Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Humanitarian Aid - The Gift of Giving

May 28, 2011

The bus arrived at 7 A.M. to take us to our first mobile clinic in the Binh Thanh province. When we arrived, many people were already waiting to be seen by the doctors. The patients mainly consisted of the elderly and the very young. All were local to the area and were chosen specifically by clinic organizers based on need--those chosen received tickets. Of the 300 tickets distributed to the locals, nearly all were present at the clinic. Regardless, everyone that came seeking medical care was seen--even those that did not receive tickets.

In the next several days, we assisted two more clinics near Hue. One was similar to the first, and the other was aimed primarily at children aged 12-15 years old. In total, approximately 800 people were seen and treated. Our responsibilities at all of these clinics were fairly similar. These included taking blood pressure, taking weight, distributing medicine and powdered milk, registering patients and directing patients within the clinic. It became clear that one of the most common ailments in this region was parasitic infection. As such, we soon ran out of the appropriate medicine. The clinic organizer later explained to us that the quantities of medicines needed for each clinic are difficult to predict, as the common ailments differ between provinces. The obvious exception was the powdered milk. Every clinic, without fail, ran out of powdered milk--at two of the clinics, we resorted to barricading the door to keep out the patients desperate for milk. As soon as they heard that we were only giving milk out to the most needy people, they started shouting out their ailments. It was clear that they all had legitimate reasons for needing the milk, but we simply did not have enough.

As healthy-looking Americans, many patients assumed that we were doctors. They desperately showed us their cataracts, wounds, scars, hunched backs, gnarled hands and aching knees in hopes that we could help them. Those of us not fluent in Vietnamese quickly learned how to say, "I'm not a doctor. I'm sorry." Although it was depressing to see the extent of suffering in rural Vietnam, it was comforting to see that they left at least a little bit better off than they came.

-Fanny Du, Sophia Yang, LilyAnne Jewett
UC Berkeley students

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