Their journey to Vietnam took 57 hours. Once they arrived, they needed to get past Communist guards who were skeptical of their intentions. Then, they journeyed another eight hours by bus to a countryside of lush green fields and hard-working people to begin their aid work.
About 130 medical and dental aid workers took part in a two-week delegation this summer to provide basic medical, dental and vision services to 3,500 patients, many of whom had never seen a doctor before. The Good Samaritan Medical and Dental Ministry, an all-volunteer group, has been traveling to Vietnam every year since 2000.
“This was truly a life-changing experience,” said aid worker Ted Holt, Administrator at Valencia Gardens, a skilled nursing facility in Riverside, California. “Even though you’re giving to others on this mission, you get so much back in return. And you come back appreciating everything we have in the United States.”
This summer’s delegation helped people like Mia Nguyen, a 12-year-old child who suffers from asthma. Mia’s typical day begins at 6 a.m., when she sets up a banana cart in a Hanoi marketplace. School has become a long-forgotten dream for Mia, who must provide for her six brothers and sisters. A doctor from the Good Samaritan delegation was able to treat her asthma on the spot.
“We are certainly planning on doing it again,” said Dr. Larry H. Couture, a long-time Good Samaritan volunteer who helped some of the 4000 patients that were served in Vietnam. “It’s everything we imagined and more than we dreamed.”
The annual Good Samaritan delegations began in summer 2000 with one physician and four young adult volunteers. In ten days, this small team treated 1,100 patients and, in the process, established a relationship that continues to this day.
In recent years, the organization has been sending at least 100 volunteers who are treating an average of 4000 patients.
Though the lack of basic health services is overwhelming in a country like Vietnam, the organization has learned to be as efficient as possible. Each day, working in two rooms that house doctors, a lab, a pharmacy and a kitchen, the group processed about 400 people a day – 200 in the Ha Lang area and 200 more in the Bao Lam and Bao Lac area.
“An 80-year-old woman walked 8 miles to get a tooth extracted,” Holt recalled.
Volunteers with this summer’s delegation brought with them 400 bags of Vitameal and $2,000 worth of vitamins for local children. One bag of Vitameal can feed a child for a month with all of the essential nutrients.
Holt, who was assigned to count vitamins all day, remembers his job was to divide 100 pills into each envelope.
“It is amazing to see how far we can stretch so few resources,” Holt said.
While Good Samaritan’s mission only lasts two weeks each year, it works to train local residents to continue providing care throughout the year – an effort that has created perhaps the most lasting benefit.
For more information on the care Good Samaritan Medical and Dental Ministries provides for the people of Vietnam, please visit www.gsmdm.org.