This past summer, I had a valuable experience working with Project Vietnam Summer Camp to provide health and oral care to Vietnamese patients in rural area. Project Vietnam Foundation (PVNF) is a non-profit organization based in California and founded by Dr. Quynh Kieu. PVNF’s mission is to provide health services and improve current health standards in Vietnam. PVNF have year-round projects, mission trips, and summer camps throughout rural provinces of Vietnam.
Summer Camp 2010 is a two-week long program that took place in Central Vietnam: Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An. Unlike the traditional mission trips, PVNF summer program is an opportunity for volunteers to explore Vietnam and its culture in addition to providing community services to Vietnamese who are in poverty. The team consisted of three physicians, two dentists, and sixty volunteers from various backgrounds. We had five days of clinic that consisted of four stations: medical, dental, pharmacy, and optometry. Each clinic was set-up at different provinces throughout Hue. These provinces lacked standard health care, usually located in rural farm areas with no health facility within a 50-mile radius. Volunteers had opportunities to rotate around the stations in order to be exposed to different areas of health care services. Because I am a dental student, I worked as a dental examiner. My job was to determine which teeth needed to be restored or extracted. This was the first time that I had examined so many children with baby bottle syndrome, a condition in which carbohydrates such as soda, sugary drinks, juice and milk remain in contact with the baby’s teeth for prolonged periods, and leads to tooth decay. Almost 98% of the children that I examined suffered from this condition due to lack of tooth brush, tooth paste, and oral health education. Some families did not know what a tooth brush was; therefore, we also educated the children on proper brushing techniques and proper oral hygiene.
In addition to working in health care clinics, we visited two orphanages. At the orphanages, we educated the children on oral health care, sang songs and played different games together, taught the children how to count in English, and gave out gifts. Being at the orphanages was my favorite part of the program because I had a chance to really bond with the children. Parting with the kids was definitely the most emotional part because the children kept asking if I was coming back. Although I knew that I was not coming back for a long time, I left them with a feeling of hope by assuring them that someone will soon come to play with them. As I left, I encouraged them to behave and be obedient to their caretaker and reminded them to pursue an education to better their lives.
PVNF Summer Camp is laborious especially in 110°F; however, it is so worth it to see the smiles in each patient’s face at the end of the day. With the same goal and passion, our team provided health care services to 3,000 patients. Being a volunteer with PVNF has taken me from my comfort zone, and given me many memorable experiences. I immersed myself in Vietnamese culture for the first time and in the process I made many native Vietnamese friends, created bonds with many volunteers, and networked with doctors and dentists. But most importantly, I worked with my fellow volunteers to reach a common goal: providing quality healthcare to Vietnamese patients who were in dire need of assistance.
When we were not working, we went sightseeing at various tourist attractions and ate different traditional Vietnamese food at local street vendors. At night, we went to different bars to experience various Vietnamese breweries. It was my first time back to Vietnam since I immigrated to America; therefore, every experience was new and invaluable. I had such a wonderful time in Vietnam that I am inspired to go back when I become a dentist to volunteer for similar projects.
I recommend PVNF Summer Camp to high school students and undergraduates who are interested in health care careers, to Vietnamese-Americans who have never been back to Vietnam, and to physicians/dentists who want to give back to their homeland. To learn more about PVNF, you can visit the website at http://www.pvnf.org/.