As COVID-19 infections engulfed Vietnam and killed 10,000 people in September, two local Vietnamese-American brothers and a nonprofit sprung into action.
David Duong, CEO of California Waste Solutions and a community leader in San Jose, has split his time doing business between the South Bay and the Southeast Asian country. A refugee who fled Vietnam as a kid, Duong said his heart will be forever rooted in the motherland.
Watching COVID ravage Vietnam, Duong and his family felt compelled to help.
“As business people, we work with the community, but we also want to build up the community,” Duong told San José Spotlight. “We need to give back, especially during this difficult time.”
Duong spent months trying to buy COVID-19 vaccines for Vietnam to no avail—the country still can’t produce its own vaccines and relies on other countries for supplies. Giving up was not an option.
Finding a solution
He turned to the next best thing. In August, California Waste Solutions donated 250 oxygenators to hospitals in Vietnam to aid pandemic relief. The machines are designed to boost the blood-oxygen concentration of patients who can’t breathe because of COVID, but are not the same as ventilators. Last month, the Duongs upped the efforts and donated another 1,000 machines. Duong and his brother hand-delivered the donation to Vietnam President Nguyen Xuan Phuc during the president’s trip to New York in late September.
“We have the means to contribute in this way,” said Victor Duong, David’s brother and vice president of California Waste Solutions. “(Vietnam) needs all the help it could get.”
When the Vietnamese community in San Jose struggled to keep their businesses open and was hit hard by the virus last year, Vietnam was the only country that sold the Duongs the much-needed cloth masks and hand sanitizers to bring back to the U.S., they said.
When many countries across the globe failed to grapple with how quickly the virus spread, Vietnam implemented strict quarantine and isolation protocols. The country of 96 million people reported fewer than 300 deaths in May last year.
Yet the country has been slow in getting its population vaccinated. As of October, only about 18% of the population in Vietnam is fully vaccinated. Roughly 29% of the population has received one dose.
Ho Chi Minh City, the most populous city in Vietnam, quickly became the country’s COVID-19 epicenter when the Delta variant hit earlier this year, prompting officials to shut down the city from June through the end of September.
Dr. Nguyen Hoang Tuan, a board member of local nonprofit International Children Assistance Network (ICAN), said he followed the news from Vietnam closely. In early summer, the doctor said he knew the Delta variant would devastate Vietnam and its people—who he called “đồng bào” (compatriots).
“ICAN started calling for help and contribution in July,” Nguyen told San José Spotlight in Vietnamese. “We asked for cash and masks, especially medical masks.”
Donations poured in from different parts of California and Texas. ICAN collectively raised $138,000, he said. The group also delivered 70,000 N-95 masks, 7,000 KN-95 masks and roughly $30,000 worth of medical equipment for hospitals and health care workers in Vietnam.
“At the time, we thought if we could get 20,000 to 25,000 masks, that would be great,” Nguyen said. “I’m so moved by the generosity by many to help our people.”
Masks are critical to health care workers and Vietnam doesn’t have the technologies to produce N-95 and KN-95 masks, he said.
All the donations have been sent for distribution to Master Thich Chon Tinh, who heads the Thuong Quan Buddhist Temple in Ho Chi Minh City. While machines are sent to overcrowded hospitals in the city, cash and care packages are delivered by hand to those impacted by COVID in the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands, Nguyen said.
The efforts have reached at least 1,000 people across the country, he said. The group prioritized aiding those with disabilities and children who have lost one or both parents due to COVID.
“When our people are hurting like this, this is the least we could do,” Nguyen said, sobbing as he recalled a story of a young child losing both their parents to COVID. “We’re lucky to be (in the U.S.), so we want to do whatever we can to help them.”
Click here for more information about ICAN’s efforts to help Vietnam.