Friday, March 8, 2013

Day 14 - Friday March 8, 2013 Arriving Home - Mission Accomplished

I touched down in Knoxville, TN in the late afternoon, gaining back a day that I lost when I crossed the Dateline going West at the beginning of the trip.  Ken showed up at the airport with our girl Grace - 100 lbs. Great Pyrenees therapy dog in the car, it was nice to be home in gorgeous Spring-like weather after another incredible VN 2013 trip.  I am so grateful!

As soon as I got home, I changed into my farmer clothes and went to see my baby goat.  I rescued his parents last year and he came as a beautiful surprise just 4 weeks before I left for VN.  His mom and dad are Bonnie and Clyde, so we named him Billy the Kid.  I held him everyday since the first day he was born on that freezing icy morning and did not want him to forget me.  He didn't.  He jumped right into my lap and wanted to curl up as usual, we just picked up where we left off and ALL IS WELL WITH THE WORLD again!

Until VN 2014, farmer Lan signing off for now.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 13 - Thursday March 7, 2013 Team-Completion-Inventory-Wrap-up Day, TRAVELING BACK TO SAIGON & TO US

After breakfast it took us a few hours to check out of Tien Giang Hotel.  We donated a large supply of medication as well as children's clothing to Dr. Lien so she will continue to hand them out to patients and families in need.  Hung settled the expense with the hotel and went over the paperwork with Ms. Hang the accountant of Tien Giang Red Cross.

Our team were all in good spirits this morning, we said goodbye to our friends in Tien Giang and our convoy headed to Long An, to Hue's house to unload our supplies there, to store until our return next year, and the supplies of notebooks and pens and toothbrushes and toys that she and Hung will need to take with them next month to perform the last dental health education at Tan Thoi elementary school before the school is over.  Our yearly dental relief trip was over but our dental health education program in Tien Giang is an on-going program during the school year.  And during the summer we also support many children so they can come to Saigon for needed treatments at different hospitals.

After Long An, we went North to Saigon, stopping at Hung's relatives home in the 8th district for a farewell lunch before many of us head to the airport for the return flights back to the US.  A family meal, one last party for DDS4Kids 2013 team.

By now you can tell how good we eat in VN, Vietnamese cuisine has Chinese and French influence and I think that is what makes the cuisine richly delicious.  The vegetarian dishes here are root vegetable curry, egg noodles stir fry with mixed vegetables, steamed fresh vegetable plate (okra, squash, spinach), tofu sauce, roast pork veggie patties, steamed bread, and fresh spring rolls.

For those of us who eat meat, we have treasure of the sea, one of Shannon's favorite.  We have roasted pork, roasted duck, french bread, hot rolls, vinegrette salad with meat, fried rice, soup ... so much good food sharing with good friends, it is overwhelming and it makes me feel like the luckiest person on the planet!

And a surprise for Padraic and Lea who have birthdays on March 17 and March 23 - Happy Birthday!

Padraic, Shannon, Paul, Robin, and Mickey went directly to the airport this afternoon.  Phuong went to meet with her friends and probably have more food and celebration before she catches her flight tomorrow morning.  Trang went to a hotel and enjoyed a few more days in VN with her relatives and friends.  Van will spend another few weeks touring VN with her friends, retirement and having time is nice.  Lea and I went to Hung's house to rest up, had one more bowl of pho (traditional beef noodles in Hung and Nhu's noodle shop) before going to the airport for our midnight flights back to the US.  It was not hard to say goodbye, I knew I will get to see everyone again, in VN or in the US, this kind of trip makes friends for life.

If food is love, this bowl of noodles IS LOVE, it will keep me warm until next time I get to hug Hung and Nhu and the rest of dear friends in Vietnam again.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Celebration Dinner at completion of our VN 2013 Dental Relief in Tien Giang

Tonight we had our celebration dinner with Tien Giang Red Cross.  The Red Cross staff keeps a record of the supplies we gave at each school, and the number of children and adults we served during the dental relief operation.

Tien Giang province comprises one city (thành phố), one town (thị xã), and eight districts (huyện):

  1. Thành phố Mỹ Tho
  2. Thị xã Gò Công
  3. Gò Công Đông
  4. Gò Công Tây
  5. Chợ Gạo
  6. Châu Thành
  7. Tân Phước
  8. Cai Lậy
  9. Cái Bè
  10. Tân Phú Đông 
This year, our team has traveled to all 8 districts of Tien Giang.  List of items we gifted:
Toothbrushes     8,396
Toothpaste        2.097
Notebooks        2,456
Pens                  2,456
Bath towels       1,320
Family bar soap 1,342
Dry milk               100 lbs.
Blankets                 20
Cash                  $956.00
The Red Cross computed an estimate of $17,000 US dollars in donated goods. 
This number does not include the contribution we made in dental services, the estimate would be more than $30,000.00 US dollars if calculated according to the cost of dental treatment in VN, but if we calculate according to the fees of dental treatment in the US, even if we go with the low fees of $100 per extraction of a permanent molar, $50.00 for fluoride treatment, the total estimate of the dental services we performed for 1250 children would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Total children and adults served:  8,461

The plaque given to us to commemorate our 10th anniversary for serving children and families living in poverty in Tien Giang.  It is hard to believe that it was 1993 - 20 years ago when I went to VN looking for ways to bring dental services to children living in rural villages, two decades went by just like that! The first decade was quite different than the second one.  We can only hope that the third decade will keep getting better.

So many reasons to celebrate!

I will always feel indebted to Dr. Lien and treasure our friendship with Tien Giang Red Cross!

12 of us are the core team of DDS4kids VN 2013, there are over 30 people in our supportive team as you can see here, but the real team is much bigger, the countless family members and friends and supporters and past volunteers who directly and indirectly in all kind of ways contributed to the success of our dental operation today.  If you read these lines, I hope you know we are grateful for your support and friendship, and thousands and thousands of families living in deep poverty wanted to thank you themselves if they could.

Day 12 - Wednesday March 6, 2013 Dental Health Education Community Service Day - CHO GAO District, TAN THUAN BINH Village

We arrived at the Tan Thuan Binh Kindergarten to find a large group of over 200 parents and their kids gathered in the tiny courtyard and they had to stand from one corner of the yard to another, 180 degree span.  It was quite impossible to use the blackboard to show the dental sketches to everyone.  The sun heated up the open courtyard, the crowd was noisy, and we just had to carry out the dental health education as best as we could, it wasn't as well organized as the last community dental health session in Nhi Binh last Sunday.
After some chaotic moments, a group of young kindergarten teachers were able to organize each group of children so we could hand out the gifts.  Ten families with special needs children also received special gifts prepared for them separately.

The memories we take home with us.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 11 - Tuesday March 5, 2013 CLINIC DAY - GO CONG TAY District, LONG BINH Elementary School

A little over an hour's drive from our hotel to Long Binh elementary school, our last clinic day and we all look forward to everything going smoothly.  This school is organized and things are looking good at the start.

Hung starts right away with the dental health education while we set up the clinic in one of the classroom.

All of the children we treat are given a glass of milk while waiting to receive dental treatment.  Many of these kids walk to school without breakfast so we make sure they get a little nutrition before receiving dental treatment.  We go through 100 lbs. of dry whole milk (from Holland) during our dental relief at 6 elementary schools.  Many years ago we noticed that the kids waiting in line were hungry and had to walk home in the heat of the day, we bought sweet rolls to hand out, but eating solid food before dental treatment provides a problem for us so we looked into getting soy milk for the kids, a common drink that is readily available everywhere in VN.  But to get someone to cook a large pot of fresh soy milk at each school we travel to was not possible, we discovered dry whole milk from Holland that is much more nutritious than the watered down soy milk, hence we embarked on this new road of boiling water and make milk from the wholesome dry whole milk powder for the kids and it has been a great success.

This little girl was hurt in the Typhoon #9, a piece of wood caused the permanent injury to one eye.  We gave her a big bag of gifts and Trang gave her mother a gift of money as well.  We will try to get her to the eye hospital in Saigon this summer to see if there is a cosmetic treatment to help the left eye.  Typhoon # 9 made landfall in VN on Sept. 27, 2009, it killed at least 163 people, 23 in the first hour of landfall, 17 people missing, 616 were injured, total damage is estimated at $785 million.  Typhoon # 9 was part of the second most devastating tropical cyclone Ketsana in the Pacific 2009 typhoon season, causing $1.09 billion dollars of damage and 747 fatalities in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

To have a badly decayed permanent molar removed in this area would cost at least $5.00, many of the children need to have several removed, something their parents will not be able to afford.  In VN, when you have a toothache, you buy one pain pill, whether an Aspirin or Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen tablet, to help the pain, and that is it, and if there is a dentist in one of the major cities, he would not take the tooth out, permanent molars are not easy to remove and many dentists in VN still are not comfortable doing these surgical procedures.  It is undeniably a great service we can provide for these children since we know how to apply painless dentistry, we have the skills and the correct instruments to do it safely in a few minutes.

This little first grader is adorable, the best singer in the school and she even sang a few songs for our team.  She has a crossed eye and will benefit from a trip to the Eye Hospital this summer as well.

There is a good lesson learned in what happened the day before in Tan Phu Dong where we had to cancel our clinic day.  Today we are in the village just across the Mekong River from the school yesterday, yet everything goes exceptionally well, we are able to provide free dental treatment to 311kids, hand out gifts to 1075 student population of the school, and 174 gifts to teachers and parents with children under 5 who came to the dental health education session, a beautifully productive day without problem with any local official.  Not only that, I find the teachers at Long Binh elementary school caring and loving to their pupils, going above and beyond the call of duty to assist our team, rearranging their day and willing to help us so that we can see more kids with our limited time, they are happy to welcome our team to their school and grateful for our dental services. It is few and far between when we come across a school like this one.

This school is on the top of my list this year and wins the pick for a Five Year Dental Health Education Program.  It will start with the school year 2013 - 2014 until 2017-2018, DDS4Kids will provide all of the students (~1,075) at Long Binh 2 dental health education sessions per school year and a new toothbrush for every student each time.  Dr. Hue, Hung, and the Tien Giang Red Cross staff will carry out these sessions.  Long Binh elementary school is the 5th school that was chosen in the past 10 years in Tien Giang.  The previous schools reported the rate of decay among the students dropped drastically from nearly 100% to 45% - 35% after 5 years, this is more than what I had hoped for, whatever improvement is considered a great success.  We will never know the real impact of our dental health education program in rural VN, as with any education effort, the impact could have ripple effect for years to come.

The "Durian Experience" evening.  This is the time, Trang and Phuong generously share with us their precious fruits, it is the first time for Robin, Mickey, and Shannon to see and taste durian, I don't remember what Shannon and Mickey said but Robin was beaming with pleasure.  It does taste sweet and creamy, it has been so long since I had fresh durian so it was a special event for me too.  It tasted better than I had remembered!  Paul and Padraic was down the street with Mr. Thanh and Mr. Lien the Red Cross staff, fraternizing, sharing a few beers and some food.  Mr. Thanh is the vice director of the Tien Giang Red Cross, he used to avoid "foreigners", I heard through the grapevines that he doesn't like Americans because for years he stayed away from our team.  But in the past few years, he has waredm up to us and this year, he went all out to take such good care of our team.  I think he finally is convinced of our commitment to help the children of Tien Giang, he saw how hard we work to make everything go smoothly in difficult and primitive conditions.  It's a 180 degree turn around for Mr. Thanh and this is a very good sign.  This is one first among many "firsts" this year, and having Padraic and Paul "bonded" with the Red Cross officials will definitely strengthen the relationship between DDS4Kids and Tien Giang Red Cross.  The success of DDS4Kids in Tien Giang has a lot to do with the solid friendship existed in the past 10 years, building on one "bonding experience" at the time, year after year.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Day 10 - Monday March 4, 2013 CLINIC DAY - TAN PHU DONG District, TAN PHU Elementary School

Tan Phu Dong district (comprises of 3 islands) is the poorest of 8 districts of Tien Giang.  It takes nearly 2 hours to reach Tan Phu Elementary school as we have to travel a long way by car and cross the Mekong river by ferry.  We are prepared, we brought a lot of toys with us for the kids on this island.

As we enter the school yard, I can see that things are not going well.  The classrooms we supposed to set up are covered in dust, the floor has numerous broken tiles, some are in piles, dust covered everything, the Red Cross staff were trying to clean the mess.  The principal is away, only the second in command is available and he thought that we can set up clinic in the abandoned classrooms in the old wing of the school.  Once I told  him that we can't use the old rooms, a group of school officials frantically search for another 2 suitable classrooms.  We can tell that school is in session and some classes must have to be disrupted, teachers have to stop teaching, the kids have to move out, tables and chairs have to be moved, it is truly an unprepared mess.  Then some fellows from the village Health Department show up to check "our autoclave".  We don't use autoclave and that didn't make them happy, so to make the long story short, we opt not to set up clinic, instead we will carry out dental health education for the students and give them gifts we brought for them.  We will just make lemonade out of lemons today. 
It is English lesson period in this classroom.  The teacher invites Robin and Mickey into the room and read some books with her students. The kids were excited to meet "real English speaking" people, probably first time in their lives!

Dental Health Education classes are given in the courtyard and gift station is set up under a shade tree.

It was P.E. class for these kids, they were playing catch and kick the balls, Paul and Padraic played with them and notice that many of the soccer balls were soft and needed more air.  Paul and Robin brought with them a very nice soccer ball and a nifty pump, they were waiting to find the right school to give the ball and pump to.

They found the school!  One memorable moment happens when Paul gives the P.E. coach the pump and see his happy delighted expression on his face, what joy - on both sides!

And there are more unforgettable moments that day.

This evening, Dr.Lien came to our hotel to give us her support, assuring us that we just need to continue to do the same as we have been doing, today was only a single incident that won't happen again.  There is always something unexpected in doing volunteer dentistry in remote villages of developing countries and we will have to figure it out as we go.  I went to bed praying that tomorrow will be a better day.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Day 9 - Sunday March 3, 2013 Dental Health Education Community Service Day, CHAU THANH District, Nhi Binh Village

Nhi Binh village was chosen by the Tien Giang Red Cross because this is one of the poorest village in the province.  Many families in this community are afflicted with leprosy, and even though forced quarantine or segregation of leprosy patients is unnecessary, many people are still afraid of coming in contact with these villagers and would not buy the local products grown or made from this area , so the economy here suffers as the result of this stigma.

240 parents with their children gather in the courtyard of Nhi Binh Kindergarten center to participate in the dental health education session this morning.  Every family will receive a gift bag of household items and dental care package.

Van offers a gift to a father with a child is who sick in a hospital, Lea to a mother with her special need child, our team gave gifts of household goods and money to 10 families with a special need child at this village.

Many times these community empowerment session can be very chaotic and disorganized, but today it went as smooth as can be with a crowd of 240 parents and their children, thanks to the organizing skills of the local Red Cross staff and the teachers at this kindergarten center.

Now we can have the rest of the day off, a little break to enjoy the sight and sound of the Mekong River.  We went on a boat tour to see the floating market of Cai Be, visited a few gift shops, and had lunch at an ancient farm house.

Look at these smiles, so happy to have a break and enjoy being "tourists"!

Fresh harvest of bananas.  Do you know that bananas are natives from tropical Southeast Asia?  There are over 1,000 varieties, I have personally tasted over 14-15 different types, different shapes, colors, textures, flavors, aromas, sweetness, starchiness ... if you love bananas, VN is banana heaven!

By lunch time we reached the restored ancient farm house in Dong Hoa Hiep commune by boat, one of our favorite stop for a beautiful lunch in the garden, surrounded with fruit trees and tropical flowers.  Mr. Kiet's Southern antique home was chosen among 355 houses in Tien Giang to be restored thanks the the Japanese & Vietnamese cooperation program.  It costs 1.5 million dollars to return this farm house to its glory days.  This house is 150 years old, there are 100 columns made from precious wood, and all of the carving as well as wood furniture were restored exactly as the original.  Last year Mr. Kiet died of a sudden heart attack at 52 years old, such shocking news for us, our team comes here for the Sunday lunch for the past 9 years and be greeted by Mr. Kiet and his wife (and his late mother), every year when we meet it is like seeing old friends, and it was sad not to see the same faces again.  A consolation is that Mrs. Kiet is doing well, she has the strength to carry on to raise their two children (the daughter is in the first year of dental school, a 6 year program) and keeps the ancient home open for business as usual.  The food is delicious as always, every dish is prepared with fresh ingredients harvested locally. 

Looking at Trang and her smile, we all feel the same, and the food, absolutely finger licking good!

 Paul and Robin's first time in Vietnam, and I think they fall in love with the Vietnamese cuisine, they enjoy tasting everything and real easy to please!

Mature jack fruits in the garden of the farm house

A rare sight, baby durian fruits.  Durian is one of the unusual fruits of tropical countries, it has become famous or more like unforgettable by the very unique aroma that no fruit can compare.  Trang and Phuong bought a few durian fruits and are talking about "a durian experience" one evening at dinner when they know the durians are ready, we can't wait!

Mountain apples

 Milk fruits, my favorite!

Red dragon fruits
Sunday night, another special night for our team as we go to Hung's paternal grandparent's home in Long An for another dining experience.  Hung's 2 aunts prepare a beautiful feast to welcome us into their farm home. The food is beautifully prepared, mostly vegetarian dishes, some ingredients had to be prepared several days in advance, they probably spend several days preparing this dinner for our team, and certainly put a lot of love into it too because we feel it in every bite.