2020 was a difficult year for all our field workers, especially those working in already impoverished communities. In Vietnam, the AOG World Relief team not only helped partner communities navigate the impacts of COVID-19 but supported them through one of the worst typhoon seasons in memory. Through it all, the team kept true to its community development model – listening to those whose lives were impacted and providing a response that truly met their needs.
Removing impossible choices
Sharing a border with China meant it wasn’t long before COVID-19 cases started appearing in Vietnam. By late January 2020, Vietnam was in lockdown and daily life had dramatically changed for most people. One of the government’s earliest messages was for people to use hand sanitiser regularly and to wash their hands with soap and water, especially after they’d been in public places. Unfortunately, these items are out of reach for many Vietnamese.
“Many people couldn’t afford to buy soap and sanitiser, let alone choosing between buying rice and buying these items. Of course they’re going to choose to feed their children,” AOG WR Project Manager Rebekah Windsor says. To help remove this impossible choice, the team at AOG WR put together packs of soap and hand sanitiser and checked in with their local contacts, across the communities they partner with, to see which families needed help. “We’ve never been more grateful for our development model, which is locally led.” Rebekah says. “With lockdown, we couldn’t travel much but we had all our local contacts in place and we were able to identify and reach those who needed help.”
As well as helping other struggling groups in the community – including ethnic minority students at a boarding school and vulnerable people living at a local social support centre – AOG WR also lent a hand to the government’s COVID response. “Da Nang had another wave – it became the epicentre – and they were converting sports stadiums and convention centres into portable hospitals,” Rebekah says. “We checked in regularly with our government partners to see how we could help and ended up providing face masks and sanitation kits for those conducting border patrols, as well as people involved in the logistics of running the hospitals.”
And then came the typhoons…
Just when things were starting to get back to normal, Vietnam’s tropical storm season began… “Our region – central – got hit the worst. Within weeks, we had said goodbye to what we thought was the last wave of the pandemic and then the storms came,” Rebekah recalls. “We had multiple category two, three and four typhoons; it was compounded because it was just wave after wave of them. People would still be trying to locate the dead and fish them out of the water and then another would come…”
The team’s response to the typhoons again followed the principle of listening first and acting second. While other international aid groups were sending donations of rice and oil to disaster victims (not realising those worst affected were sitting in boats, with no ability to cook), AOG WR team members were speaking to their local contacts to find out what people needed. They provided bleach and cleaning supplies for the health stations (which everyone was using), tablets to sterilise the wells where drinking water is drawn, and cholera tablets. They also sourced essentials like nappies, wet wipes, women’s sanitary items and soap, and got them into the hands of those who needed them. In all, they supported 26 communes – around 150,000 people – with the items they needed to survive the immediate aftermath of the storms. These efforts were supported by 1Day funds.
Throughout the crazy year that was 2020, AOG WR continued to offer the ongoing programs that help to empower and build resilience in communities. In and amongst lockdowns, they installed water bubblers and toilets in schools; ramped up promotion for a new sexual abuse hotline for children and adults; delivered child protection and advocacy workshops in schools; and screened countless children for heart disease (one of the leading causes of death in children in Vietnam).
Whatever the year threw at them, the team adapted and found the right way to respond. “The theme for 2020 for our team was actually abundance – abundant grace, abundant joy, abundant provision…” Rebekah says. “And in 2020, we saw God abundantly protecting our team and making a way for us to be able to help our communities. Our relationships are stronger; we have received so many thank yous from the authorities; our work even made the state news! It was a memorable year but God had our back big time.”