Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Visiting Cong Quan School

July 22nd marked the third day of our time spent helping in Hue, Central Vietnam. Everyone was ready and eager for what the day had in stored, especially because this would be our first and only vaccination event throughout the trip and because we will be visiting a school in one of the more rural areas of Hue. We finished the vaccination strong, despite a few setbacks early on in the day. Our next stop later in the afternoon would be Cong Quan School, however the weather seemed to be working against us. To everyone’s relief, the sky cleared up by midday, and we were happily on our way to Cong Quan School.

Cong Quan School is located in the village of Vinh Ha of Phu Vang District. Only a long, narrow stretch of road surrounded by water separates Vinh Ha from the city, so for children seeking an education, commuting back and forth to the city every day was a huge burden. With the help of Aid to Children Without Parents (ACWP), our partner organization, building Cong Quan School in Vinh Ha was the solution to this problem!

Traveling by road would take up a considerable amount of time, so we had to travel by boat, which was why it was so important to make sure the weather would not put us in any danger. The air was filled with anticipation as we got on board the boat, though some were more reluctant than others for we feared the boat might sink on us. It was a worn-out, wooden, motor-powered boat barely large enough to fit the sixteen of us. Once in a while, one of the crew had to scoop out water that leaked into the boat. We were very concerned, even more so because the crew member had to weave through some of us first, rocking the boat in the process. However, not before long did our restlessness died down as we glided through the peaceful, calm waters, and took in the refreshing, cool breeze. Before we knew it, we had arrived in Vinh Ha.

As we made our way to Cong Quan School, I noticed how simple and rudimentary the houses were. The school consisted of a single roomed building slightly smaller in size than that of the average high school classroom in California. This school only has one teacher, so all the kids are put in one class. At first, the children were apprehensive when we arrived, but that is to be expected when a bunch of strangers arrive out of nowhere to a village where there is little change in their day-to-day life. However, the children began to open up when we started our lesson on dental hygiene and hand-washing. Their undivided attention and desire to learn was a tremendous motivation for us. Watching some of the children practicing proper teeth-brushing on our set of model teeth was very endearing, especially when they need to use both hands to grasp the large toothbrush.

After the lesson, we gave the children each a small goody bag filled with various treats, sang some songs, and played some games with them. We sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” song to them, and in return, they sang a couple of songs to us. Watching all the kids sing together really brought joy to my heart; it was clear in their singing that they really enjoyed our company and enthusiasm. Afterwards, we taught them how to play Heads Up Seven Up. Laughter and excitement filled the class as the children scurried around to tag their friends. When it was time guess who tagged whom, for some of the kids, they were cool as a cucumber, but some just could not contain their excitement. We then decided to go outside to play some more games.

Some of the games we played outside included: Meo Bat Chuot (Cat Catches Mouse) and Ta la Vua (I am the King). Meo Bat Chuot required one person, the cat, to chase another person, the mouse, around the circle as everyone else try to help the mouse from being caught by the cat. The children were full of energy; it seemed as if they could keep on running forever as everyone was cheering them on. There was even more excitement when we played Ta la Vua, which is a game of reaction in which a certain person has to say “I am the king,” and the person next to the King that says “Long live the king” first wins. There was laughter and screaming; the atmosphere was filled with so much joy and thrill that I could not keep up with these kids. Even the elders joined in on the fun; it was crazy, but in a good way. We all had a blast, but it came time when we had to say our goodbyes. I wished we could have stayed longer, and spend more time with the kids. As we await what else Vietnam has in stored for us, one thing I’m sure of is that we will get to meet many more wonderful children.

Thien-Dinh Nguyen, UC Berkeley
Huong Phong, Mobile Clinic #1 - Saturday, July 20

It was the morning of our first mobile clinic and we were all excited for our first day. After a short drive away from Hue, we arrived at a clinic building in Huong Phong commune. The building normally serves as a local clinic so there were already rooms set up as examination rooms. As the volunteer doctors and staff members started setting up, us eight VMO members divided into pairs and took on different responsibilities. Patricia and I were in charge of taking the blood pressure of all individuals to be examined in our room. Our room had two doctors meaning our room would be able to see twice as many patients. Each person seen that day would get their blood pressure taken, have a consultation session with one of the doctors, and get a prescription filled if needed. The population we saw that day consisted mainly of elderly and middle-aged adults.

Patricia and I were not fluent in Vietnamese at all. Luckily, our soon-to-be dear friend Anh, a college student currently studying at Hue University, volunteered to help our group by translating for non-Vietnamese speakers. In return, we hoped to help her practice English.  With Anh’s help, we were able to communicate with our patients on a more personal level. To help the doctors, we helped fill out forms for each patient with each person’s name, age, and blood pressure.

When we started taking blood pressures, we realized that one of the blood pressure machines was not providing us accurate readouts. One of the doctors noticed me trying to fix the machine so he asked me if I was familiar with taking blood pressures manually with a stethoscope. Thankfully, I knew from a previous class. The doctor handed it to us and gave us a quick demo just to ensure that we were setting up and determining the values in the same configuration as the other doctors. The goal was to keep all the values as standard as possible, creating little room for error. Aside from blood pressure, many of the elderly locals told us about their back, head, and stomach pains. The doctors and us listened to their descriptions of how the pain originated and for how long it has been bothering them. As I listened and interacted with many of the elders, I noticed that many looked relieved and excited to have someone listen to them talk about their pain and discomfort. We even had the opportunity to listen to many personal stories. It was great to know that our services were valuable and our presence beneficial.

What touched me a lot was that many individuals knew their previous readouts from other clinic visits and compared them to that day’s blood pressure reading. They smiled when they found out their score readout improved for the better and frowned when their efforts did not provide a more favorable blood pressure reading. We heard quite frequently individuals saying they had healthier blood pressures due to the medicine they were prescribed during previous clinic visits.

At the end of the day, we were able to contribute in various ways. From tasks as small as advising individuals with significantly high blood pressure to lower their salt and sugar intake to assisting in the pharmacy, the eight VMO members on the trip had an unforgettable experience. Most importantly, we assisted the doctors by providing extra hands to help out so that as many patients could be seen that morning. As the clinic came to a close, we were able to help the doctors see over three hundred locals in a span of just a few hours. These individuals were able to leave with prescribed medications and medicated oils based off of their consultation with the doctors.

What a great first mobile clinic!

- submitted by Catherine Suen, UC Berkeley