It was sunrise when my airplane left Knoxville after a deicing spray, beautiful calm clear day to fly. 1hr. 20 min. flight Knoxville - Chicago, 4 hr. in transit, 14 hr flight Chicago - Seoul, 4 hr in transit, 5 hr. flight Seoul - Saigon, arriving at 10:30 pm on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. None of the flights was crowded, everything went smoothly, and finally I was very happy to see old friends again after a year.
Hung is like my older brother and best friend. A few months after returning home from the dental outreach in VN last year, Hung was diagnosed with liver cancer. He went through surgery and months of chemotherapy. He lost all of his hair but none of his commitment to DDS4Kids as he had been for the past 20 years. In 2012 my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer stage 4, it was a very challenging year for us, and fortunately he is now a cancer survivor. It was a shock to find out in 2013 that Hung had cancer, but as I have traveled that road a year ahead I was able to give Hung and his family the love and support they needed throughout the tough time. It was a celebration when we met again this time to carry out another dental outreach trip, our 21st year in Vietnam.
Monday, February 24, 2015
Several team members already arrived few days earlier, today the rest of the team made it to Saigon. Joe Willis from Tennessee was delayed right from the beginning of his flight, missed his connection and was rerouted twice, arrived to Saigon a day later without his checked baggage. Dr. Shannon McCarthy and Padraic Walsh from Buffalo, New York, had their car broke into and their duffel bags of personal clothing, dental supplies and gifts for the children stolen the night before they were to leave for the airport at 4 am. Dr. Paul Dunbar from Maine had to call AAA to pick him up when his car broke down half way to the airport. The rest of us made it to VN from Minnesota, Pennsylvania, California, Washington, and Tennessee uneventfully. The good thing was that everyone arrived in Saigon in good health and great spirit.
Tuesday, February 27, 2014
Travel day, left Saigon today to go Southwest to My Tho, Tien Giang province. Stopped in Long An to pick up Dr. Hue and the rest of our supplies stored at her house. There is nothing better than old friends and sweet fresh coconuts! (Dr. Hue on my right, Dr. Mai from Seattle on my left)
In My Tho we had a welcome lunch at Dr. Lien's house, reunited with our long time friends of Tien Giang Red Cross. Dr. Lien was the director of Tien Giang Red Cross who helped us to start the dental program in the Mekong Delta, but had to retire when she turned 55 as the law in VN for government employees. The success of our effort in VN has everything to do with Dr. Lien's compassion and support so we always pay respect to her by stopping by her house each time we arrived to My Tho. After that we had a meeting at the headquarter of the Red Cross with Dr. Lang (director of Red Cross for the past 2 and a half years) and the entire Red Cross staff to discuss the logistic, schedule and details of our 2014 dental outreach. Then our team took a break to go on a boat ride on the Mekong River to Thoi Son island, to have a little taste of the sight and sound of this region.
We checked into our hotel Nha Khach Tien Giang in the heart of My Tho, this is our home for the rest of our stay in the Mekong Delta. Our team was treated to an official welcome dinner by the local government and Tieng Giang Red Cross, truly sumptuous meal with delicious authentic dishes.
Tonight we had to pack our supplies to prepare for tomorrow clinic day. Joe's baggage made it on a flight today and they were delivered at our hotel tonight, that made us very happy, especially Joe. It was a great day!
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Breakfast at 6am, loaded the supplies into our box truck and our convoy left the hotel around 7:30am for a long drive. It took 1 hour and 35 minutes to reach Hau My Bac B Elementary School in the northern edge of Cai Be province. We arrived to a small school that has 2 rows of classrooms and one is under construction, the first graders had to leave their classrooms for us to move in and set up our make shift clinic.
It took a little work to set up an exam station, 2 fluoride stations, 3 extraction stations, a sterilization station, a TLC/pharmacy station, and a gift package station in one classroom. In the next door classroom we had our supply room where gift packages are put together for the 750 students and 100 families with children below 5.
We were able to screen all 750 children and treated about 200 kids, usually multiple extractions of badly decayed and broken permanent and deciduous teeth, and fluoride treatment to permanent molars.
One darling little girl second grader told me that she lives with her grandparents, when asked where are her parents, she said they work in Saigon and only come home once in a long while, they worked in a shoe factory. Poor people in rural village often travel to big cities to work long hours in factories making a dollar a day, living in tiny rental bedroom quarters so they can send money home to help the family to survive.
There was a little boy in the second grade who had only one leg, we asked him what happened to his leg, he said when he was 4 years old he was playing near by while his parents were working in the rice field, he came too close to the water pump using to pump water from one rice field to another, his right leg got caught in the suction pump. Most of the children wore clean uniforms that had been washed too many times, and wore plastic flip flops as shoes, some even way too big for their little feet.
At each village we provide a dental health education session to 100 families with children from pregnancy to 5 years old. This is where I believe that we can plant the seeds to change the future, if the adults know how to help their children to grow up with healthy teeth, how to prevent swollen jaws, broken decayed teeth, painful dental infection, which is the unfortunate thing that about every family in rural villages had experienced, and to empower these parents of how easy, inexpensive, and simple it is for them to help their young children to avoid the pain and reap the health benefits, I believe we can make a difference.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Another long drive to reach My Hanh Trung Elementary school in Cai Lay province. The long narrow road leading to this school is lined with green rice fields and rows of banana trees, a lush green welcome to a US volunteer team that the people in this remote village had never seen before.
The children were organized in the school courtyard for a session of dental health education before we gave them a glass of milk, dental examination and treatment. They were mostly brave beyond their years, they had never seen a dentist before, yet they know how valuable the dental services we came to provide, and with the encouragement of their teachers and parents, they trustfully accepted the dental treatment.
Education, education, education, it is through education that we can teach a person to fish for himself.
When these housewives, fishermen, rice growers, factory workers came to our dental health education, and they attentively listened and asked questions, then they said if they had known how important the baby teeth are and how easy it is to avoid dental diseases, they would have done it long ago, we knew why we needed to come here. Another unforgettable day!
Friday, February 28, 2014
Today we went to Song Thuan Elementary school in the hamlet of Chau Thanh. Most of the population in this area work in fruit orchards growing milk fruits and rice fields. It took less than an hour to reach the school.
This small elementary school has a lush green courtyard, a walkway lined with palm trees and many big shade trees that keep the classrooms cool in the tropical heat. Our clinic was set up in two classrooms that never did get hot in the afternoon sun, which was wonderful!
This is our idea of fun, to see as many kids as we possibly can in a day. These kids have never seen a dentist before in their lives. It is safe to say that it is almost 100% of them have dental decay on their baby teeth or permanent teeth or both.
If we can change the mindset of one person regarding the importance of baby teeth and good dental health, that would be well worth the effort.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
The hamlet of Tan Phuoc is borderline with Long An Province where it's famous for growing pineapples. There is also a big factory here that produces cooking oil, things with copper and iron. Tan Lap 2 Elementary school has around 300 students, the school is old and quite small. It was supposed to be a day off for the teachers and the students, but since we were coming to the school, everyone showed up as it was a regular school day.
Children in rural Vietnam are like children everywhere, just beautiful!
Jeff has 2 daughters of his own and can't wait to share his experience with his children when he returns home.
A little 2nd grader said "I don't have parents, they left me, I live with my grandmother." So I said "your grandmother must really loves you". And this girl told me something I had never expected to hear from a mouth of a sweet 7 year old girl, "Nobody loves me, they only love my little sister". That was the saddest thing to hear coming from a little kid, wished I have the power to change that and made things right for this adorable child.
When I asked the children what their parents do for a living, most of them said they work in the pineapple fields. I asked a boy what he wants to do when he grows up, he said he doesn't know yet, but he does not want to work in the pineapple fields because it's really back breaking work under the hot sun. That is very observant and smart.
At this elementary school, the decay rate if very high and we had to do a lot of extractions of badly broken decayed teeth. But for those who had small decay on the permanent molars, we were able to send them to see Dr. Hue at her private practice in Long An Province to receive fillings on their permanent teeth free of charge.
The teachers in the traditional ao dai.
Our make shift "dining hall" with little children tables and chairs, and the food is so delicious.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Community empowerment day in Go Cong Tay hamlet. Giving dental health education session to 200 families with children under five, provide gift packages (towel, blanket, toothbrushes, toothpaste, pencil, note book, pain medication) to all. We also gave financial gifts and toys to 10 families with handicapped children.
Monday, March 3rd, 2014
Today our team went to Xuan Dong Elementary school in the hamlet of Cho Gao. Our convoy traveled a long time on paved road, and then quite a way on narrow gravel road to reach this school. This school has nearly 700 students, the two rows of classrooms were built 3 years ago. There are 4 classrooms of first, second, fourth and fifth grade, about 30 students in each classroom. There are only 3 classrooms of third graders, 40 students each because the school has only 19 classrooms so they combine the 3rd graders to fit into 3 classrooms. Seeing this new school with blooming bougainvilleas and shade trees in the spacious courtyard made me feel happy for the students who live in this poor rural village.
At some schools, the teachers were busy with their work and did not help us much at our clinic. But at this school, all the teachers (most are women) showed up to help us unload our truck of supplies (in their gracious traditional dress), move the tables and chairs in the classrooms, help keep the children in order, ready to lend a hand to our team the entire day.
The superintendent is the third one from left. Teachers in VN make about $120 to 250 a month depending on seniority. One teacher told me that once they become teachers in a school, most stay in the same school until retirement.
Most of the children said their parents work in the fields, or sell food at the market, or work in the factory. They looked clean but if you look closely, their uniforms had seen better days. We gave 21 students a small financial gift to help with food and clothing when we heard from their teachers of the tragic situations. These are the kids who just lost a parent due to accident or sickness, 2 second graders who are handicapped, a boy who was attacked by a dog, one third grader lost her house in a fire recently, kids who were abandoned by their parents and are raised by the grandparents.
Another very productive day, seeing all 659 students, treated 217 kids in our clinic, and providing community health service to 76 families with children under 5 years old.
Padraic Walsh from Ireland, lives in New York and Bob Thiem from Pittsburgh, PA are the two who took care of the sterilization station, both are pros, can't do it without without these two hardworking friends.
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
It was a long drive to Go Cong Dong, first on paved road, then on gravel road until we reached Tan Phuoc Elementary school. This school was built 7 years ago, the entrance is lined with blooming bougainvilleas and the school is surrounded with green rice fields.
This school has nearly 700 students from first to fifth grade. We always started the day with dental education show and tell session.
In middle of the clinic/classroom, we set up a waiting area where the children can play with Legos or painting in coloring booklets while waiting for their turn. Dr. Shannon also brought some lively music, and sometimes she even danced too keep the children entertained.
We concluded our clinical day with a community empowerment session for parents with children under 4 years old. Today we treated the most patients than the other 5 days in the past week as this is a large school.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Community service day, dental education session for 200 families on the island of Tan Phu Dong.
A long drive from our hotel to the edge of the Mekong river to embark on a ferry to Tan Phu Dong Island. Then we drove quite a way to reach Phu Dong Elementary school. The sun was strong, felt like in the high 90s temperature.
A little skid to show villagers the important roles of baby teeth. Most people just think that baby teeth will be replaced so they didn't pay attention to early good dental health habits among children and it was the main cause for so much of the dental pain and suffering in elementary school children.
The children love their gift (pink hat). Living in the tropical heat everyone needs a hat.
Thursday March 6, 2014
On the last day in Tien Giang, the Red Cross gave us a report for the DDS4Kids 2014 outreach.
Our team traveled to all 8 hamlets (=counties) of Tien Giang province (=state) in 8 days.
Number of elementary school children received dental examination 3,128
Number of children in kindergarten 960
Number of children received dental treatment 991
Number of families participated in dental health education session 875
Number of teachers receiving home care packages 270
Number of children with birth defect and living in extreme difficulties who received money and gifts 113
Traveling day, checked out of Tien Giang, returned to Saigon, good-bye lunch with the team. Many of the team members caught their flights to return to the US the same evening, a few went on their extended visit of Southeast Asia before returning home.
Friday March 7, 2014
I took a few core team members to travel on to Hue to do some assessment for a pilot program for the children in remote villages of Thua Thien province.
Working with the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations of Hue, we traveled about 2 hours on very rugged road from Hue to Nam Dong, a province border with Laos. We visited a kindergarten school with 175 students and an elementary school with 278 students, providing dental health education sessions to all the students and teachers, giving gifts of toothbrushes, toothpaste, pen, pencil, and notebook to all. We also give clothes to children of poor families, first aid kits along with some medication to the school teachers.
We have worked in many rural areas of Central Vietnam in the years passed and wished to be able to help the children in remote villages of Thua Thien province again in the future.
Adorable faces of children in Huong Huu Kindergarten. These children speak the Kotu language, one of the indigenous people living in the mountainous region of Central Vietnam. They do not understand our low land Vietnamese language speaking by "valley people", these highland children are starting to learn the national language in school and most will be bilingual by the time they enter elementary school.
Gifts of toothbrushes, toothpaste, pencils, pens, notebook, toys ... ready for the children and their teachers.
Huong Huu elementary school participated in the dental health education session. Education, education, education, we were never tired of talking about dental health promotion and disease prevention.
Every child got a little pretty ring to wear on their little finger, boys and girls alike cherished these colorful rings, they were so excited!
Gift package preparation for 278 students and 17 teachers.
I wish to keep the joy and happiness of the Kotu children in this photo in my heart forever!
A farmer walking home with his water buffalo after a day out in the field.
I would be soon flying home with so many unforgettable memories of VN 2014 dental outreach.