Vietnam’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been universally praised. With early and thorough social distancing measures, the country was able to keep the mortality rate at zero, and citizen’s spirit at a high level throughout the last few months.
After more than 60 days without any new cases in the community, the people of Vietnam seem more than ready to resume their pre-COVID lives, adjusting to the ’new normal’ described across all official channels. However, for some of the most vulnerable parts of the population, particularly disadvantaged children, this new normal may be grimmer than ever.
The new normal
Throughout the months of social distancing in Vietnam, all schools were closed to prevent the spread of the virus amongst children. While this has proven to be an effective and necessary public health measure, the prolonged closure of schools has inadvertently raised the risk of dropping out for children from impoverished backgrounds. When school is out, many children started to find work and make money for the first time, often to help lighten the already heavy financial burden, now with added pressure as the adults suffer from unemployment and pay-cuts. Even as schools are re-opened, these students may not return if their families’ struggles are not addressed.
Many re-opened schools are also facing new challenges, particularly in providing enough suitable hygiene facilities. The lack of good toilet blocks can increase fear amongst parents and encourage them to keep their children away from school; and the children who do go to school face the risk of contracting the virus and other illnesses, as hygiene facilities in schools in remote areas can often be rundown or completely absent.
Not only children in schools, but disadvantaged young adults are currently struggling to find work that can sustain themselves and their families. The economic pressure has displaced many families, from the city to rural provinces and vice versa, all in the hopes of finding work. Such pressure, coupled with the lack of qualification, vocational training, and soft skills, can raise the risk of exploitation and abuse for these youth to an alarming level.
Children with disabilities also suffer from a long period of social distancing. Having to spend time indoors every day can build up frustration and result in the development of harmful mechanisms and behaviors to deal with unfamiliar stress. Moreover, as special needs schools closed during that time and intervention programmes were interrupted, a loss of progress occurred, discouraging many struggling families from returning to treatment or therapies.
With the understandably high spirits at Vietnam’s success in dealing with COVID-19, it can be difficult to see the reality and struggles of the most vulnerable children. However, their new normal can be improved by the support that builds capacity, empowers the community, and instills independence.
Building a better normal
Through emergency support such as essential food items, rent, and counseling, saigonchildren was able to encourage children and their families to persevere through this tough time, to look for safe and stable opportunities, and to keep their kids in school. We work directly with schools to examine and support new needs that arise after the pandemic, as well as new cases of students whose families have had a hard time due to COVID-19. Our scholarship programme aims to lighten the burden on these families, both financially and emotionally, for them to be able to support their children’s education while maintaining their autonomy and independence.
Additionally, our school building programme is focusing on designing and implementing quality and affordable toilet blocks so that we can give these students a safe and comfortable environment in which to study. By providing high-standard and long-lasting hygiene facilities, as well as the proper training required to maintain it proficiently, saigonchildren aims to provide a space that is not only in demand post-COVID-19 but is essential to the learning environment and long-term development of these students.
For disadvantaged young adults who already chose to drop out of school, our Getting Ready for Work programme provides them not only vocational training, but also support in career counseling, soft skills workshops, and work placement with safe and respectable businesses. Throughout the social distancing period, the students who struggled with job loss and pay cuts received our emergency support so they can persist with their pursuit of a better life.
To overcome the disruption of the early intervention class for children with autism, saigonchildren moved the sessions online throughout the social distancing period, focusing on giving parents of autistic children the skills and knowledge to work with their child. Although some families have relocated and hence had to drop out of our programme, several others reported good growth during the social distancing period, where some children have spoken their first words at the age of three.
The close monitoring by our social workers on students’ progress, even throughout the last few months of the pandemic, has allowed us to understand and address each individual need as well as the common hopes and aspirations of these children during and after COVID-19. Everyone, even the most disadvantaged of the population, shares the country’s delight in recovering and rebuilding post-COVID-19. All they need is a little extra support to help them achieve their full potential. Saigonchildren has always been committed to breaking the cycle of poverty through education. Now more than ever, we are honoured to be a part of the community’s effort to not only regain the new normal after the pandemic but also head towards a better normal for the people affected by it, especially the disadvantaged children.