Friday, June 6, 2008

Goodbye, Vietnam

Technically, it was our last full day in Vietnam, and most of us went shopping for souvenirs and other memorabilia.

For dinner, we went out to a Vietnamese buffet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ba Me Thout

We arrived at the rural central-Vietnam church a few minutes past 6 o'clock in the morning. We scrambled off of the bus, groggy and tired and made our way behind the church to a patch of sand and weeds where we brushed our teeth, rinsing and spitting onto the dirt beneath out feet. It was so gloriously awkward in a weird way.

We set up stations - blood pressure, doctor, pharmacy, just like the day at the other church. The indigenous people here spoke another language, so even our Vietnamese speakers couldn't really communicate with them. However, we were able to find two translators to help us translate their native language.

A large crowd began to build up outside of our little medical clinic, and it only got larger as the day progressed. The constant flow of patients never seemed to stop, and the crowd never waned.

At one of the tables, a majority of our group worked to package little bags of vitamins and Tylenol. Some people helped with traffic control, and others of us helped measure blood pressure at the first table. One of the patients who came through was an old man in his nineties. His blood pressure was over 200 systolic, and Norris told the man to stop smoking, but he just shrugged it off, which was a little disheartening.

We began to run out of medicine long before lunch. Norris and Lisa went to get more medicine from a local pharmacy near the area. The people at the church cooked us some lunch and some wonderful sticky snacks, for which we were very grateful.

There was still a large crowd of people waiting outside by the end of the day, but we just didn't have time to see all of them. As we shut down door, we felt really terrible! There was a little girl holding her toddler brother who was naked, and he had all these rashes and boils on his butt! It looked so painful, and it should have been looked at by a doctor, but unfortunately we had already closed down for the day.

We left around 6PM, which meant we had basically spent 12 straight hours working. It was our most exhausting day, but also the most rewarding. As we walked past the church to board our bus, we saw little kids at school in the church, and they were so cute!

We played mafia for a while, but most of us were so tired we could hardly focus. Nevertheless, it was fun for a while.

We arrived back at the hotel around 3AM in the morning.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

War Remnants Museum

After an exhausting week, we were ready for some historical fun!

Our plan was to visit the War Museum, but after a tiring night, we were running a bit late in the morning and didn't get there until almost noon.

When we arrived back to the center of town, we decided to see the museum first before getting lunch. After paying the entrance fee, we followed wall after wall of pictures of the Vietnam War and short explanations of the history behind each photo. There were two jars with malformed babies preserved in formadehyde, a testament of the horrendous effects of Agent Orange. At the very end, there were pictures that children had drawn of "a peaceful world," which was a nice contrast from everything we had seen at the museum.

When we got back to the hotel again, everyone who had gone to Nha Trang was back! Most of them were leaving for the US the next day, so we said goodbye to them because we were leaving at 8 PM on a bus to Ba Me Thuot in central Vietnam.

A little after 8 PM, we boarded the bus, picked up the doctors and a few other volunteers, and headed off for a long drive to Ba Me Thuot. Some of us slept wonderfully while others could hardly sleep a wink because the ride was so bumpy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Maison Chance + More Orphanages

A small group (Jenn, Amos, Sanjev, Christian, Michael, Kristie B) left for the sunny beaches of Nha Trang. Carolyn, who was headed back to the US, headed to the airport with them.

The rest of us (Megan, Minh-Thanh, JTran, 2 Thuys, Vivian, Norris) stayed behind. We wanted to visit some orphanages in the area, so we rented a car and driver for the day and headed out of the city to a few orphanages in the surrounding area.

The first orphanage we went to seemed very nice; the whole area was gated and spacious, and the individual buildings were red-brick. We spoke to one of the ladies who was in charge at the office, and she told us a little bit about the establishment. There were twenty-five houses, and each house had a "mother" who took care of a set of orphans. Once they reached a certain age, the boy orphans went to live in another house with a "father." The mom of the house had to be a single, while the fathers who cared for the boys could be married, which Y-Nhy had a problem with, hehe.

We were fortunate enough to visit one of the houses. It was a little crowded for so many kids, but pretty nice nonetheless. The whole area looked like a park, but the lady at the orphanage said they were very poor.

After that, we headed to another orphanage that was in the middle of a narrow, rickety street. It was only there for a short while, and didn't get to see any of the children. Norris wanted to find out how to adopt a child, but the lady there said that we couldn't, and that such things had to be negotiated with the government.

We headed to Maison chance after that, which was the orphanage JTran's mom wanted to donate money to. The lady in charge, Aline, wasn't there. Some of the boys said she might be at the orphanage's school, so we decided to check it out. Two boys on a motorcycle led us there.

The school was newly built, and it looked very nice. There were a ton of paintings on the walls, and we were told that they were painted by some of the disabled people who lived there.

We went into a room where there were people on sewing machines making clothes. We saw disabled people who were doing carpentry in another room. This gave some people an opportunity to make a living and taught them skills so that they could support themselves. In another room that we passed by, a few handicapped men were working on carpentry, crafting small chairs and tables.

We were lucky enough to meet the artists who did the paintings. they were all in a room upstairs. All of them were handicapped - their fingers were malformed and they were in wheelchairs. It was absolutely amazing to see them create such beautiful paintings even with their disabilities, especially since most of us could barely even draw a decent stick figure!

We purchased some paintings from the school and took pictures with the artists who had made the paintings, and then we headed back to the joint orphanage.

Fortunately, this time Aline was there. She was originally from Switzerland, but her Vietnamese was perfect. She had a nurse (who was French) show us around their medical facility, and Norris was able to speak to her and translate everything she said to us.

We also talked to one of the doctors there. He seemed very young - he was from the US, so we spoke to him in English about his work there. We poked our heads into a couple of the rooms in the orphanage and learned about how they took care of some of the handicapped children and adults. After we toured the rest of the facility, we sat down in Aline's office and spoke with her for a while about Maison Chance.

We went back to the hotel late in the day, and finished off our day by going out to dinner at a lovely Korean restaurant with the doctor whom we had met at Maison Chance.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Exploring the City



Kelly came in to say goodbye because she and Stephanie were flying home that afternoon.

The rest of us went shopping or explored the city.

Empty stomachs grumbling, we decided it was about time to get some dinner. Since our group was comprised of several vegetarians, we thought it would be fun to go to a vegetarian restaurant that Dave had suggested.

The restaurant was really small, and it was set up like one of those street stands. The food was in a glass case up at the front, and you could get whatever you wanted along with plenty of rice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Chaos at Church

We all met downstairs at 7:30 AM

Before we left Saigon, we stopped by the sandwich shop down the street to pick up some lunch for ourselves. JTran and Y-Nhy joined our group as we all waited in line to buy our sandwiches.

We all scurried back onto the bus again, and headed toward the church that we were going to be working at.

We wet up some tables under a nicely shaded area. We had a table for blood pressure measuring, one for the doctor, and a third one for our little pharmacy. There were a lot of people sitting around on the benches waiting for us to start. All of us were so pumped!

Lisa and the priest left to buy more medicine, according to what the doctor ordered. We decided not to wait around for them to come back, but to start doing what we could. We tore sheets of notebook paper for everyone, and the people who could speak Vietnamese went around and took down people's name and ages.

We gave out numbers to our patients, and started measuring their blood pressures in that order. After that, they were ushered into line to wait to see the doctor, who prescribed medications, if needed, to them.

There was a patient who had bumps all over his body. It looked like some kind of neurofibromatosis. One of his eyes had a tumor/flap over it. We didn't know what it was, but Megan had seen a program on the health channel where there were some people in Indonesia who also had these skin deformities who could not make a living and were forced to work in a circus together. It was really sad to actually see someone like this.

The old man was holding this absolutely adorable little boy in his arms - probably his grandson. One of the greatest things about working with these patients was seeing how closely knit their families were. In the US, people are more independent, and when kids become adults, they move away and hardly see their families at all. Here, it was like they all lived with each other, and grandparents helped raise their grandchildren. Siblings took care of each other - I saw really young children holding babies. They seemed so much more mature than their counterparts in America. There was a sense of community there that is hardly seen back in the US.

There were several hundred patients, so it was extremely exhausting, but we finished pretty early in the day and headed home.