I mentioned to my Vietnamese assistant teacher that I was bummed to miss a volunteer trip right before Christmas where the school had a few volunteers deliver Christmas cards to a small orphanage a few hours away. She said she was heading out on trip the following weekend and asked if I wanted to join, I said of course!
The trip was lead by one of my students parents. The father is a doctor and mother used to teach literature at a University in Ho Chi Minh City.
We headed out straight from work on Friday, went straight to Thien Phuc's parents house and we had dinner and prepared some prescriptions and waited for other volunteers to arrive.
We headed out to catch a bus at about 8:30pm- the bus ride took 8 hours- arriving at Kien Giang at 4:30 in the morning. We chose our rooms, laid down fully clothed and knocked out!
We woke up at 6:30 am to get the show on the road. We joined all of the other doctors, dentists and volunteers for a big buffet style breakfast of delicious chicken porridge and coffee.
We hopped back on the bus for a short 45 minute trip out to the small village where the clinic would be held. We unloaded boxes and introduced ourselves to all the beautiful faces of the village.
Ms. Tam taught them how to properly wash their hands and brush their teeth. They listened with such great intent and respect- taking in every word. Which is funny because when we give this same speech to our students at school they roll their eyes and tune us out : )
We also handed out Milk to many different villagers. A lot of them actually arrived by boat.
Each room held a different form of clinic. There were a variety of health check rooms, including ultra sounds and other technical equipment that was over my head : ) the room directly next to our room had a dental clinic where dental checks and teeth were pulled.
We took a lunch break and a nap... ok only Ms. Tam, myself and my student took naps but we were encouraged to I swear! When we returned to the clinic, we took up spots filling prescriptions. The first few minutes of this was intense because I don't speak Vietnamese and I was the person on the trip who couldn't understand Vietnamese! But I got the hang of it pretty darn quick and ended up rapidly filling prescriptions and doing a great job of it!
Finally, around 4:30 it was time to start packing and cleaning up. What a day. It was life changing, encouraging and beautiful. We took our group pictures and said our goodbyes to the village before we headed off to the prison (yikes!) to give out more medications.
We arrived at the prison as the sun was setting. The warden (or whatever you call the head of the prison) had put together a huge feast, free of charge, to thank all of the volunteers. Complete with bottles of Vietnamese rum.
We toured the grounds, well we didn't see the actual prison and all of the prisoners, just the main beautiful building that the head hanchos lived in. It was very beautiful, however... even the animals were in prison. : (
Dinner was delicious and different members of the police and prison staff not only served us, but took shots with us! This was followed with some good ol' fashion Vietnamese Karaoke, half of the volunteers decided to head back to the guest house we were staying at. We spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and playing blackjack! 100% Vietnamese spoken all the time, which has encouraged me to get my act together and actually learn it! It was so much fun and even funnier to watch Ms. Tam cheat.
The following day was another early morning- up by 7 and we headed out to a coffee shop for breakfast. We were gifted with a trip down the Mekong at the U Minh Tuong National park. This was a breathtaking boat trip!
After our trip down the Mekong we headed about 45 minutes away to have lunch at this beautiful natural reserve. They made their own honey and everything they cooked with had been raised by them. This lunch was also free of charge as thanks for all the hard work our team had done. I couldn't believe it!
We ate fish and it was delicious but being the klutz I am, I got a pretty sharp fish bone stuck in my throat.... good thing I was traveling with 20 doctors.
We finally hit the road... around 4pm.... I was happy to have my headphones and a book since they had a TV playing a vietnamese comedy act! We snuggled up and tried to relax the rest of the way home.
All in all it was an incredible trip. And the first of many to come. I've done different volunteer trips in the past but this one was different. I guess I underestimated the power of medical trips.
I've posted all of the pictures from the trip on Flickr. Feel free to check them all out here!