an urgent call for face masks from one of Prague’s hospitals and organised a group of women to sew them. Today, on their fundraiser account people have already donated more than VNĐ150 million, which will be used to purchase material.
Another great example of Vietnamese compassion is donations to municipalities or the case of the city of Ústí nad Labem – one of the first cities to record COVID-19 cases in the country – where the local Vietnamese association called for a fundraiser to purchase a lung ventilator for the city hospital – a crucial machine to tackle the virus.
Since this article cannot pay justice to all the community’s action, for more heart-warming stories of the Czech Vietnamese, you can follow their actions on a Facebook page “Vietnamci pomáhají” (Vietnamese are helping). A crisis of this scale is an opportunity to bring people together.
For the Vietnamese community, online co-ordination allows encounters between members that would not have happened otherwise. Finally, for the Czech Vietnamese, often born in the country, it is a manifestation of solidarity with a country they consider home and their actions are highly praised by the media, society and political representation.
Despite an important geographical distance between the two countries, the Czechs and the Vietnamese are closer than ever. Interestingly enough, this year both countries are celebrating 70 years of mutual diplomatic relations. — VNS
Representatives of the Vietnamese community in the city of Znojmo donating face masks to the municipal hospital. Photos courtesy of Vietnamese Embassy in Prague