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University of Delaware Students Contribute to Rehabilitation Center in Vietnam

This summer, a group of students from the University of Delaware traveled to Vietnam with Projects Abroad to intern at the Thuy An Rehabilitation Center for Disabled Children, where they helped local staff treat mentally and physically disabled children. The center is located 70 kilometers from Hanoi and has been a Projects Abroad project partner for several years. Close to the historic district of Sơn Tây, known for its ancient and more recent military history, the center aids children from all across the greater metropolitan region. This setting has given the University of Delaware students the opportunity to not only gain new skills in their chosen fields but also to impact the lives of children in a positive way.

Occupational Therapy intern Jillian Meyers works with a physically disabled Vietnamese child at Thuy An Rehabilitation CenterPreparing for careers in Medicine, Physical in Vietnam, and Occupational Therapy, the students are earning university credit for their time and commitment as interns in Vietnam. By applying their studies to practical fieldwork and immersing themselves fully in Vietnamese culture, the students were able to enrich both their personal studies and career outlooks while lending a hand to a community in need.

“I have never been out of the country before, and the opportunity to combine my interests in physical therapy and travel was one I could not miss. I was eager to learn about healthcare in the developing world, and Projects Abroad has given me the chance to explore this topic,” said Hannah Kimberly. 

While some of the students sought opportunities to challenge themselves in different environments, others already had a connection to Vietnam. “Through Delaware’s Institute of Global Studies site, I learned about summer internship programs with Projects Abroad. As a Vietnamese American, I was thrilled to explore my heritage while undertaking this important step in my career,” shared Selina Su.

Comprising of a large campus with facilities for inpatient and outpatient medical treatment, as well as classrooms, occupational therapy workshops, and physical therapy equipment, Thuy An gave each of the seven students from Delaware the chance to pursue their own interests and take initiative in assisting various children. In their daily tasks, they were supported and mentored by local professional staff.  

“The staff have been beyond helpful,” said Kendall Small, a pre-med student. She continued, “To have such welcoming mentors and teachers, a staff that wants to help us on this journey of learning, is even more astounding to us as young Americans.”

Not lost on the students is the connection between American military involvement in Vietnam and the disabilities of the children they work with.  Founded in the mid-1970s, Thuy An Center was established to assist the disabled children of war veterans, many of whom were affected by Agent Orange, a defoliant used by American forces in North Vietnam. Several generations later, the children at the center are residual victims of Agent Orange exposure. It is unknown how much of the contaminant may still be present in the region’s soil or water.

“The staff have been nothing but kind to us, and show a deep appreciation for our service. Aside from the daily assistance, compassion, and friendship we are able to show to Thuy An’s children, it is incredibly meaningful to be able to build a relationship of trust with the staff. As Americans working alongside Vietnamese, it feels as though we are building a new partnership, and a new chapter in the relationship between our countries,” stated Su. 

Occupational Therapy intern Amanda Chilkotowsky treats a physically disabled child with the help of a local therapist at Thuy An Rehabilitation Center.Also on the grounds of Thuy An is an American bombshell, a powerful reminder of conflict.  It has been repurposed as a dinner bell for the children.  “The repurposing of the bombshell represents a desire to move on from conflict, and a need to remember,” said Small. “Vietnam is so far away from our lives in Delaware, both physically and theoretically, but here we can change what might be a dark legacy of American involvement in Vietnam. I like to think that we helping to tie up our country’s loose ends.”

“Gaining an international perspective of healthcare will greatly enrich my career. I have interned and volunteered in occupational therapy before,” remarked Jillian Meyers, “but a global point of view can only make me a better therapist.” 

She continued, “Occupational therapy and teaching skills of movement and daily routine can be repetitive, but working in this environment has given me great lessons in patience and understanding, especially with the language barrier. Above all, I am humbled by the care that the staff here is able to give to these children. Even with relatively few resources, the staff at Thuy An have such a passion for helping their patients learn and grow. The lasting effects of American involvement in Vietnam has been eye-opening, but the staff has shown an appreciativeness that allows us to feel we are bettering ties between Vietnam and the US.” 

Challenged to overcome cultural and linguistic barriers in their daily work, the interns were not only supported by Thuy An’s staff of doctors, therapists, and other specialists, but also by their Volunteer Coordinators at Projects Abroad. At weekly meetings to discuss their progress and methods, they were reminded to always connect their work to Projects Abroad’s Care goals, which include the promotion of early childhood development, provision of emotional support, and improvement of the level of stimulation given to each children. 

As Occupational Therapy intern Casey Lazarek revealed, “We were given the opportunity to get hands-on experience on our very first day, jumping right into work with the children. We are gaining practical skills, but also learning to work with less resources than we are used to in the US, flexing our muscles as creative therapists.”  Reflecting on the power of her service as a young American, Casey shared, “my first reaction to seeing the center was one of guilt, knowing that many of these children have suffered at the hands of military tactics, but left with the opportunity to make amends, and to give back on behalf of our country, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.” 

Read more about Medicine, Physical Therapy, and Occupational Therapy in Vietnam.

You can also read more about options for group volunteer trips.

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