In July, authorities in Ho Chi Minh city decided to tighten social distancing in an attempt to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that has been ravaging the southern metropolis, where tens of thousands of people are struggling to afford their daily meals. Vi and his colleagues at XTEK spent three days reworking the map at SOSmap.net and updating several features. Actually Vi came up with the idea of a "give-receive" map a year ago.
“When natural disasters hit Vietnam’s central region last year, my team and I arrived in Quang Binh, a hard-hit province, to deliver relief aid. I felt like I was left in the middle of nowhere. We struggled to find needy people and their location,” said Vi.
”Also I realized a big gap of supply and demand when some places received many donations while others got little attention because they were in remote areas. Then SOSmap came to life with an urge to come up with a more sustainable solution that could help a lot more people at a time.”
|Dots on SOSmap show locations of people seeking aid.
The website works all over Vietnam and is really easy to use, according to Youssouf Boughelam, a French-Algerian living in Hanoi.
“I wanted to find something to help people. I typed on Google for websites of charity in Hanoi and Vietnam and this website popped up in my research. It was very easy. You will see red dots – people who need help – and green dots – people who are willing to help. I just clicked on the red dots the first time and I said wow this is amazing,” said Boughelam.
Just one click and you’re all set. Here is how SOSmap helped Boughelam, “So I tried it with the first family. They needed help with rice, milk, vegetables. I took everything to them. I got another one but he couldn’t come to pick up things so I transferred the money to him.”
”The website is really easy. You just need to click on the red dots and the information of the one who is seeking for help appears. His phone number, his address, and everything related to him,” said Boughelam.
|Who are you? A giver or a taker? Just click.
SOSmap is integrated with a hotline operated by a huge volunteer team. If givers find it hard, due to restrictions, for example, to contact and directly transfer things by themselves to the underprivileged, they can click the button “Want to give” or call the hotline 19006448, where volunteers are ready to take their information, pick up their donations, and distribute them.
Similarly, recipients can either call the hotline or click the button “Want to receive” on the website SOSmap.net to register for support.
SOSmap has received 30,000 requests but the number doesn’t mean only 30,000 individuals or households are seeking help. A request may call for donations for a large residential area of dozens of households.
Meanwhile 3,000 donors have accessed the website. Once they get the contact information of those in need, they can contact each other directly without relying on SOSmap so the amount of help sent is much higher than 3,000. Vi is working hard to expand that number.
“We expect the number of takers will increase by 30% as we are collaborating with the district-level Women’s Unions and Youth Unions in Ho Chi Minh city. We are studying to harness technological advance to verify information of needy people automatically to reduce the number of volunteers and soon launch a new ‘Recommend’ feature to save givers’ time on finding takers,” Vi said.
The website is a life-saver to many during this time of crisis, said a recipient from Tan Phu Chung commune Cu Chi district, Ho Chi Minh city.
“I’m so grateful for SOSmap for delivering food and essential items to our residential area. We now can survive this pandemic a little longer,” he said.
|Food is delivered to a hamlet by SOSmap volunteers. (Photo: SOSmap)
Charity is a win-win. Donors benefit from it, too, according to Vi and Boughelam.
“In the early days of SOSmap when we had only few volunteers, I drove my car to deliver aid myself. I remembered a lady who cried her eyes out as I gave her the relief package. It had been two months since she lost her job and the family struggled to afford each meal,” said Vi.
“Another case that struck me is a café owner. As soon as he opened his café, the pandemic resurfaced. You know, most people just say ‘thank you’ and leave when they get things they need. But that young man texted me afterwards and promised to make a cup of coffee himself when we could meet again after the pandemic. His text really melted my heart away,” he added.
Echoing Vi's idea, Boughelam said, “The memorable things are the faces smiling with you when you help someone. Those smiles are really amazing. Maybe you will never forget them for the whole of your life. Help is really amazing and the feeling of helping is so good.”
CEO Vi plans to expand the coverage of SOSmap overseas, like Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, where the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a big toll on local life. He also plans to add more layers to his SOSmap.
“We are thinking about connecting people who want to learn but unable to do it during the pandemic with non-profit organizations and educational centers who have free online courses to offer. Blood donation will be another layer, too.”
Vi says he will keep developing digital solutions for charity because those who can offer help and those who need help are always there, even when COVID-19 is gone.