A Volunteer Medical Journey to Southern Vietnam
Last January I worked and traveled in parts of Vietnam not usually seen by travelers. A registered nurse from Boston, I was part of an Interplast medical team that traveled to southern Vietnam. Our 2-week trip was broken into two 1-week stays in the small towns of Soc Trang and Tra Vinh, approximately two hours from Ho Chi Minh City.
Interplast (www.interplast.org) supports medical volunteer work in third world countries, primarily by providing free plastic surgery to children with such deformities as cleft palates, cleft lips, and burn scars. The host staff spoke very little English, but we soon discovered that you dont have to speak the same language to communicate. Patients expressed themselves with a simple touch or expression that conveyed sincere gratitude.
Our work with the local staff gave us the kind of cultural immersion and exchange a traveler rarely has the opportunity to experience. By the end of each week you really felt part of local lifean invaluable experience.
You have to be prepared to work long hours, usually 10-12 hour days, as well as be able to work well with a team of people you have only recently met. At times you must pack away your pride and roll up your sleeves to perform much-needed but undesirable tasks. This environment forces you to be very creative and resourceful with what is available and not allow what you lack to impact your positive attitude. But the work you do is valuable, greatly appreciated and it carries its own rewards.
For More Info
The three leading programs in the U.S. that offer volunteer medical work abroad:
Interplast, 300-B Pioneer Way, Mountain View, CA 94041-1506; 650-962-1619; www.interplast.org.
Operation Smile, 6435 Tidewater Dr., Norfolk, VA 23509; 757-321-7645; www.operationsmile.org.
Healing The Children National Office, P.O. Box 9065, Spokane, WA 99209-9065; 509-327-4281; www.healingthechildren.org.