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Doctors, nurses sing for the supper of the poor

Update: August, 16/2016 - 07:00
Dr Trần Thị Thủy (standing, left), who works at a pharmaceutical company, and a male friend (white shirt) and family members rehearse before performing for the charity programme Dishes of Rice on the Wall, which provides free meals to poor patients and their caregivers. — VNS Photo Gia Lộc
Viet Nam News

Gia Lộc

HCM CITY — Heavy rains did not prevent both professional and amateur singers from attending the first Đêm Nhạc Blouse Trắng (White Blouse Music Night) at a HCM City coffee shop to raise funds for meals for poor patients and their caregivers.

The event, held every week this month and biweekly beginning in September, has attracted doctors, nurses and other amateurs. Most of them heard about the event from the Facebook page of Đĩa Cơm Trên Tường (Dishes of Rice on the Wall), a charity that provides free meals to disadvantaged patients and their caregivers.

The first music night, held on August 6, raised funds worth more than VNĐ40 million (US$1,777), enough for the Dishes of Rice on Wall programme to survive for five weeks. The funds were enough to pay for meals for 420 patients and their caregivers at four hospitals for one week.

“The proceeds from the music night were very impressive. We didn’t expect so many people to show up. We had 100 people for 50 seats,” said Dr Huỳnh Thanh Hiển of HCM City Mental Health Hospital, one of the event’s organisers.

Dr Trần Thị Thủy, who works at a pharmaceutical company, said she told Hiển she would help, after seeing his Facebook post that asked for singers and musicians for a band.

“My husband and nephew are musicians. Seeing the first night’s success and the crowd inspired us to continue,” Thủy said.

English teacher Đỗ Thị Kim Cúc, who sang at the event, found out about the programme through a friend’s Facebook post. “All the benefits are for poor patients, so it’s a worthwhile activity,” she said.

Rice on the Wall

The name of the charity Dishes of Rice on the Wall originates from a story Coffee on the Wall about a coffee shop in Venice, in which two people order two cups of coffee, according to Hiển.

The two customers drink only one coffee and leave a piece of paper on the wall that says “a cup of coffee”.  The free drink is for anyone who cannot afford it.

“I read the story in late 2014. I thought about carrying out the same idea here, but instead of coffee I wanted to use ‘rice on the wall’ for poor patients and their caregivers,” Hiển said.

In Việt Nam, patients are often taken care of by one or two relatives at hospitals. In HCM City, 60-70 per cent of the patients are from other provinces and cities.

Many of the caregivers cannot afford decent meals with enough meat and vegetables as they must spend most of their money for medical treatment.

Hiển, after posting his idea on Facebook, was contacted by Dr Võ Xuân Sơn, head of EXSON International Clinic, who is the main sponsor of the event.

Sơn said that they worked with canteens and food shops located in front of and inside the four hospitals in order to ensure food safety and hygiene.

They buy food tickets worth VNĐ20,000 at shops and canteens and then hand them over to the patients’ caregivers.

“The owners of the shops and canteens have agreed to not ask for the price difference. The meals they sell to the caregivers are exactly the same as the meals offered to everyone else," he said.

At first, only staff working at Sơn’s clinic took part in the programme by donating cash funds and contacting people, but they soon realised that more participants would be beneficial.

Hiển and Sơn then raised funds from friends and colleagues, but after six months the fund ran out of money.

At that time, VTC and VTV television channels aired a show about the programme. “Since then, it has become better known and has received sponsorship from more and more people,” Hiển said.

On a football bet

On the occasion of Euro Championships 2016, Hiển placed a VNĐ1 million bet with his cousin on a football game between Germany and Italy to raise money for 50 patients.  

“I also bet 500 dishes with friends on Facebook to raise funds. I lost. But then the winners sent a message asking for my bank account, although they did not lose the bet.  The dishes which I collected totalled 880,” Hiển said.

His next two bets were successful, and the following three bets collected more than “5,000 dishes”.

Since the “betting” scheme seemed to appeal to people, the group continued to use it to raise funds.

“Our principle is not to use money for odd expenditures. All the money is used for buying meals only for poor patients and caregivers,” Hiển said.

He said that the group would also give VNĐ6 million in startup funds to any group in another city or province that wants to carry out the programme.

Hiển said that medical colleagues from the provinces of Quãng Ngãi, Cà Mau and Bình Dương have all expressed interest.

Mutual benefits

The donors say they benefit from the programme as much as the patients and caregivers.

Hiển said that, after drinking coffee for the price of VNĐ180,000, he “regretted it because that amount could buy nine dishes of rice in our programme”.

Sơn said the charitable activity had helped to change attitudes and increase staff empathy, as many of them had seldom had interactions with poor people.

Phương Thảo, of Đồng Nai Province, who was her daughter’s caregiver at Paediatrics Hospital 2, told VTV3 Television that the programme had helped her save money, which was used for her daughter’s treatment.

“I hope more patients and their families receive tickets from them,” she said. —VNS

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