Helping the sick, one meal at a time

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A couple in Hanoi brings free food to thousands of poor cancer patients

Nineteen-year-old Le Thi Lan from north-central Thanh Hoa Province has been under treatment for lung cancer at K Hospital since June last year. Without a penny to her name, Lan can't pay for a room. She wanders the hospital's courtyard during the day and sleeps in the corridor at night.

Without help from Sympameals, Lan also wouldn't have nutritious meals.

But since its inception in September 2005, Sympameals has bettered the lives of many poor patients in the capital city who can't afford food by supplying some 35,000 free meals a year.

Hanoi lawyer Do Xuan Hop and his wife Nguyen Anh began by finding K hospital patients in extreme circumstances.

IF YOU CAN HELP

For cash contributions, contact Thuy (Mobile: 090 344 4302, email: nghe.bi@gmail.com) or Anh (Mobile: 0166 860 7476, email: anh.phan@aar.com.au).

For donations via fund transfer, specify "Contribution from (name of donor)" or inform the project employees. Account No: 0021 001 062 117, account holder: Dang Xuan Hop, Bank: Vietcombank Ba Dinh, Hanoi.

They coordinated with the hospital canteen to provide vouchers to patients, entitling them to one free meal a day, worth VND5,000. In the beginning, they could only provide about 20 coupons per day.

Now after mobilizing the support of their friends, colleagues and family members, the couple currently gives out 150 coupons per day.

With the support of hundreds of donors, the value of each coupon has been increased from VND5,000 to VND12,000 to ensure that patients can keep up with inflation.

The project also gives a free 900 gram tin of milk powder to each of about 60 outpatients on a weekly basis. It also gives free milk to young patients under 20 years old for extra nourishment.

"How can we help them all?"

 Hop said the most difficult thing about running the project was gaining and keeping the donors' trust. The money has to directly benefit the patients, and the right ones, he said.

"There're just so many cases that need our help. The challenging question for us is how can we help them all?" Nguyen Anh said.

With five or six volunteers, two full-time staff and an executive board, the project has been run on a close-knit system: from getting a list of patients under extreme circumstances from hospital staff to providing donors with a monthly financial report to guarantee that their money had been used for the right purpose.

Every month, the project also sends a newsletter with stories about patients who need additional help, such as Lan.

The need

For 57-year-old retired secondary school teacher Nguyen Thuy Huong, this past year has been marked by three or four trips to K Hospital every week to deliver meal coupons and milk for the project.

"You need to feel the patients' pain to do this job," she said. "There are young cancer patients we meet one day and the next day they have their legs cut off. I met a wife with lung cancer given to her by her husband's second-hand smoke.

"You come here and realize that life is very unfortunate for many."

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