Dreaming of a more beautiful tomorrow

Moving on from COVID-19 in Viet Nam

Photos by Yen Duong
Vo Thi Thu Ngan, 13, sits with her mother Thach Thi So Pha and her younger sister Vo Thi Thu Ha, 9
15 August 2020

Thach Thi So Pha lives with her two girls Ngan and Ha in a makeshift tin home in the middle of an empty field in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam. Their father left them 6 years ago and Pha has been struggling to make ends meet on her salary alone ever since.

“I work as a cleaner in a company, I earn around $217 each month,” she says while sitting with her 13 and 9 year old girls. “My salary is just enough for monthly spending, but not enough for saving.”

A photo of the family home - a modest tin home in a vacant green area
UNICEF/2020/Yen Duong
The modest family home
A photo of youngest daughter Ha doing her hair inside their home
UNICEF/2020/Yen Duong
Ha inside her home

When the lockdowns hit in Viet Nam, she was fortunate on the one hand that she could keep working. However, she lost additional income from smaller jobs she would pick up elsewhere.

“Before COVID-19, I had some odd jobs here and there to make money. But after the pandemic, I just lost this money,” she says. “During the pandemic the girls would follow me to work since they couldn’t go to school anymore.”

Vo Thi Thu Ngan, 13, cuts some fruit inside their home
Ngan's mother found it more difficult to purchase fresh food for the family during the lockdowns.

The lockdown not only affected income – it also made it more difficult for her to access healthy food for her and her children. “During the pandemic, there market [nearby] closed, and the supermarket was too expensive, so I ate instant noodles all the time,” she says. “The residents [at the building where she works as a cleaner] donated rice and food to us. During the two months of the pandemic, I couldn’t even go to the market.”

Her whole life, she says, is about looking after her girls. She talks about the fact that although her salary is low, it at least allows her to stay close to home so she can care for them. However, staying in their tin home during the day in hot season wasn’t an option for her girls.

Vo Thi Thu Ngan (R) spends time with her sister Vo Thi Thu Ha, 9, at their home
Vo Thi Thu Ngan (R) spends time with her sister Vo Thi Thu Ha, 9, at their home

“I can’t afford to take a day off, look at my house. It’s really hot now, you also just can’t rest at home since it’s burning [hot]. Ha told me, “Mama, don’t take a day off, just go to work, it’s so hot here, I don’t want to go home”.’

Before the lockdown, her children both went to a charity school, and are both top students in their class. However, as Ngan is entering 6th grade soon Pha will have to find money for tuition fees.

“My wish is that I make enough money so Ngan could continue middle school,” says Pha. “I also hope that I will be healthy so I can continue working. Just a month ago, I was hospitalized due to some illness and the company supported me partly. I also wish to provide the girls with our own proper house so they can live more comfortably.”

Vo Thi Thu Ngan (R) spends time after school with her close friend Pham Thach Kim Quyen and her sister
Vo Thi Thu Ngan (R) spends time after school with her close friend Pham Thach Kim Quyen and her sister

Despite the challenges for her family, 13-year-old Ngan still has dreams for the future. She spent some of the day with her younger sister styling her hair and noted: “We want to work as beauticians when we grow up since we want to make others more beautiful.”

“During social distancing period, I stayed at home and self-studied, but not all the time,” continues Ngan. “There was no online class. I liked following mother and helped her at work. During the pandemic, I helped her pull the cleaning cart, and clear the roads. At home, I could cook and clean. I want to continue to study further. I like doing maths.”

Ngan  studying in class
Ngan (L) is now back at school

Despite living under such difficult circumstances, Pha’s resolve to support her children means they still have hopes for following their dreams. As restrictions ease in Viet Nam, with her children now able to go to school again, she hopes she will be able to find that extra income to help her family thrive.