by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
Illustration by Trịnh Lập
Singer Thủy Tiên wrote on her Facebook page that she raised more than VNĐ150 billion (US$6.4 million) during October, to provide relief aid to those hit by the storms that have ravaged the central provinces of Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị, and Thừa Thiên Huế .
Her account, https://www.facebook.com/FcThuyTien, which has more than 7 million followers, was visited by thousands of first-timers, who either recommended isolated communities they knew of that needed food and medicine, or complimented her on her charitable deeds. But others claimed she must have broken the law to have raised such a large sum in such a short period of time.
Some even asked for photos of beneficiaries, to which she replied, “I’ve been visiting communities for a week now, every day, delivering thousands of packets of instant noodles. I wasn’t able to take photos because of the conditions.”
Việt Nam this week also had to deal with Super Typhoon Molave, the strongest tropical storm to hit the country in 20 years. Footage of roofs being blown away and rivers overflowing can be seen wherever you look on social media.
Even in Hà Nội, more than 500 km away from the storm, strong winds rattled windows in high-rise buildings.
More relief aid will undoubtedly be needed in the central region.
Another response to Thủy Tiên posting how much she’d raised for people in need was to question how government-run, State budget-funded aid and relief programmes were operating.
“People trust Thủy Tiên more, and they want to see that their donations get to the right people at the right time,” read one comment, as Thủy Tiên was snapped taking a boat to visit hard-hit communities.
Not only is she beautiful and kind-hearted, she was also willing to share the hardships and, of course, put herself in harm’s way. That’s what netizens want to see!
While a single philanthropist can get so much praise online, it seems unfair to ignore the ongoing efforts of the Government to also reach people by boat, if necessary, and help them cope when natural disasters strike.
“Never before has a Prime Minister visited the National Hydro-meteorological Centre twice in the one week,” a forecaster at the centre beamed a few days ago.
Local military garrisons and police have been mobilised to help evacuate 1.3 million people from Molave’s likely path, which is the ninth major storm to cross Việt Nam’s coastline this year.
“When the storm hit, the electricity was cut, roads were blocked or swept away. People removed huge amounts rocks and mud to clear the roads, so electricity and communications could be restored,” read another widely shared post from someone who declined to give his name but said he had repaired roads for 20 years.
“He’s right,” a front officer in the mountainous district messaged me. “There’s so much work to be done before roads can be travelled on again and food and first aid can reach ravaged locations. We do not want, or need, to be mentioned in social media. It’s our job.”
It’s actually been quite uplifting and encouraging to see Vietnamese come together and help out in such a difficult and dangerous situation.
There are many levels of aid relief, according to a retired Red Cross manager. “Emergency aid will be delivered by military rescue teams,” she said.
A few days later, when water levels start to recede, clothing, textbooks, medication, and clean water are very much the priority.
“Thank you to all who donated,” wrote a high-school friend who owns a business in Hà Nội delivering cooked meals to working families. “I’ve received 50 blankets and 350 bottles of essential oil, which will go to Quảng Trị soon.”
The public, who too often get caught up in social media storms, have become quite demanding of public figures.
Popular singer Đàm Vĩnh Hưng recently took to his personal account to respond to people who had jammed his fanpage asking why he’s not providing any aid.
Triggered by offensive questions and irrelevant comments, he replied in harsh tones, which pleased his fans but outraged those with an axe to grind.
Commonly known as Mr Đàm, he has a big fanbase and has been known for his charity work in the past.
His response made for unpleasant reading but it’s impossible to know what really lay behind it. But when many are suffering and others are lending a hand, discretion may have been the better part of valour.
In a cooking group with more than 200,000 members, one woman put up photos of her family back in 1999, when she was three years old and had just lived through the worst floods to hit the ancient imperial capital of Huế in years.
“I was wearing a life jacket donated by some businesses in HCM City,” she posted. “We survived the floods. Now we live elsewhere, but we remember and feel grateful for the aid we received.”
She then introduced an easy and flavourful pancake she had as a child in a family that always struggled financially.
“The most delicious pancakes I ever had were also the most simple my mum ever made,” she wrote. “When you’re hungry, anything is the best food ever.”
Later this year, when prominent social workers receive government recognition, I hope the Office of Work Emulation recommends that Thủy Tiên has some sort of acknowledgement come her way, say a Labour Hero medal, first class, along with the other heroes in the armed forces and public service.
She set a new and unique example, of how to quickly raise large amounts of funding for emergency relief aid, and didn’t need netizens to tell her to do it. VNS