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 

Friday, July 26, 2013


Upon arriving in Vietnam, Phuc’s mom pointed out a place called “Pho 2000” and made fun of it for being out of date. Little did we know that that was where we would enjoy our first meal in Vietnam. ­ Some of us stuck to the familiar Pho, while others ventured out and tried Bun Thit (vermicelli with grilled meat in fish sauce).

We decided we wanted to get something a bit more authentic for dinner, and we soon found ourselves eating goat hotpot amongst the locals. A few of us appreciated the new culinary experience, but it was a bit too much of a culture shock for most of us.

The next morning, we enjoyed the delicious breakfast buffet at Hoang Hai Long 1 Hotel, which was filled with authentic Vietnamese dishes, Western breakfast items, and a ton of fruit.

After flying to Da Nang, we were taken to eat the local specialty: Bun Cha Ca (fishcake vermicelli). The bun cha ca was definitely a crowd favorite.

When we reached our hotel in Hue, we went next door and had our first meal at BLOOM (Because Love Overcomes Once Misfortuned). The restaurant serves as a culinary training facility for children that were once apart of ACWP (Aid for Children Without Parents), VMO’s partner organization. The food served ranges from Hue specialties to pizza and pasta. We returned to BLOOM several times while we were in Hue.

For the rest of the time that we were in Hue, we had breakfast at our hotel. It was nothing to write home about.

During our first full day in Hue, we tasted some small Hue dishes (Banh Ram It, Banh Nam, Banh Beo, Nem Nuong, and many others) for lunch and then had Banh Canh Ca Loc (rice noodles similar in consistency to udon with fish) for dinner.

After our first mobile clinic in Hue, we went out to the beach where there were food options such as banh canh, mussels, sweet tofu, and Banh Bot Loc (clear shrimp and pork dumpling wrapped in banana leaf). Afterwards, we went to get some Bun Bo Hue (spicy beef vermicelli), which Hue is known for.

Some of our other meals in Hue consisted of Banh Khoai (a crispy Vietnamese crepe that everyone loved), Com Hen (a rice and peanut dish with small clams in clam broth), vegetarian pho (at the temple/nursery home), and a homemade meal at one of the orphanages.

Before sending us off, Co Tran made us all Com Am Phu (literally translates to Hell Rice) with pork and very spicy peppers over rice, and then took us to eat Che (Vietnamese dessert with lots of variations).

In Hoi An, we embraced our inner tourists and tried a restaurant that was a bit more Americanized. Most of us got the snapper wrapped in banana leaf, which was the restaurant’s special. Before leaving Hoi An, we tried Cao Lau (egg noodles with pork or beef) because we heard that is where the dish originated.

Once we got back to Ho Chi Minh City, we went for more well known dishes, such as Com Tam (broken rice with grilled meat) and Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches on French bread).

We spent our next few days in Ninh Thuan, where the doctors and dentists provided us with dishes that are traditionally eaten in Vietnamese homes. We had our fill of fish, vegetables, pork, and soup.

During our last night together in Ho Chi Minh City, we all ordered room service because we were not up for playing a game of Frogger with the motorcycles.

In the end, there were only five of us left in Ho Chi Minh City. We were a little sick of Vietnamese food at that point and went out to get some Pizza Hut. Interestingly, Pizza Hut is considered upscale in Vietnam, which can be seen through their fancy interior design and mocktails.

-- submitted by Anne Lieu, UC Berkeley

Đà Nẵng

The first day we spent in central Vietnam was in the beautiful city of Da Nang. We were originally supposed to fly into the airport in Hue; however, fortunately for us, it was under construction. Logically, we took a little detour in one of Vietnam’s famous cities before embarking for Hue. When we first arrived, we met up with Co Sally, our ACWP liason, and her sister Co Tran. After formalities were exchanged, we set off on our mini adventure. First stop on our impromptu city tour was the famous Buddha statue of Da Nang.

En route to the statue, the first thing I noticed was that the streets were less hectic and the ambiance fostered a calm and gentle mood, in deep contrast to the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. And right off the bat, I knew Da Nang was going to be a good time. Moreover, Da Nang is one of Vietnam’s premiere beach cities, and so as we traveled to the statue the left side of the road was populated by seafood street eateries and hotel buildings and resorts, whereas the right side was the beautiful coast of Vietnam. Our driver took us up the hills of the coast and dropped us on the temple grounds.

 The sun was out, the clouds were nowhere in sight, and the heat was hot enough to fry eggs. The grounds were planted with a variety of flora as well numerous statues of deities. There were several Forbidden City-esque temple buildings, where people were free to burn incense and pray. Mind you, shoes are never to be worn in the temple buildings; there were usually hushed sounds of socks scurrying across the hardwood floors.

 Opposite from the largest temple building, was the hillside that over looked the coast and the city of Da Nang. Further down the site was the main attraction, the massive Buddha statue. The clear blue skies were a perfect backdrop for the pure white statue. The statue stood probably a couple of hundred of feet in the air and possessed an aura of serenity as well as sublimity.

Hundreds of pictures were taken before we all went back down the hill and stopped at the beach. The beach was spotted with cabanas and vendors trying to persuade us to sit and relax. Unfortunately, we weren’t allotted enough time to fit the cabanas in. Nonetheless, the beach was still awesome. The sand had a super soft texture and white tinge. The water was crystal blue and was definitely a tropically, warm temperature. Overall, the statue and beach visit were amazing site visits, but what is exploring a city without trying its famous specialties. The driver drove us from the coast and into the streets of Da Nang. We arrived at a street vendor whose specialty was the famous bun cha ca (rice noodles with fish cake) of Da Nang. Like any other Vietnamese local, we sat on the plastic chairs on the corner of the intersection as the numerous mopeds and motorcycles passed. The dish was served hot in an average sized bowl, with garnishes and all. Pieces of fish cake floating in the seasoned red tinged broth, thick white rice noodles ready to be eaten, and mixture of green onions and cilantros to top it all off. It was definitely one my favorite dishes the whole trip. After we ate, maybe some fuller than others, we had to conclude or little excursion and head to Hue. The road lead us up, down, over, and through the mountains of Vietnam. Going through the mountains in a very long tunnel, in which we all attempted to hold our breaths but eventually failed, Co Sally gave us our orientation for our mobile clinic the next day. In retrospect, it was ironic we literally had a mobile orientation for our mobile clinic. Hehehehehhe. On the way, we also took a fancy pit stop in the middle of the mountains. It was built into the natural forests of the mountain and had a tree house feel to it. Not only was it a pit stop but also a bar, restaurant, and shop. Summing it up, the duration of the ride lasted around three hours. When we finally arrived at our hotel in Hue it was night time, and we were all pooped. We all checked in and went to get some rest, for the day after was our very first mobile clinic.

-- submitted by Kevin Dao, UC Berkeley

Ninh Thuận Mobile Clinic #2 06/09/13

The mobile clinic today was much more organized than yesterday. Initially, we as VMO members had very limited ways to help out at the clinic partially because no volunteers were need at the pharmacy. However, we soon figured out ways to busy ourselves. The boy’s clinic was different from the girl’s in that a doctor would check each boy’s foreskin. There were a handful of whose foreskin was not clean, which results in clogging and other complications that may require surgery in the future. There was one case of hidden penis. The boy was overweight that the penis was embedded within his fat, requiring an operation. The doctor demonstrated for the VMO members how to look for the balls and to check the foreskin, and the members were able to do this themselves. After their foreskin was checked, the boys would go to the doctors for a general checkup. The girl’s clinic was set up in similar fashion as the boy’s except the genital checkup.

The children were then sent to a room where Vietnamese-speaking VMO members taught dental hygiene lessons, such as how to brush their teeth properly. One group of children did coloring while the other group listened to the lesson plans.

After, some of the children would go to the dental clinic. Those working at the dental clinic helped the dentists load the syringe for anesthesia and hold down the child for a tooth extraction. While working there, we were able to observe the severity of teeth decay that was so prevalent among Vietnamese children: many had cavities and broken teeth, and on average, there were 3-4 extractions per child. Furthermore, it was calculated that there were about 300 teeth extracted. The dentists would also show us different oral problems the children had and teach us the numbering system for teeth. Any child with a teeth extraction received a toothbrush and toothpaste. Some kids were very frightened from watching other kids cry and scream for dear life at the dental clinic, that they would run away and refuse to come inside. And so, the mom and sometimes one of the VMO members had to chase them down and console them to enter. One boy was resisting so hard that he had to be sat on Andrew’s lap. While the dentist opened the boy’s mouth to extract his teeth, Andrew would embrace him to hold him down. After the procedure was done, the boy just sat on Andrew’s lap for a long time, refusing to leave. To see this was very heart-warming. What we did at the clinic actually did contribute to the people who came to the clinic.

There was also a hair-salon station for free hair-cuts. Even a few of our VMO members got their hairs cut. Four hours of clinic flew by with continuous buzzing busyness. Around noon time, we had home-cooked lunch with all the doctors and volunteers at the clinic. Then after, we left for Saigon.

-- submitted by Sung Won Han, UC Berkeley

Ninh Thuận Mobile Clinic #1 06/08/13

After flying back to Ho Chi Minh City, we rested for the remainder of the day and prepared for the nine hour bus ride the next morning. We ate banh mi that morning while we waited for the bus. Once it arrived, loading onto it was hectic – we maneuvered through people and numerous boxes of supplies. Even a young man had to sit in the aisle since there weren’t enough seats. Once the bus drove away, we settled down and got comfortable. Some of us slept while others talked and joked along the way. I was fortunate to sit next to a cheerful person who I later became friends with. I learned that she was 25 years old and travelled to mobile clinics every weekend. It was not till later that I found out she was actually a doctor. She was so young because becoming a doctor requires only 6 years of education after high school in Vietnam. After a couple of rest stops and dinner at a restaurant, we finally arrived at our hotel in Ninh Thuan. We quickly retired to our rooms and were up before 6 the next morning. The bus picked us up, took us to breakfast, then to the school site where the mobile clinic was held.

This mobile clinic was solely for children. As they arrived, they were checked by doctors while some of us shadowed. After their check up, the children were directed to a classroom where Thanh, Anne, and Huong taught dental hygiene, nutrition, and hand sanitation lessons. They even sung and danced to the Vietnamese butterfly song together. While the children waited, they also colored pictures with crayons. Afterwards, the children had to enter the dental station where teeth extractions were performed. Most children had 3-4 teeth extracted. However, a lot of them put on brave faces and hardly shed any tears. Even our members were amazed at how much pain they tolerated. We did also hold on to children that tried to run away and comfort some crying children. The dental station was definitely where most of the action was occurring.

Noon came and we had a home-cooked lunch prepared for us by the adults. Once we finished eating, we napped on student tables before new patients arrived and we resumed our work. It was shocking how comfortable and refreshing sleeping on a hard surface could be. Or, we were just that exhausted. We continued working for another few hours, ate dinner, and headed back to our hotels. After freshening up, we reconvened at one room and played mafia and told ghost stories until we the need for sleep took us over one by one.

-- submitted by Thuong Tran, UC Berkeley

Monday, July 15, 2013

Visit to Association Entraide Vietnam Huế Suisse (Swiss Association in Support of Huế, Vietnam)

After we left the FHF shelter, we took a bus ride to An Tây for a brief visit the Swiss Association in Support of HuếVietnam. The first thing we saw when we enter the shelter were the beautiful Phoenix flowers trees, or Hoa Phượng. Hoa Phượng are brightly-colored flowers that symbolize summer and academics, and are a common sight in Vietnam. Some of the other volunteers spent much of their time speaking with the founder Mrs. Trần Thị Tri, an 83 year old woman from Switzerland. Over a plate of ice cold jackfruit, she told them of the history of the shelter and her struggles founding it.

Two-thirds of the children in the shelter are orphans, and the other third are in particularly disadvantaged situations—several come from households that are in extreme poverty or in a family with 10+ siblings, making it difficult for their parents to support them. At the center, the children receive schooling and vocational training so that they will be able to sustain themselves when they are out on their own. Among the skills they learn is sewing, and several sell pouches they make, saving the money for their futures.

While we were at the center, several of us played with the children upstairs. Since the kids were older, we spent a lot of time playing a game we liked to call “Wa!” The game involves quick reflexes and coordination, and is great for large groups. Kevin in particular spent a lot of time playing with the older kids and even one of the teachers.

We distributed snacks and notebooks to the children, and had a lot of fun meeting all of them. One little boy in particular had so much energy that he even challenged Andrew to a push up contest! (Clearly the younger of the two won.)

Many of the kids enjoyed being chased by the other VMO members. Poor Sung was chasing a boy for almost a full hour!

As our visit ended, Mrs. Trần took us around the property, showing us their garden and the stunning view they had from the top of the hill. It was a lovely end to a beautiful day.

-- submitted by Robin So, UC Berkeley

Meeting the Corrective Surgery Patients

After our second clinic in Hue, we went to visit two patients in the ACWP Corrective Surgery Program. We met Khoa, a 5-year-old boy who lost his left leg in a traffic accident two years ago. When crossing the street to go see a doctor, Khoa was struck by a car and the accident completely severed one of his legs. Facing financial hardship, his parents had to go to Saigon to look for job, leaving Khoa to live in Hue with his grandmother. Because of his circumstance, ACWP provided the resources to give Khoa a new prosthetic leg. He will receive funding from ACWP for the prosthetic leg renewal as he grows up.

Our second patient is Huong, a six-year-old girl with congenital paralysis on the left side of her body. Although she can still walk with both legs, Huong is unable to use her left arm completely. Her condition was due to brachial nerve damage, causing total loss of muscle function. Fortunately, this condition can be corrected with surgery, and Huong has been scheduled to receive one later this summer. The cost for her surgery without aid from ACWP is approximated to be several millions VND, not including other hospital fees and expenses (medicine, hospital service, etc). But thanks to the partnership established by the corrective surgery program, Huong’s family was able to afford the surgery with the total cost being only 200.000-300.000 VND.

-- submitted by Minh Minh Nguyen, UC Berkeley

Bình Điền Mobile Clinic

On the morning on June 2nd, we awoke early at 7:45am to grab breakfast in the hotel lobby before driving off at 8:15am to our second ACWP Mobile Clinic. Accompanying us again were the ever so wonderful Cô Trân, her recent college-graduated nephew, and Duy from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

To the Highlands we go! The ride to Bình Điền was an exhilarating, yet bumpy ride about 20 minutes away from the main roads of Huế. Andrew and I jokingly remarked that our driver was taking revenge on us for leading him to the wrong restaurant for dinner the night before =P.

We arrived at a slightly smaller town health center compared to the first mobile clinic. Sitting in chairs and on the steps awaiting us were crowds of elders, adults, and, alas, children! There were three exam rooms (two for adults and one for children) and a pharmacy. After unloading a few a boxes of medication into the pharmacy room, we took to our places. A few assisted in the pharmacy room to hand out medicine, some in the exam rooms to take blood pressure, and others did crowd control/ help direct patients to the correct rooms.

The locals of this town were tremendously lively and friendly. Sogole and I befriended some locals including a very wise-looking elderly man who resembled Mr. Miyagi, an elderly woman who wanted to show us her rolled-up leaves of medicinal joints, and a group of camera-shy children! After getting her check-up, the elderly woman returned to where we were standing to bid us farewell and hug Sogole! I also spoke to one man who told me that he walked 40 minutes to get to the clinic to see a doctor because his family could not afford a motorbike.

With some free time, I also had an opportunity to chat up with Duy and Cô Trân’s nephew about life in Huế, the education system in Vietnam, and the complicated logistics behind planning a mobile clinic. Interesting fact I learned: graduating high school seniors must score really high on their college entrance exams in order to enter medical/dental school which are both six year programs!

After a busy morning filled with periodic influxes of patients, our mobile clinic wrapped up around noon. I don’t have the exact figures of how many patients were seen, but what stood out to me most were the the faces of the locals I interacted with and the few stories that they shared with me. Great work to VMO and the doctors, nurses, and pharmacists present!

-- submitted by Phuc Tran, UC Berkeley

Phú Vang Clinic

After days of studying hard for finals, travelling abroad is the best way to release stress and enjoy life. Going back to my hometown, Vietnam, to volunteer for medical outreach made my travelling more meaningful. I have been waiting for this trip for years and it was one of the best life experiences I ever have. Not only did I widen my view of life from different angles during the trip, but I also gained a much greater appreciation for the problems facing suburban healthcare systems after I travelled to Vietnam to reconnect with my family roots.

On Friday 5/31, we visited a Phu Vang clinic in the suburban area about 20 minutes driving distance from Hue city. The weather was really nice that day and we arrived there around 8:15 am. We were instantly surrounded by about 50 people, most of them elderly or children. It was loud. People stood, walked, and sat down in the hallways, as well as on the stairs. The sound of the people talking, giggling, and babies crying made this place become more chaotic. Most of them had been there since seven in the morning with the hope of receiving their free general check-ups and medicines. We could see happiness on their faces when our folks arrived at the clinic. One of the most memorable things I could remember about the old ladies whom I met at the clinic was that their teeth were black. Although this thing wasn’t new to me as a local person, what came to my mind was the difference in cultural and medical practice throughout different region of the world. Here in America, we perceive whitening teeth as parts of beauty and strong dental health, but in Vietnam, many old ladies dyed their teeth black to make them stay stronger.

We all felt overwhelmed by the crowd. Each of us quickly settled down and took his or her specific role as assigned at the beginning. Some would go help the pharmacists or doctors while the others became door keepers and guides. We switched with each other to make sure no one had to do the same task during the visit. This flexible arrangement made the day more meaningful for us and more efficient for the healthcare providers. The most stressful position was helping the pharmacists. The pharmacy room was surrounded by a crowd of about 25 people, some giving the prescriptions to us, and some waiting for their medicines. Some elderly showed their anger for waiting so long despite the fact that we had been working non-stop since arriving. Calling the patient’s names was also a “challenge” because we had to speak Hue dialect and the doctors’ handwriting made it more difficult for name calling. People in this area have strange names that I have never seen before. Some have same name; therefore, we had to pay attention to the specific location where they lived to determine the right person. I helped out at the pharmacy room half of the time, right there I unexpectedly learned a bunch of lessons along the way. I experienced the shortage of medication and affordable healthcare for people in this suburban area. There was a lady who just wanted to take as many free medicines as possible even though the pharmacist prevented her from taking someone else’s free medication. Some people called her “greedy”, but I think the lack of health education and wrong perspective on the relationship between health and medicines leads to such that situation. I switched around, once becoming a door guide, and also shadowed the doctor. The doctor welcomed us with a nice smile and he carefully explained each patient’s case, symptoms, and possible treatments. As for my observation, many patients came to the doctor with heart disease, back pain, and spinal cord problems. These can be treated if they are detected early and the patients take medicines regularly. However, life is so desperate here; a lot of patients here couldn’t afford to pay for their doctor visits and medicines. They let their bodies suffered until they are getting worse and worse. Patients did not only come to the clinic to do their check-ups, but each individual also brought us their own needs and stories. The fact is that we didn’t shadow the doctors; instead, we actually shadowed the patients.

At the clinic, I was both shadowing and interpreting for the non-Vietnamese speakers who wanted to learn. At this point in my life, I felt like everything I did in the past was worth it. I used to be an ad-hoc translator for my parents, and later became a member of Volunteer Health Interpreting Organization on campus. These experiences have been built up day after day and this trip is a proof of my improvement in health-related interpretation. I was exhausted at the end of the visit, but learned more about life in general, and about people at Hue, my hometown. This visit gave me some interesting insights into the inner life of suburban healthcare, an unrevealing part that I missed out when growing up as an urban person.

-- submitted by Hoai Huong Ngo, UC Berkeley