Chi Tran: There were so many poor families that can’t afford to have food on their table every day. I visited three extremely impoverish families to donate food baskets today. Reflecting on the conditions of these three families made me feel very sad I was reminded of my background and how I grew up, only that was 20 years ago.
The first family we visited live in a small hut made up of woven coconut leaves. The mother is a 92 years old woman who can barely walk. We walked in to see her lying in bed and in an adjacent bed, laid her 46 years old son who is paralyzed from previous work accident. These beds, made of wooden frame with a straw mat were all they have to sleep on. Hanging around the bed were approximately five sets of clothing that they own that now look like a piece of rag from the wear and tear. On the table was a hot water pitcher and a few cups, all very old with broken mouthpieces and covered in dirt. The family basically live through support from neighbors and donation since the son doesn't have the ability for physical labor.
The second family was in worse condition with a daughter having to take care of her immobile mother and her brother whose wife left after he was paralyzed from a stroke. The daughter sacrificed her life to stay and take care of her family. She bursted into tears as she shared her hardships with us.
We arrived at the third house where an elderly woman laid in a hammock infront of her living quarter. We came over for a chat and she told us stories of her life of poverty. She said that their typical meal would be just plain rice mix with salt. On certain days they would not even have that to eat. Her family also lived off of what is donated and so she said that on days they would have so much to eat when people visit, but on most days, they would have nothing on the table. Hanging on the wall was a whiteboard debts borrowed from neighbors for food. We surprised her a few days later in which we returned and paid off for her debt which was equivalent to $50 USD.
Viet Nguyen: It was our third day at the Tra On clinic and I was taking a patient’s blood pressure, a physical assessment skill I can confidently say I have mastered over the past 2½ weeks of our medical mission in Vietnam. My fellow missionary QA taps me on the shoulder and tells me it’s my turn to deliver supplies. With little hesitation I agree to the task despite no explanation or idea whatsoever as to the nature of this excursion. I naively strap on a helmet and jump onto the back of the moped of one of our guides to follow a small convoy of our fellow missionary friends from Mercer University. Little did I know that this seemingly mundane task would turn out to be the defining moment of what thus far has already been an eventful trip.
Cruising down the country road we suddenly turn off onto a muddy path through jungle terrain and crossover a of cement bridge hardly wide enough to fit our mopeds. I quickly realize that this is more then just a simple delivery. To this point of our 3 weeks in Vietnam I had only been exposed to cities, tourist attractions, and medical clinics. And with just a short ride we had entered a small farming village, one of the many that make up the majority of the beautiful country. I was being exposed to what life is really like for a majority of this country’s inhabitants. Our first stop was the house of a single mother who had suffered a stroke just a few years back and was doing her best with the help of her kind neighbors to raise her adolescent son. Our next delivery was to the house of an ailing grandmother, who was raising her granddaughter after her son had past away the mother had abandoned them. We went to the house of a single mother raising a young son with little means to provide basic amenities. Our last stop was the house of a family caring for their ailing father, who received aid for their neighbors to pay for medical bills. On a previous excursion other missionaries delivered food to their home, and while there it was noticed that the family kept track of their debts from their generous neighbors on a small blackboard by the entrance. Upon realizing the full extent of their struggles, our group had decided to return with donations to pay off those debts and I was fortunate enough to come along for the ride.
These were all touching stories, the extent of which is difficult to describe. These villagers have very little means and they make a living through whatever manual labor is available, often grueling in nature. Houses are made of bamboo, leaves, dirt floors and no often no larger then a studio apartment. It’s difficult to comprehend the full extent of this level of poverty for most Americans it’s being described, because it’s an indescribable situation that can only be fully appreciated firsthand.
It was absolutely touching to see such a small gesture mean so much to those who have so little. These people, with such relatively simple lives, are so much happier and kinder then many others who have everything. Their level of gratitude for the simplest act of kindness is an emotion I’ve become unfamiliar with; unfortunately, it’s a virtue I believe has been lost in our current society. This small charitable excursion, just a simple 1hour task I was assigned in my day, put my life into perspective in a way I could never imagine. Even for a stoic person such as myself found it hard to fight back the tears in these touching situations. I have always considered myself to be very self-aware, and this entire experience has given me a point of reference and understanding as to how fortunate I am to be where I am in my life. I couldn’t be happier to have such a great family and wonderful friends in my life. Leaving the clinic I could not help but notice how fresh the air was, how beautiful the vast acres of rice fields looked in the dawn sky. Moving forward I will try to always keep in mind just how lucky we all are no matter what hardships are thrown our way.
To my students: Never forget where you come from, Never forget who took care of you, and Never forget to give back 1000 times more in return!!!