Girls from Warm House performing ethnic dance
Woman from Ethnic group in Sapa
Huyen in Sapa with minority children
Enjoying the boat ride in Ha Long Bay
Social Work Students and Adults on the Trip
Ha Long Bay
Sunflower Bags Prepared to Distribute in Community
Children Performing For Us at the Blind Center
I’m sorry that we haven’t kept up with the blog but it feels like the last month or two have quite a whirlwind. Thirty-seven Elizabethtown College students and adults arrived on May 19th. We started out the first day with a joint meeting of the students from my Vietnam University and the Etown students. The Vietnamese entertained the group with songs and dancing and then the students shared details about current social problems within their own countries. I enjoyed having my two worlds being connected.
The group this year was just outstanding. All of the students and adults were a good mix – flexible and able to jump in when needed. The group got to spend time at numerous orphanages and community settings and saw firsthand the work of Brittany’s Hope. Our students built relationships with the children and gave from their hearts. I know it was a life changing experience for everyone.
Within the group we had many firsts – our own volunteer nurse, a brother and sister combo, a professional guitarist, a young couple, a Vietnamese couple who are sponsor parents, an adopted Vietnamese women returning to her home country for the first time, an OT professor conducted an on-site evaluation, a new mother (Hong), and a student on crutches.
During the final days of the trip, our daughter Huyen was able to join us for Ha Long Bay and Sapa. This was our graduation gift for Huyen since she will be graduating in July from Nha Trang University. Most of the group went home but Anna, Nancy, Bob, Huyen, and I continued on the Sapa. I think Sapa is one of the most beautiful sites in Vietnam.
For those that are local to the area, we will be holding a presentation to share details of our trip sometime in October. We will keep you posted.
Riding motorbikes in Hue
Dressing up for a Royal dinner
Dragon boats in Hue
Restaurant in Logoon
US Army helicopters from Vietnam War
Peggy always making “old” friends
Last week Ho Chi Minh City shut down for the 40th year celebration of the end of the war, so the university was closed and we got out of town. We flew to Hue City for the first time and we were able to meet all the Fulbright students for dinner at a local Indian restaurant in the backpacker district. It was great to catch up with everyone about their experiences. The next day we took a tour on a dragon boat all day and went to several pagodas and Royal tombs in the countryside and wound up at the Citadel just before dark, it was a long day. Another day we went to the DMZ and toured the war sites including the Ho Chi Minh Trail (hwy 1 & 9) and Khe Sahn combat base. We met two 70 year old vets from Arizona who served there in the 101st Airborne. Their sons took them back for the first time for their birthdays. I thanked them for their service and told the sons to cherish the time with their fathers. Next we went to the Vihn Moc tunnel complex and went down three levels in the ground and came out in the jungle and walked out to the ocean. Wow! Our guide from Dong Ha town gave us the Viet Nam version of the war and an Austrailian vet on our van gave us the corrected version for balance. The guide told us that she uses her metal detector to look for bombs in the ground to make extra money on weekends. Yikes! Every family has lost members to unexploded ordinance. Quang Tri Province was one of the most heavily bombed regions during the war. Later we took the bus four hours to Phong Nha to tour the caves there. The caves were recently discovered and now some are open for tours and are some of the largest in the world. We took a boat about a mile into Phong Nha cave which held a hospital inside during the war. Paradise cave required a long hike up the hill to the entrance. We then descended about a mile into the cave on a walkway, a pretty strenuous hike. It is hard to describe the enormous volume and massive formations inside. The last day Ben, the Australian owner of Phong Nha farm stay gave us a ride in his 1968 US Army jeep to the river to get a boat to the caves and gave us a history of the war and the rise of the new tourism in the area. It has been discovered by the backpackers but is still unknown to the outside world. Our best adventure was Dark Cave. I took a zip line across the river (my first time), Peggy took a kayak to the hidden entrance to the cave. I got banged up in the landing and knocked over the guy who was supposed to catch me. We then swam into the cave wearing a helmet, headlamp and life jacket. Next we went into a narrow crevice and walked to a room with a mud bath about chest deep and turned off our lights. It was total darkness, pretty cool. We were all covered in mud. After walking back out to the main cave we swam further into the cave and then back out to the entrance. After a kayak trip back to the base many took another zip line to the middle of the river for a swim. What an adventure! We flew back completely exhausted to HCMC. Wow! Back to work. ABC has a new travel documentary about the Phong Nha caves if you want to check it out on the internet.
1968 US Army jeep
WORK HARD……Last week I had the opportunity to plan and present a 2 day conference on aging issues for medical personnel, social workers, and faculty in HCMC. When I originally discussed the idea of a conference on aging there was some doubt about the level of interest in “old people”. We hoped for 35 participants and had to cut off registration at 70! I arranged for 2 of the medical doctors that I have gotten to know to present on biological issues and palliative care and I presented on elder abuse, caregiving concerns, depression, assessment, community resources, and dementia. It was so interesting to have a group of professionals together to discuss the needs of the elderly in Vietnam. When I look back on my experience I think that I will consider this conference as one of my biggest successes of my time in Vietnam.
Participants at Aging Conference
PLAY HARD…… After the conference Bob and I took three days off to fly to an island off of Vietnam called Con Dao. Eighty percent of the island is a national park and rain forest. The island also has beautiful secluded beaches. Our hotel consisted of private bungalows that were located right on the beach. We rented a motor bike to explore the island. The island is known for the historical prisons that were used during the French and American Wars. We met a local woman who told us about the cemetery on the island where 20,000 prisons were buried (only 700 had marked names). She explained that people only go after 9:00 at night because that is when the ghosts and spirits come out! We didn’t know what to expect but it was quite an experience – locals (mostly Buddhist) bring gifts of flowers, food, and incense to put on the graves as gifts for the spirits. The cemetery has huge monuments to honor the dead. Unfortunately, I wore shorts which isn’t allowed, so our local friend wrapped me up in a hammock that she had in her bike. I was a sight to be seen wrapped in a hammock walking around a cemetery. I think we scared all the spirits away!
We also decide to go on a hike in the rain forest. We were given the option of a 2 hour climb up the mountain or a 5 hour hike. So I say to Bob – let’s do the 2 hour climb today and the 5 hour one tomorrow tomorrow…. Yea right. The two hour climb up the mountain took us 3 hours and it was not without some excitement. Part way up the mountain we got attached by a swarm of bees. We both got between 10 & 15 stings on our face and arms as we were running through the jungle. Fortunately neither of us are allergic to bees. We also heard from one of our Fulbright friends who studies bees that it helps with arthritis so maybe we will good in our old age. But the excitement was not over – when we finally got to the top of the mountain we stopped to take a rest on a bench at an old plantation. Two other women from Holland arrived soon after and we started chatting noisily. Well out of the jungle came a large group of grey monkeys. They kept coming closer and closer like they were going to attack us. I kept thinking about a friend of ours who had to get rabies shots after a monkey bit her. As they continued to come closer we all went running (again) through the rain forest to get away from the monkeys. We were told later that people come up and feed them so they were looking for food from us. Who knew?? We decide to not do the five hour hike the next day! I loved this place and would like to return there someday.
RumBob Jungle Boy
Tiger Cages in Prison
Peggy Taking a Rest on the Mountain Climb
Several weeks ago Bob, Huyen, and I planned a trip to the House of Love to spend a day with the children. As most of you know, Brittany’s Hope has support this orphanage for many years. We currently sponsor 90 children at this home. We were able to arrange for some of our friends to travel with us for a day of fun and activities. Our one friend Ann Marie is a kindergarten teacher so she was able to help us plan some wonderful crafts. We found a huge craft market in HCMC to buy craft supplies and beads. You can see from the photos below that all of the children enjoyed the crafts. It is always hard to say goodbye but we will see them again in May when the Elizabethtown College students come to Vietnam.
The Greeting Committee
Bob’s new buddies
Love at First Sight
Oh if only I was 20 years younger!!!
Children Enjoying the Crafts
Making bead necklaces
In February we were contacted by VTV-3 who asked if we would agree to an interview for a local show called Viet Nam Troung Tim Toi, (Viet Nam In My Heart). The show features foreigners who return to volunteer to help people in Viet Nam. A free lance student producer met with us to develop the script and arrange the filming. Next a film crew of nine people came with camera and lighting equipment to our apartment at 6:30 am and filmed part one in our kitchen with Peggy and me in one take. Wow. We discussed our work with Brittany’s Hope and our impressions of Viet Nam. We then moved to the University and they filmed Peggy for part two in the office and during a staff meeting where Peggy discussed her teaching at the University and the Fulbright program. It was over before we knew it by nine am and we were presented with a framed photo of ourselves from the show. The presenter was a young man named Nguyen Kang who we found out is quite famous in Viet Nam from all the girls in the office. He spoke very good English and made the whole experience very easy. Well the show was broadcast last weekend and Huyen heard from all her friends who saw her picture on TV. She was able to post it on You Tube so everyone can see it there. It was a great experience and very professionally done. So if you want to see Peggy on TV Google Peggy McFarland on You Tube and check it out!
Well, watching the Superbowl live in Viet Nam takes a bit of extra effort. A bunch of American ex-pats from our local bar agreed to meet in downtown HCMC at Game On sports bar to watch the game on Monday morning at 6:30 AM since we are 12 hours later here. So we showed up on time and found that all the seats were taken and everyone was smoking and drinking beer already! Luckily I grabbed a table on the outside porch for the group and we sat down in a smoke free environment. Yes! We ordered coffee and a full English breakfast and settled in and watched the game. Everyone around us was wearing Seattle Seahawks team shirts so I was outnumbered being the only Patriots fan. I had to run across the street to a minimart to get coffee when they ran out. The game was one of the best in years and it was quite a surreal experience overall. There was a collective groan in the last two minutes when the interception ended the game and the Patriots won! I quick grabbed a cab back to the university and just made it in time to teach my English club at 10am. I will never forget this day. Cheers Bob
Check out the caption on this poster-Husband DayCare!
I decided that I better tell everyone about my work over here or you will think that all we do is travel and have fun! My situation at my university (Vietnam National University) has not been the best because most of the faculty do not speak any English. The person who I was supposed to work with (who is fluent in English) ended up announcing in August that she was leaving to attend a Ph.D program in the US so that made it a difficult start to the semester. I ended up co-teaching the English and social work classes with two other professors. Bob also helps with English part and I do the social work part. I have discovered that knowing how to speak English doesn’t qualify you to teach English. Bob has more patience than I do and is very good at it.
After much negotiation, I am now teaching two aging classes. One class has 50 students and the other one has 60 students. The classes are offered at a satellite campus 45 minutes from campus so I leave on a bus at 6:00am for a 7:00 class. One class runs from 7-11 and the other one goes from 1-4. I actually had to hire my own interrupter to make this happen but I am glad it all worked out. I am excited to be sharing my passion for working with the elderly with the students. As part of this class I am going with the students to learn about aging programs in the community.
Bob and I run the English club for students and meet with them weekly to practice their English. We also teach the staff English on a weekly basis and continue to help with the English and social work classes. Bob also goes to the hospital and teaches the geriatric doctors English one day a week.
I continue to provide workshop and trainings on a variety of topics both at my university and at other settings. I manage to get myself involved in all kinds of interesting situations. My best story is about a Dr at the hospital who asked me to do a small training for his staff on Alzheimer’s Disease. We talked about a date and he made it seem like it would be an informal presentation. He gave me the address of the hotel for the “meeting”. When I arrived I went to the front desk and asked for the room for the hospital meeting. They sent me to the 2nd floor but when I got off the elevators there were hundreds of people walking around, display tables, and large conference rooms. I went back downstairs and said that I was looking for a small meeting room. They told me that this was the only place that any doctors were meeting. So I go back upstairs and start looking for the Dr I know. It turns out that this was my “meeting” and that I was the keynote speaker on Alzheimer’s Disease! I spoke for 2 hours on the behavioral concerns for individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease.
This presentation has led to many interesting opportunities because they don’t know much about diagnosing and supporting the caregivers. I am currently working on a research project at the hospital to try to determine the number of elderly admitted to hospitals that have Alzheimer’s Disease.
I never knew how much I knew about social work until I came to Vietnam! Because Social Work is such a new profession they are many years behind us in their development. I provide workshops on service learning, core competencies, curriculum, developing field placements, ethics, aging policies, etc.- you name it and I can talk about it. I am always introduced as the “Fulbright Scholar from USA” so that makes me an expert!
I am currently working with the Ministry of Health and several hospitals to help promote the idea of having medical social workers at hospitals. They currently don’t utilize social workers at the hospitals and don’t understand their functions. I hope to provide a workshop to introduce the idea to the hospitals in HCMC.
Overall I am pleased with my experience and the impact that I am having on social work and the aging programs in Vietnam. And yes… I really am working!