Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Health Screening

By Volunteer Tawnee Brilla
Project XII Participant

Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh, o'er the fields we go, laughing all the way HA HA HA!

This was the tune, no matter how inappropriate it seemed, given the scorching weather in Vietnam, that echoed through both the bus and the school yard as we were walking to our destination. The true meaning of the holiday unveiled before us as we looked out into a sea of hopeful faces anticipating medical care and food we would provide to this remote village of Long Thanh Province. Once all of the volunteers were off of the bus, that is when the magic began! All in position? 1, 2, 3! We belted out our best rendition of our song and dance combo appropriately titled "Hello Vietnam". Looking like professionals, we saw the BIGGEST smiles on the audiences faces. Whether it was pure happiness, or a chuckle at our attempt to be superstars has yet to be determined. However, it did set the tone for the fun that was yet to come.

On the first night Gia Hoa said we were going to become a family.

After we sang our songs, opening remarks were given and the different stations explained to the participants. The people in this area are very poor and rarely have an opportunity to see a physician. This effort allowed sick adults, and some children, to receive medical care and medication that they would not normally be able to afford. We also distributed boxes of noodles, a bag of sugar and a blanket to each participant. We were able to personally witness the proud and thankful faces of a suffering nation looking to us for relief, for at least one day. It was at this moment that I realized the profound impact that this venture has had on me. I realized that the Christmas season was not about giving presents to people, but more about giving hope and sharing a friendly smile.

While many of the people were assisting with the actual health fair, a few of us were lucky enough to have a task that was the best job of the day! The task of keeping the kids occupied while their parents were being medically assessed. For those of us who are still just big kids at heart, it wasn't a problem. We played Simon Says, Head-Shoulders-Knees and Toes, Duck-Duck-Goose, sang Christmas songs and learned numbers and colors in English. A few children were lucky enough to go for piggy-back rides on Jeff and Adam, the rest of us just ran around in circles letting the children chase us. Somehow Adam even managed to be face down on the dirt with children jumping all around him. It was truly a magical experience connecting with the children and knowing that they were enjoying themselves just as much as we were. It was about 3 hours of playing in the blazing mid-day sun. Luckily Khoa came around on a motorbike delivering water, just wish it would have been cold! It was also nice to escape to the "fan" room where we could be blasted with fans while drinking hot tea.

At one point during the games, we decided to stop and hand out some cards and school supply donations which we brought from Japan. First, the Christmas cards, this went over without a hitch. We had the children sit in a circle and dispersed them. Then, came the pencils and supply bags. As soon as the children saw them, they MOBBED us and started grabbing and taking what they could. For an instant, I felt what it was like to be famous, and I must say, I am glad that I am not!! Hands everywhere, grabbing for everything. It was not a pretty sight. Fairly chaotic actually. We had every intention of asking the children a question in English to make the supplies more like a prize, however it just turned into us handing items out to every random hand that was flashed in front of us. Then the adults with babies joined in. They started shoving their babies in our faces and pointing to their hands, which meant "give my kid something"! And one pencil and one card was not enough, everybody wanted several. So to please them, and in the spirit of the season, I passed pencils and supply bags out until I had no more. That was of course until I was stopped by some random Vietnamese woman which grabbed my hands and told me NO. I tried to hand out another pencil, she grabbed it and said NO. So, I took a hint and stopped.

I ventured on over to the blanket, sugar and noodle station to lend a hand there for a while. Only one minor problem occurred during this effort. We somehow ran out of blankets, so another procedure was added to the routine, write out an I.O.U. ticket for a blanket for those who did not receive a blanket and keep a list of their names. Before too long, it was time to conclude the activities and have lunch with the entire medical crew. (These were the two dozen Vietnamese doctors and medical personnel who had volunteered also to join in this joint Project of the Friendship Foundation, the Women's Union of Vietnam, Nguyen Tri Phuong Hospital, and the local government officials.)

Lunch was served in one of the classrooms at the school. However, being health-conscious foreigners, we were looking for a place to wash our hands before we began eating. We found the restrooms, but there was no running water. So we found a water reserve in the back and attempted to use that, but then we were afraid to put it on our hands. So many of us just passed on the idea. Luckily, Dr. Gary came to the rescue! He had hand sanitizer for all. We were able to eat our lunch without worrying. The purpose of having lunch was so that we, the volunteers, could mingle with the medical team. However, like the Japanese, they were really shy and didn't spread out. They all sat at one table and we sat at another; well a few brave ones were forced to sit at the other table due to lack of seats.

Looking back on this experience, and the whole trip in general, has made me realize that no matter how miniscule you think something is, it could mean the world to someone else. I did not really feel as if I did much, but having returned to Japan, I have received several letter and e-mails from people that I have met in Vietnam. All of their letters continue to repeat the same thing. “Thank you for coming to Vietnam and becoming my friend. I hope that some day we will be able to meet again. You and your group of friends were amazing.” They couldn't have said it any better.

Our group dynamics were amazing. As uncomfortable as we may have felt on the first night when Gia Hoa said we were going to become a family, she was right. And just like I miss my family back in America, I miss all of the participants on this trip. I feel that with some of them I have made an amazing connection which will yield a friendship that I am hoping will last a lifetime. I have talked to others that also feel the same way.

I am very proud to have been a part of this wonderful, life-changing event. Forever ingrained in my heart, are the thankful gazes and heartfelt hugs I received from both Vietnamese people and my “new family”. It made me realize how thankful I am to have participated in this journey and I know that I will continue to strive for living my life the way that both Joe and Gia Hoa do; for others. I can hope that my small contributions have made an impact on the beautiful and amazing people I met on this journey.

Best wishes to you all! Until we meet again!

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