Friday, August 23, 2013

Personal Perspective: You Never Really Forget by Alex

As a part of our blog, we open up entries to 7G goers so that they can offer their insight of their view on the M.E.M.O. 7G mission trip. We call these entries, "Personal Perspective," and list the name of the 7G goer. These are their stories on this journey.

I think I should preface this entry by saying that these past two weeks have been the most amazing, humbling, unforgettable, and life-changing experience of my life so far. I never would have thought that in such a short amount of time, a group of almost-strangers would assemble and be able to have such an immense impact and build such strong relations along the way. I do not think that words and pictures can sufficiently portray or capture the events we have been a part of not only in Vietnam but also everything that has led up to this trip. That being said, I will try my best to describe my experiences and the insight I have gained.
The view outside on our flight to Vietnam. Photo taken by David.
Two weeks ago as I waited in the airport, I could not believe that I was hours away from being over 10,000 miles from home. It just felt like we were having another M.E.M.O event.  It was not until I saw the green fields, brown rivers, and seemingly randomly place buildings, a scene that I vaguely remembered from a previous trip, that I started to believe that we were finally in Vietnam.  After grabbing all of our luggage and heading outside, we were greeted by the heat and humidity, and that was confirmation that this was really Vietnam.
The market place in Ben Tre province. Photo taken by Alex.
Local vendors at the Ben Tre night market. Photo taken by Alex.
As we were being driven to lunch, looking outside made me feel as if we were just driving through the “bad part of town,” but then I realized that that was nothing compared to the other parts of the country. It was a common sight to see people working out of their homes, selling anything they can just to make ends meet. Growing up, my parents would always tell me about the poverty in Vietnam, and I saw it when the couple times I visited, but I don’t think it was until this trip that I understood the full gravity of the situation.
Alex and his little buddy at the Thien Binh Orphanage. Photo taken by David.
Alex and his other buddy roaring with happiness. Phoebe manages to photobomb the picture. Photo taken by David.
The first place we went was an orphanage where we also held a dental clinic. Everyone seemed a bit shy at first when the kids came out, but within minutes there were children on shoulders, lots of playing, and lots of laughter. After playing with the kids, some of us help feed or look after the younger children. These kids were something else; you could tell that they were full of imagination as they played. They didn’t need technology or toys to have fun; they made the best out of sticks and boxes. They were happy to just have someone to talk and play with. In essence, all anyone needs is human interaction. It is hard to believe that some of the caretakers are so young taking on responsibilities beyond their years and that some even grew up in the very same orphanage. Although our stay was brief, I hope that we were able to make their jobs just a bit easier for the time we were there.
The second orphanage of the Ky Quang Center. Photo taken by David.
The second orphanage we visited was definitely very different from the first. This temple orphanage cared for healthy and handicapped orphans. Dr. Belville described the conditions of some of these children and how preventable some of the more severe cases. It just shows how limited the resources are in Vietnam. It’s so sad to think that an 11 year old girl with hydrocephalus could have lived a normal life if she had a simple procedure done as an infant, instead she is bed ridden in a vegetative state.
From Dr. Belville, the 7G goers learn about the conditions of the 11 year old girl with hydrocephalus who could have lived a normal life if she had a simple procedure done as an infant. Instead, she is bed ridden in a vegetative state. Photo taken by Dr. Bui.
Clinics were a blur. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, not even those who had been on the trip in previous year. I knew there would be a lot of people waiting, but it was different to actually see it. We woke up early so that we could get to the clinics in time; these people were up even earlier just to wait to be seen. Some even had to travel long distances just to be at the clinic. They waited through the heat and the rain for hours. There were so many people. There were wives going for their husbands who were too weak to make the trip and children carrying their parents for the same reason. It was undeniable that these people really needed the help. Though we had to turn some people away at the end of the clinics, we pushed to see as many people as we could and help over 2000 patients over four days. Imagine the all the people we could have helped if we had more clinics! Despite the long days of clinics the volunteers that helped us out were extremely enthusiastic.
The typical scene during clinic days. Photo taken by David.
I guess a valid description for Vietnam is that it is a “gilded country”. Around Saigon you see a lot of fancy stores and tourist shops, but walk a block down and you’ll see vendors selling knock-offs of the same items for much cheaper prices. Drive a couple hours out of the city and suddenly you’re on dirt roads surrounded by jungle. The people here do not know the luxuries that we have here in America, and we do not know the desperation like they do in Vietnam. Dr. Duy always said throughout the trip that it was essential to spread knowledge in order to close the gap between third and first world countries. I took it to mean that people need to be more aware of the hardships and poverty on a more global scale. I’m not saying our problems are invalid, but often times we become so engrossed in them that we forget that there is so much going on in the world. I think that we have some sort of a social obligation to help these people out in any way possible, whether it is spreading awareness to actually participating in a mission trip. Maybe we should start sacrificing the things we want so that we can help people get the things they need.
Some of the scholarship students posing for the camera. Photo taken by Alex.

I will forever hold the memories of this trip and this organization near and dear to my heart. I have M.E.M.O to thank for providing the opportunity to see that with just a little effort and teamwork, people can make a big impact even in a country an ocean away. And through all the work we have done, I believe I have strengthened previous friendships and made incredible new ones as well. This has to be my biggest accomplishment and work that I am most proud of. We’ve worked hard, we’ve played hard, and it’s time for us to continue all the amazing work we do to prepare for next year. 7G Forever. M.E.M.O Forever.
Karaoke social with the 7G team! Photo taken by David.
Written by Alex Phan. Edited by Johnson. Photo credit has been given in the caption.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 13: Flight back Home and End Destination of the 7G Journey

The last day in Vietnam consisted of sleeping in until 12pm before check-out and lunch buffet. After lunch we made our way to the airport, where most of us went back home in the states. We said "see you later" to the 7G goers who would be staying back in Vietnam. We went through airport security and boarded the plane that flew us from Saigon to Taipei and then Taipei to Los Angeles. It was now a full circle. 7G: mission completed.

What seems like now as a blur, the 7G medical mission trip comes to a close. The two weeks flew by quickly, as we carried out our various programs this year. As the trip started two weeks ago when everyone met up at the hotel on August 8th in Saigon, our 7G team consisted of 41 team members, ready to travel on this journey. Now, we have approached our end destination for 7G.

In tradition of Tuan's recap from 6G, here is a recap of what we accomplished during our various programs during 7G:

ScholarshipThe number of students from Duc Hue, Long An receiving scholarships remained at 70 this year. The scholarships will help the students stay in school for another year. All students were able to received dental check up after the award ceremony.

Heart Program: 5 young patients with congenital heart disease will be receiving life saving heart-surgeries this year. The decrease in number of heart surgeries is due to budgeting for the dental mobile units, which cost around $6000 for each one, or $18,000 total for all three.

OrphanageMonetary support ($1000 each) were donated to Thien Binh Orphanage and Ky Quang Center for their upkeeps. Toys, toothpaste, and toothbrushes were also given out. In addition, the dental team had free dental check-ups for the Thien Binh Orphanage. Not only did the children had a day to smile and be kids for the day, they also had a smile that reflected the fun that they had with the 7G goers.

ClinicsApproximately 2,100 patients were seen among the four days of clinics in Ben Tre and Tien Giang. These patients were able to have their blood pressure and glucose/cholesterol levels measured, consult a doctor, get screened for EKG/Ultrasound, have a dental check up, and receive free medication from pharmacy.

Transfer of Technology: all 32 boxes of medical supplies (the other 5 boxes contained toys and backpacks) were successfully transferred to the University Medical Center in Saigon. Ranging from catheters to crosser machine, every piece of medical technology was transferred over to the international hospital, where they would be used in various surgeries and treatments.

Dental: As opposed to the three dental clinics last year, the dental team had a total of six dental clinics this year! With all four clinic days, Thien Binh Orphanage, and the Due Hue scholarship students, each dental clinic was a huge success with the three dental mobile units. Major props to Dr. Timothy Bui and the dental team!

In addition, as Tuan has also stated in the 6G blog, we would like to express our sincerest gratitude to the following:

  • Nguyen family - Co Kim, Dr. Duy, Au Co, Long Co, and Long. Thank you for being the foundation of this organization, for taking care of it and entrusting us with this mission.
  • The adults - Dr. Timothy Bui, Dr. Belville, Dr. Phung, and Rosalie. Thank you for helping us in various aspects throughout the trip and keeping all of the 7G goers safe and sound.
  • Anh Phúc. Thank you for setting up everything during our mission trip in Vietnam. Whether it was the hospital tour or being a liaison with the university students and representatives, we could not have done it without your help. We look forward to working with you again next year.
  • Univerisity students and representatives. Thank you for your support during the clinic days and all of your hard work. We could not have been as successful without all of your help. Thank you as well for the social and having us as your friends. We will always remember the performances on stage and the games around the bonfire in the rain. 
  • Officers - Ngan, Vy, Natalie, David, Johnson, Phoebe, Amanda, Ben (UCLA), and Katrina. Thank you for sacrificing so much of your time in planning before as well as during the mission. With all of the behind-the-scene work, the mission trip would not have been as successful without everyone's help.
  • 7G team. Thank you for being the core of our mission trip. Thank you for adapting with us during our whole trip, as I know that the schedule changes and early mornings were rough. Everyone served as a crucial part of the the trip, all 41 of you.

As someone who is not Vietnamese or have any connections with Vietnam, I will remember everything and everyone on this trip. Even with the language barrier, I can say that the country will always have a special place in my heart. Personally for me, 7G was more than just a medical mission trip. With everyone that I met and the lessons that I have learned, all of the MEMOries that I have made on the trip have been unforgettable. As my dream is to one day work in the field of medicine as a trauma surgeon, I will definitely practice the compassion and empathy that I have witnessed. Through all of the smiles, sweat, and everything in between, I will hold the MEMOries close to me. Here are a few personal favorite memories of mine:
Meeting everyone on the 7G team. I couldn't have asked for a better team. Photo by Dr. Bui.
Me and my little buddy at the Thien Binh orphanage. Singing my rendition of Taylor Swift's "You Belong with Me," I sang the choir lines and the baby always laughed when I try hitting the high notes. Photo by Katy.
I had the honor and privilege of working under Dr. John Belville on Ultrasound during the four clinics. Even though I have years to go before I am ready to use Ultrasound by myself, I enjoyed working with Dr. Belville, Katrina, and Vy during the clinics. Photo by Dr. Bui.
Winning the duck egg eating contest! Competing against Kevin, Ngan, Dr. Bui, and Dr. Phung, I won by default with 8 eggs. The restaurant ran out unfortunately. Together, we ate a total of 26 eggs! Photo by Katy.
Working with the most awesome board during the whole trip. My face tells it all. Photo by David.

Even though 7G was my first trip with M.E.M.O., it will probably be my last trip...for an undergrad. As I have to study for the MCAT next summer as well as get ready for medical school, I may come back on the trip as a medical student or as a resident. Maybe even as a doctor on the trip. Who knows?

In the meantime, it has been a pleasure writing to you all on this journey of 7G. Thank you for reading all of the blog entries and keeping up with all of our programs on the trip. We hope to see you again next year on 8G.

With grace and execution,

Written by Johnson. Photo credit has been given in the caption.

Personal Perspective: The Answer to "Why?" by Benjamin Pham Nguyen (UCLA)

As a part of our blog, we open up entries to 7G goers so that they can offer their insight of their view on the M.E.M.O. 7G mission trip. We call these entries, "Personal Perspective," and list the name of the 7G goer. These are their stories on this journey.

7G (noun): a change in perspective; a newfound lesson; an experience that I will keep close to my heart. 

As I come up with a loose definition for the past two weeks, I feel an aura of warm nostalgia that I share with my 7G comrades which can only come from a meaningful experience. This trip has been a journey that has taken me through mountain peaks of joy and low valleys of heartbreak. There are so many extraordinary moments that I wish I could capture in a bottle, but they can not be externalized. During the whole experience, different thoughts ran through my head: rarely do you...feel anger seeing a baby receiving palliative care that could have lived a normal life but chance had decided his fate...feel your heart move when seeing a person cherish each and every human life enough to support children that are outcasted from the community from no fault of their own...feel humility when seeing the joy of a group of children playing bare feet on the ground covered with sharp rocks with nothing more than a soccer ball...feel a sense of purpose when arriving at a clinic location and seeing the long line of patients...feel a sense of community when participating in bonfire games in the rain with local volunteers after an exhausting day of clinic.
Thien Binh Orphanage: playing soccer with the kids.
Visiting the orphanages, I noticed that the children did not need much more than each other. The first orphanage we went to was located in Dong Nai. The children were shy and quiet at first, since I imagined it would be hard to welcome strangers. We asked for their names but failed to get a response. Though soon after, the kids became accustomed to our strange scrubs and our English. They began climbing on, scratching, biting us, and running away with our cameras. We chased them down, yelled, and screamed to no avail. The area was filled with laughter and screams from the hyperactive children. Playing with nothing than our hands and feet, our phones, and a soccer ball, we communicated to each other in a way that was deeper than language. That moment was truly priceless. At the same time, we had dental clinics, and kids learned how to brush their teeth. At the second orphanage at the Ky Quang Center, children were displaced from society due to disabilities ranging from deformities to mental disability. Each room held around 10 kids and was equipped with nothing but a few beds. Working with the materials at hand, the caretakers cared for each child. For instance, with string tied to his shirt and bed, a toddler had a leash to keep him from running away. To protect the head of an older woman that could not move or speak, the caretaker in that room used a laundry basket. As I went from room to room passing out toothbrushes, I noticed most children were not able to brush their teeth on their own. Cries and screams from each room made me feel helpless, as I felt the urge for a different reality where each child could and would thrive in society. My anxiety was vindicated, as one caretaker that I handed toothbrushes to had a genuine smile and warmly thanked me. At that time, I felt that even the smallest guestures had a huge impact. Afterwards, I joined the other 7Gers on the first floor to feed the children. In one room,  around 20 children were thrilled to play with balloons that costed no more than a dollar. Each child taught me the true value of life. I felt a sense of responsibility to give my all to others less fortunate because chance had provided me superfluous advantages in life.
The children circled around, interested in what Trang, Anh Vi, and Amanda had to say.
Letting the kids be kids for the day.
During clinic days, students received no more than 6 hours of sleep. Though no matter how tiring the end of the day may be, waking up for clinic was like waking up for Disneyland the next day. When our alarm rang, we were suddenly recharged and ready to work each morning, even on the day that our team had to wake up at 3:30am.

Most of my time spent during clinic days was with the dental team led by Dr. Timothy T. Bui. Our team provided two free dental services, extractions and fillings, to locals as well as dental education to teach children how to brush their teeth properly.  Dentistry in rural Vietnam was difficult and cumbersome. With a extremely intelligent and brawny group of students led by an ambitious leader, we formulated detours around any problematic roadblocks that arose during the two weeks. The whole set-up consisted of many boxes easily weighing more than 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) that included chairs, tables, lights, and all other dental equipment totaling around 15 boxes. Within five minutes of unloading for the first dental clinic, one $6000 portable dental unit sizzled and burned due to electrical incompatibilities and was unusable. At the end of the first week, we found out that all three expensive units had not been guaranteed to be Vietnam-proof. And by that time, I have extinguished two electrical fires and was prepared to relieve more. By the second week, we were concerned for our own dental team, who were overworked. However, all of equipment were fixed in time for the second week of clinics, and the students endured to serve extractions and filling for around 100 patients each during the total six days we provided dental services (i.e. the four clinics, scholarship students, and first orphanage). The dental equipment consisted of an adjustable lawn chair for the patient, a small foldable table for dental equipment, a stool for the dentist, and a small LED light, all of which can be found at an Ikea store. One could expect 7G dental team to be in the Ikea Rural Dentistry Fall 2013 Catalog.

Each chair was also equipped with a MEMO student as the dental assistant. The 7G dental team was able to get hands-on experience as well as learn dental procedures performed by Dr. Bui and Vietnamese dentists from the HCM University of Medicine and Pharmacy, also known as Đại học Y Dược Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh. They were able to observe extractions, fillings, and doctor-patient consultations being performed. They learned more than just technical skills. At the grade school that was gifted with scholarships, every child who saw the dentist was afraid, and many refused to be seen by the dentist. Many assistants consoled and comforted crying children. The environment and patient interaction made a huge impact during clinics. With seemingly make-shift and simple equipment, we took pride in delivering health care to over 1500 patients who did not have access. Even at the end of the day, I felt there was so much more to be done and more patients to be seen.

The University Medical Center.
Dr. Duy and Dr. Belville teaching the university surgeons about endovascular surgery.
Dr. Belville transfers his knowledge about radiology to the the Vietnamese doctors to ensure better patient care.
The health care system in Vietnam is improving each day. Our tour of the University Medical Center, also known as Bệnh Viện Đại Học Y Dược TP.HCM., taught us about the changing Vietnamese health care system. We were able to see surgeries and hospital logistics. During surgeries, Dr. Duy D. Nguyen and Dr. John S. Belville transferred knowledge about procedures and new technologies to Vietnamese doctors to ensure better patient care. Dr. Bui consulted hospital administration about the dental floor that will opening in the new hospital building. UMC welcomed us with open arms, and I felt honored by the hospital to allow us to observe the inner workings of the hospital. Special thanks to Anh Phúc for making it all possible and taking care of us from the moment we stepped off the plane all the way until our departure. No matter how high the price of education set by the UC education system, those having knowledge should pass it on to the public. We must use the understanding that comes from education to improve the lives of those that do not have a chance to access this information.

I appreciate all the health care professionals and their families who sacrificed their time and money to lead us, teach us, and help others. The trip could have not be possible without a group of motivated individuals who have far-reaching visions and are ambitious enough to make their goals become a reality. To be able to witness the unbelievable poverty and circumstances that people live in, I can finally see the impact of a person that cares and it will mold me to what type of person I want to become in the future. From seeing the caretakers in the orphanage, the admirable doctors, and the motivated MEMO students, I vow forever to be a volunteer.

Written by Ben Nguyen (UCLA). Edited by Johnson. Photos taken by David.

Day 12: Ky Quang Thanh Loc Orphanage and M.E.M.O. 7G Banquet

As day 12 of our journey arrived, it would be our last full day in Vietnam. Today, we visited the second orphanage, Ky Quang Center in Thanh Loc, in the first half of the day and then had M.E.M.O. 7G banquet in the second half.

Leaving the hotel at 8am, we arrived at the Ky Quang Center in Thanh Loc, District 12 of Saigon. This was the second orphanage that we helped with their monetary upkeep. We also donated toothbrushes and toothpaste to the children. What set this orphanage apart from the first Catholic orphanage that we visited on the second day was that this was a Buddhist orphanage. It is a center that hosts and feeds over 220 children with disabilities and disadvantaged conditions.  
The entrance to the Ky Quang Center in Thanh Loc.
As a part of the center, there was a Buddhist temple recently constructed.
Officers Ben (UCI) and Natalie donate toothbrushes and toothpaste to the orphanage.
Upon meeting us, the orphans greeted us with smiles and hugs. 
Even the smallest thing as a toothbrush could put a big smile on their faces.
Dr. Timothy Bui hands a toothbrush to one of the orphans.
Ben (UCLA) meets with one of the caretakers at the orphanage.
Even with their differences, the 7G goers were mindful and treated everyone equally with respect. We visited each room, and in some of the rooms, most children had some form of brain or genetic defect like Down syndrome. In some cases, Dr. Belville explained that some of these conditions could have been controlled if detected earlier and treated properly. Unfortunately, due to the conditions in Vietnam, such detections and treatments seem like a luxury instead of a necessity. Compared to the United States, the deficiency of medical care in Vietnam leaves some of these children at their current condition. Even so, these children were still treated with love and care by the caretakers of the center. Even though we were there for just a day, we also treated each child equally with love and care.

One of the many children who had a brain defect since birth.
The caretakers of the center make sure to treat each child with love and care.
Natalie and her little buddy.
Mai Anh, Ngan, Lindy, Trang, and Vy play with the children as best as they could under the caretakers' instructions.
Nick and Minh run around with the children.
Johnson with his little buddy.
Amy and her little buddy. Using balloons given by Phoebe, we were able to play with the children. No fancy toys needed.
Alex gives a piggy back ride to one of the children at the orphanage. Nothing but smiles.
So much going on in one photo. Actually, too much fun going on in one photo.
Dean and his little buddy.
Katy and her two little buddies. The child's face tells it all.
Even though I did not have a chance to personally interact with these children due to my language barrier, I was still mindful that these children did not choose to have these conditions. They were born with these disabilities; however, that does not mean that they should not be treated just as equal. This orphanage experience helped everyone open their eyes to the world around, being more aware of differences in people's lives. Such experiences humble us to remember why we are on this mission trip, why we are a part of this organization, and why we must make the best of any situation. These children give us hope and purpose to all of our actions, reminding us why we do what we do.

For more information about the orphanage, please visit:

As it was time to depart ways, we said "see you later" to the children at the orphanage and went to go get lunch near the hotel. The rest of the day would be getting ready for banquet.
Julian, Ben, and Alex getting ready for banquet.
The men of 7G.
The ladies of 7G.
David and Ben (UCI) match with their red ties and grey dress shirts.
Phoebe, Clara, and Katy smile, as they are about ready to board the boat.
The M.E.M.O. 7G banquet was held on a boat, where we dined and sailed along the shores of Saigon. This allowed us to view the city in a whole new light during the night. With all of the buildings, the scenery was breath-taking.
The view of Saigon from the boat.
The view from the front of the boat.
During the course of the banquet, we first took photos with the scenary of the Saigon. In celebration of all of our hard work this trip, we then had a eight-course meal as well as various performances and awards. Such performances included Dr. Phung's amazing flute performance. In addition, team Hulk won GEMO for having the most points. Most teams were tied, but the tie breaker was a one-point difference of one piece of trash picked up by Alex. Congratulations to team Hulk! The rest of the evening followed by gifts for the doctors on the trip as well as well as recognition of Co Kim's hard work in planning the trip itself. Thank you for everything that you have done for us, Co Kim! M.E.M.O. would not be possible without you here to help us plan and carry out our mission! In addition, we recognized the officers of the trip and celebrated Natalie Belville's birthday early, as she would be turning 16 years old. The night ended with a group photo in front of the boat.
The ladies of 7G on the boat.
Phoebe, Trang, Katy, and Ngan are all smiles.
With the men of 7G, Clara, Katy, Christina, and Lindy pose for the camera.
Nancy and Kelly!
Minh and Mai Anh!
Jason and Clara! Don't they make a cute couple?
Jessica and Tiffany!
Johnson and David!
The 7G dental team!
The 7G medical team!
Team Ironman!
Team Hawkeye!
Jessica, Ben (UCLA), Catherine, Alex, Julian, and Christina enjoy the fine dining on the boat.
Mai Anh, Ben (UCI), Phoebe, Katy, Nick, Lindy, Tiffany, and Johnson wait for their meals to be served.
Naomi, Nancy, Anh Vi, Ngan, Natalie, and Vy smile for the camera.
Katrina, Dean, Trang, Spencer, and Jason are ready for the festivities of the evening.
Dr. Phung playing his flute. Encore! Encore! Encore!
Dr. Belville!
Dr. Timothy Bui!
Dr. Phung!
The doctors of 7G with Ngan, Vy, and Natalie!
Co Kim with the officers of 7G! Thank you for everything, Co Kim!
Happy early birthday, Natalie!
The 7G team in front of the boat!
The night ended with a lovely evening on the boat. With the last night in Vietnam, the 7G goers got ready to head back to the states. Next stop: home.

Written by Johnson. All photos were taken by David.