It is not the first time, project CURA sends students from Creighton University School of Medicine to Maison Chance to utilize preliminary medical skills and foster partnerships through services and cultural immersion. This July, our organization happily welcomed Ali, Allison, Matt and Tolison who spend their summer break volunteering in hospitals all over Vietnam to learn more about the Vietnamese health care system. The final week of their mission, they stayed at our center in Ho Chi Minh City to perform eye tests with kids and adults.
Tough being at Village Chance only a short time, the four med students were engaged in a variety of activities. Ali described their daily routine as following: “In the morning, we’ve been doing swimming lessons with kindergarteners. We did a lot of vision screening with the residents and their children, spend time in the classroom – each day we visited one of the grades, engaged in activities, made paper planes, played games, danced, did things which are more fun.”
For the beneficiaries at Maison Chance, it’s medically sound to have periodic checkups, for some it was even a totally new experience being tested by looking at an eye chart. Equipped with glasses – a donation from the organization First Sight – our volunteering guests did distance vision screening, especially for the younger kids, and reading vision screening with adults. In total, they screened over 100 people and gave away about 30 pairs of glasses. However, they could not help all beneficiaries since some of them have other eye problems like astigmatism they couldn’t give prescriptions for.
As all of them agreed, it was lots of fun. The communication had been a bit hard sometimes, admitted Tolison, and “phone translation seems to get mixed results. Kids were listening to something what was coming out of the phone and started to laugh. We couldn´t do it without help.” Indeed, great help came from beneficiary Toan, who accompanied them at work and translated when needed. On the other hand, necessity makes inventive, so vision screening turned out to be “a gateway into learning some Vietnamese words like ‘better’ and ‘worse’ or numbers”, said Matt. Eventually, using lots of gestures helped to overcome language and cultural barriers.
As Matt further noted, in his practice as physician he liked to have a kind of cultural sensitivity to know what it meant to practice medicine with different cultures, how to respect those cultures and also educate patients at the same time. Getting immersed into another community was also Allison’s motivation to take the long journey from the US to South East Asia. Never traveling that far, she explained: “In our school we pretty much get taught Western medicine, and this is how you cure people; but there is not really any lessons about what if someone believes something different than you or maybe wouldn´t take the same steps or approach to solving an illness.”
While all of them wanted to get a new perspective and see how different countries approaching health care, it was a unique experience which showed “how similar we are more than how different we are”.
To future volunteers the four recommended being adaptable, open to change, trying to reach out and connect with as many people as possible. Maison Chance and the beneficiaries are very grateful for their assistance.
Thank you so much!