In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world are searching for ways to aid those on the frontlines of the crisis. Whether it’s babysitting for essential workers or buying groceries for the immunocompromised, people have come up with numerous ways to help others in need. Following the suit of these community-minded people, Ryan Mai ’21 is using his nonprofit, DURI.AN, to supply masks to senior citizens in the New York Metro Area.
Since its founding, DURI.AN has focused on helping schoolchildren in Vietnam by facilitating access to resources. In addition to its school lunch project, the team has built eight water wells in Southern Vietnam and partnered with Period, a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) dedicated to women’s health. DURI.AN also raised funding to construct bathrooms in a school that was previously destroyed.
However, because of the recent pandemic, the organization had no option but to put all operations on hold. With most schools closed in the region, DURI.AN had no means of providing meals to children. The organization also had public safety in mind and found that it would be safer for the health of all involved to comply with the social distancing mandate.
Despite these complications, Mai still found a way to help disadvantaged people. After observing how the virus spreads and noting how nations around the world need an increase in resources to combat its presence, DURI.AN’s leader decided that delivering masks to areas hit hardest would be an effective contribution to the ongoing fight against the illness. Mai spoke with a relative who works at a New York University Hospital and asked about delivering the needed N95 masks to first responders on the frontline. However, Mai encountered difficulties materializing his ambitions.
“We went back and forth with some suppliers, and the cost came out to around 2.50 to 3 dollars per mask. And that was kind of costly… After a lot of back and forth, we decided not to move forward with the N95 masks. We wanted to make a larger impact with our resources, and we thought maybe getting N95, which we actually couldn’t even do because they had maximum orders, would not be cost-effective. Also, in comparison to FEMA, which is bringing in millions of masks, 1000 isn’t going to be as effective. So we shifted our project to get street masks from Vietnam, which are cheaper to produce and would have a more direct effect,” said Mai.
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) altered their position regarding the usage of face masks, people struggled to get their hands on personal protective gear, depleting the stock and leaving at-risk communities in danger. DURI.AN recently shifted its focus to shipping street masks from Vietnam to senior citizens and senior care facilities in the city. They have placed an order of 5,000 which are expected to arrive within the next week. Mai explained how despite high shipping rates and challenges with distribution, his organization is dedicated to making a difference in these areas.
“I’ve worked with my operations team on the ground who are trying to get it shipped. Services are charging extremely high rates, especially to New York, as they’re running a lot fewer routes than they usually are. We had to look into a lot of regulations regarding international shipping. We also have to do a lot of work to coordinate distribution. But our goal is to get them to high-risk seniors because, of course, the older generation is at a greater disadvantage. That’s why our mission is geared towards helping them for this project,” said Mai.
Mai founded DURI.AN in 2018 and has since built a team of over 30 people, notably made up of mostly members of “Generation Z.” In an interview with The Phillipian, Mai reiterated his team’s mission to help families however they can.
Mai said, “I’m just proud that we’re able to make a difference. We’re very proud of what we do with our resources and that we work in small areas so we can make the most significant impact. If we can just make one child, one family happier. If we can change their day, if we can provide them with food, that’s every single effort.”