|Patients and their relatives queue to get free food from the volunteer club in Bình Phước Province. — Photo nongnghiep.vn
BÌNH PHƯỚC — Millions of free meals have been provided to poor patients at Bình Phước Province's General Hospital over the past 18 years, easing the financial burden on the families of long-term patients.
The southern province's volunteer club which provides the meals, founded in 2002, originally had just one group of volunteers to cook for the patients, according to Hồ Văn Nhật, head of the club.
"I went to the hospital several times and realised they faced financial problems because they had been sick for a long time," Nhật told Nông nghiệp Việt Nam (Việt Nam Agriculture) online newspaper. "I also saw many poor ethnic minority patients forced to return home because they did not have enough money for treatment at the hospital."
“So I decided to raise money and cook free meals for them,” he said.
In the beginning, Nhật used his own money to pay for the meals. Since then he has mobilised people in the neighbourhood and relatives to help.
The club now has 15 other groups which take turn cooking for people being treated at the hospital.
The club connects organisations and individuals looking to contribute time, efforts and materials to provide meaningful help to patients, Nhật said, giving patients the motivation to cope with their illnesses. Volunteer groups can donate money, rice, ingredients or labour, he said.
They serve porridge in the morning and rice at lunch and dinner.
The club cooks about 600 meals a day for lunch and dinner, starting preparations early in the morning to make sure the food is ready in time.
Đoàn Thị Bích Hợp, head of a volunteer group called “sport family”, said her group cooks meals twice a month for poor patients at the hospital.
By 11am, everything is ready and patients and relatives queue up. Although each meal costs the club VNĐ20,000 to prepare, the patients and their families know they can count on being fed free of charge.
Huỳnh Thị Ngọc Dung, a member of the group, said most people in her group wok in a State office so they can only volunteer their time to help cook on Saturdays and Sundays.
“I am busy with work in the office and my family but I try to join the group," Dung said. "Sometimes I’m tired, but it makes me happy when I can help those in need."
The work is taxing. Volunteers wake up early and go to the market to buy ingredients. There is no break after lunch is over; they keep working to prepare dinner.
Clean water is also served all day.
A poor patient who has been treated at the hospital for diabetes for 23 years, 65-year-old Nguyễn Thị Lượm, said: “I am very happy to receive free meals from the club. It really helps me to overcome difficulties because I have to go to the hospital regularly to treat my diabetes.”
“I just want to say thank you so much to each member of the club,” she added.
“I don't know how difficult it would be without these meals," said Mai Văn Hùng, a kidney failure patient from Phước Long Township. "After two years in treatment, I’m having financial difficulties."
Bùi Thị Sáu, the wife of a 72-year-old patient who is undergoing kidney failure treatment at the hospital, said they had been receiving free meals for nearly nine years since her husband first came to the hospital.
"I often go the kitchen to help volunteer groups prepare meals when I have free time," she said. "My husband and I are grateful to the club."
"Sometimes I thought it was impossible to keep the club operating," said Nhật. "But the members and I have done everything to help disadvantaged patients. The kitchen has also received support from many sources, in many ways." — VNS