Covid-19 is testing limits of human compassion

(ĐTTCO) - The firm directive of the Vietnamese government to implement social distancing for a period of fifteen days from 1st April has clearly helped in controlling the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic within all cities and provinces in the country.

Because of the Covid-19 epidemic, teacher J.D had to ask for help in the streets.

Because of the Covid-19 epidemic, teacher J.D had to ask for help in the streets.

The Vietnamese government’s measures of distributing a VND 62,000 bn social security support package has also been of great help in stabilizing the daily lives of a vast number of vulnerable people in communities who depend on daily and hourly wages. In this time of dire and desperate need, the Covid-19 pandemic is also fully testing all the traits of compassion towards our fellow human beings.

On the morning of 13 April, a news article showed an image of a foreign man standing at the corner of Vo Van Kiet Street and Nguyen Tri Phuong Street, wearing a mask and holding a signboard that read "No job. Help me buy food. Thank you". This image aroused varied and high strung emotions in people living in Ho Chi Minh City as well as across the country. Many people in Ho Chi Minh City responded immediately by pulling out their wallets and offering monetary support. Reacting to this overwhelming surge of generosity, this foreign man only accepted just enough funds to support his daily needs and refused to accept any money beyond his requirements.

This particular foreign man, called Mr. J.D, was a British national and had been working as a teacher at an English center. Soon after the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic and following the advice of the administrations, the English center that employed him had to shut down. After struggling for two months to make ends meet, Mr. J.D. finally took this drastic step reluctantly as the only solution and means to survive in his difficult situation. He said that he had been working as a teacher but now without a monthly salary he was left with no choice and came up with this humiliating idea to stand on the street corner and ask people to help him. Because he was wearing a mask, he thought he would not be recognized, even though he admits he was very embarrassed. He felt he also had no other alternative to a way out of his situation, and hence chose this path as a way to survive.

All human instincts call for survival, with food being our very basic need. In this time of a global pandemic, not everyone is in a comfortable place, nor does everyone has a daily bowl of rice to eat. People who are living and working in Ho Chi Minh City have come here from many different places, and are dependent on an income to survive. They all understand the situation very well and therefore extended their arm to help Mr. J.D. with all sincerity and affection. When the image of Mr. J.D. appeared in the media, many people immediately went to the corner of Vo Van Kiet Street and Nguyen Tri Phuong Street to offer help to him. When they did not find him there, they went in person to the Inn where Mr. J.D. lived on Nguyen Van Cu Street to offer their help in his time of need.

The story of Mr. J.D. proves that the spirit of solidarity and kindness lies abundant within the hearts of the Vietnamese people. Vietnamese people not just love and help their own Vietnamese fellow citizens, but their hearts are open to all fellow human beings as well. This is a beautiful genetic trait of the Vietnamese people that has been embedded for centuries as part of their very culture.

Even when the Government social security support package had not yet reached the poor people in need, gestures of support and kind help to their fellow countrymen was already flowing in communities. The most philanthropic example is that of Mr. Hoang Anh Tuan who set up an ATM for rice at 204B Vuon Lai Street in Tan Phu District in Ho Chi Minh City, which provided free rice for the needy. This activity was then replicated in Binh Chanh District and District 12, and now can be seen providing free rice in even other provinces as well.

Compassion and kindness has no limitations, and crisis always brings out the best in people. The ATM distributing free rice is a boon to those who have lost jobs and are now in dire need to feed themselves and their families. For such an act of kindness the one who serves as the provider also receives great blessings for his act of kindness.

However, not all has gone well during this time of crisis. A clip on social media showed an angry altercation between a landlord and tenant, on a dispute over a VND 50 mn deposit made by the tenant to the landlord on Thich Minh Nguyet Street in Tan Binh District in Ho Chi Minh City. In this case, Ms. KL rented the house owned by Ms. NTD for the sum of VND 22 mn per month for a period of two years. After the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms. KL could not afford the rent so she wanted to return the house back to the landlord, which meant that she wanted to terminate the two-year lease prematurely. Ms. NTD then kicked Ms. KL out of the house and did not return her the VND 50 mn deposit on grounds that she was violating her contract.

Both parties got into a heated argument and the ward police was called to intervene and reconcile the situation. Logically speaking, Ms. NTD is absolutely right, but seeing the present situation many people sided with Ms. KL out of sympathy, although the notarized contract was legally valid. However, if the case is brought to court, Ms. NTD will be penalized for evading income tax from rent of the house.

According to lawyers, for a unilateral termination of the contract and reimbursement of the deposit in this time of a pandemic, the tenant has protection under of the Civil Code to request annulment of the contract and claim a refund of the deposit money. However, the problem here is not about who is right and who is wrong, but it is a question of being compassionate at a time that calls for support for all fellow human beings. The behaviour of Ms. NTD may not be in violation of the law, but it does lack human empathy. There are many examples of landlords in Binh Duong who are not only exempting the rent payment for their tenants during the Covid-19 crisis period but are also offering other support such as food to their tenants. We can only reflect on how much money is actually enough for a human being, and VND 50 mn does not make anyone rich, but poor treatment makes us lose all human dignity.

The sudden outbreak of the Covid-19 and fear of the deadly contamination it can cause has no doubt affected the economy across the country. People on daily wages and hourly incomes have been the most severely traumatized. In this hour of tragedy there emerge stories of both human kindness and cruelty, although honesty and integrity are still not lost entirely in this world. During this dire period of a global pandemic, honesty and integrity must be persevered much more sacredly. A strong spirit of solidarity, love, warmth and help for each other must flourish everywhere to lend support to our fellow human beings throughout this very difficult time, however long it lasts.

Tuy Hoa

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