Vietnam Window Transitions - November 2018 – November 13th, 2018

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Dear Friends and Family,

We are full of much joy and gratitude as we transitioned from Central Vietnam in Quang Ngai province the middle of October to the present here in Central California. We now have the opportunity to spend time with our children and family.  Here in the US the Thanksgiving holiday is approaching next Thursday.  We will join with extended family through Amy’s husband, David Ghandehari for a few days close to the mountains.

Before closing our suitcases and packing MCC household items in our rented space in Duc Pho we had a whirlwind of home visits made with each of the trained technicians from the center. Paul, at MCC’s request put together a file collection of over 140 lessons, demonstrations, notes, and reports in both Vietnamese and English and 70 GB of photos and videos of children and their progress over time. We hope this will facilitate the transition for a new foreign MCC OT or therapist.

The farewell events included numerous surprises and special events we will long remember:

- Travelling in a rented van with the center staff to a water falls about 1 ½  hours northwest of our town and then to Hoang’s home, our translator’, for a meal

- Cooking with the staff at Phuong’s home making ‘nem’ corn filled fried spring rolls,  ‘banh xeo’ over charcoal burners, banana heart salad, and roasted rice crackers along with half a dozen other dishes. Then we sat outside in the setting sun and rising moon and stars to eat together.

- Travelling to Quang Ngai to bid farewell to the VAVA board and receive their words of thank you.

- Being hosted at a local restaurant by parents, children, staff and local district leaders.

Each of these events occurred within a week of our leaving. The week prior to that we had hosted the new MCC Country Reps, the new MCC Hanoi Lead Program Manager, and another staff person and showed them the various programs we had begun and tried to explain our ideas for ongoing service via MCC for persons with disabilities here in this area.

Our three days in Hanoi were very busy.  One day involved a full day seminar/workshop to which all of MCC workers and staff were included.  The scholarships for this training were made available by Fred and Minh Kauffman and focused on an approach to development which makes a lot of sense to us Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). The seminar was led by Gord from Coady International Institute.  Tuesday after the seminar we drove for about two hours to visit and meet the leaders of the new, one year old, OT training program at the Hai Duong University. The initial specialists with OT course work will be graduating next year.  Hopefully, MCC can become involved in supporting the program with donations of materials at the University or brainstorm with the leaders how an NGO such as, MCC could be helpful in sustaining an OT service for Vietnam in the future.

In July, we had a film crew from the main national, VTV1 TV station in Hanoi visit for 4 days to film a documentary of the center and our work.  The film came out in August and was a holistic view of our work and the center’s mission for those with disabilities.  Although it is all in Vietnamese you might enjoy seeing a realistic view of our life and work and the scenery surrounding us daily! Click here to see the 24 min film.

In the month of August as Paul and I worked at the center, we were blessed with two overlapping visits. Longtime friend Doreen Bender, an OT colleague from Richmond and the Cerebral Palsy Center. And Chika, who became part of our family back in 1998  when she did a year of exchange as a high school student from Kobe, Japan.  What a joy to have these two special visitors.  Doreen arrived a bit earlier and travelled to Kontum with us where we introduced her to some of the tribal groups and cultures and reminisced about our life and work in Kalimantan, Indonesia in 1977-1983.

In our last blog we spoke of possibly taking a few days of vacation to visit Can Tho and Saigon, where we had lived and worked in the early 70’s.  However, we decided to return to Hoi An and Dalat, two of our favorite sites to vacate and relax this time.  This included some souvenir shopping, visiting a green tea plantation, some of the many greenhouses, flower gardens, and just enjoying the beauty of the outdoors here in Vietnam.  What variety!

We have now been here in the US almost a month and feel that the shock of adjusting is something we are taking gradually.  We primarily are enjoying our children, Amy and Hans, and of course our grandson, Forester Orion, who is now 28 months old.  After some time celebrating Thanksgiving here in California we will fly to the East and find a place to live nearby Paul’s father, John, who still lives alone and will turn 92 December 2nd.  What will we do?  We hope to give ourselves a little time to adjust to things here.  We both turn 70 in December and this will mean that we are officially retired.

The new MCC Vietnam Representatives plan to recruit a new therapist volunteer for Duc Pho. However that will take some time so we have agreed to do a few hours weekly through March to provide OT Professional support remotely for the local staff technicians doing home therapy. And after that we shall see. Since we are continuing this Vietnam therapy involvement, we will continue to send occasional blog posts. Let us know if you want us to stop sending you email links.

We arrive at Dulles, DC November 28th. We have reserved a Bed and Breakfast near Dad’s, in Landisville, PA for December.

We also plan to visit Virginia and Richmond, December 12th – 16th to check in with some Dr’s, visit our storage unit and connect with our faith group, RMF.

To contact us try our new cell phones Paul (669) 249-8560, Esther (669) 249-8561. No changes to our land line – (804) 730-7459, and emails jpaul.bucher@gmail.com or esther@therapeuticsense.com. We look forward to continued connections and being able to have those physical chats and discussions about nothing and everything that we have missed so much.

Peace,

Esther and Paul

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August 2018 – August 3rd, 2018

Attending 5 year local VAVA Assembly meeting

Attending 5 year local VAVA Assembly meeting

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We now have less than three months before we start our new journey towards retirement. We are trying to record the memories in our hearts and minds of each day. We are making our last scheduled visits to accompany the staff for home therapy in homes.  Some children we have known since we arrived. After months of uncertainty we received approval mid July to restart home therapy for the families that were already in the program and compress the schedule so this program is completed before we leave. Esther is letting the staff take the lead on these visits. We have both been impressed with their growing skills in working with each child.

Last week we visited a family from near here featured in the VAVA national program in Hanoi that we attended in August 2017. Esther had bonded in Hanoi with the mother who was from a different district in our province. The VAVA chairman from Quang Ngai took us to her home where we met her 16 and 26 year old daughters who have very misshaped chests and backs and very weak arms. The memory is of the love expressed between the two girls and with their mother. These children are too far away from the center, almost two hours by car, and yet what they really would benefit from is home therapy but there are no such services. We are purchasing some locally available toys and activities to help them stimulate their minds and bodies.

This last week we also spent two nights in the city of Da Nang and got to meet a new OT from the US who is starting a therapy program near there with another NGO. It was great to see her youthful energy and be able to confer about different children’s needs and share ideas and experiences for locally available materials for setting up the therapy room.

The new MCC country representatives for Vietnam will arrive in August and after that decisions will be made on the other MCC programs here and on recruiting a replacement therapist. An interim MCC country representative for Vietnam along with another regional resource staff member visited us last month. We got to reflect on our experience here. This felt good and validated our observations that the need is great and good work has been happening. We suggested some changes in how MCC relates to placing staff here and operating the programs.

In May we had a good friend from Virginia visit and together we explored Sapa, an iconic terraced hill tribal area and Halong Bay with limestone islands featured in many tourism pictures. Renee King, our friend, also visited our town and extended her time in the town so she could soak in the culture and life here. Her photographs and stories of her days helped reopen our eyes to life right where we live.

We still have a few vacation days left and hope to visit Saigon and Can Tho where we used to live in the 70’s during the war. We are also looking forward to a visit here by Chika, who was a Japanese high school student who lived with us for a year when Amy was in High School. Doreen, an OT friend from our Church and Esther’s work in Richmond will also visit us a few days. As often happens, folks are visiting just as we are preparing to leave!

Our life in the US upon return will include beginning of retirement and being available and close to our extended family in Lancaster, PA area. Paul’s dad, at 92 years of age, continues to live and thrive in his own home in Salunga, PA. We would be honored to have more time with his perspectives and wisdoms. We will plan to find a place to live nearby so as to maintain our own space. We will also take some time to visit and be with our children and grandson who live in the West. After about six months I believe we will be ready to look for some part-time and volunteer roles. We seek your thoughts and prayers for our transitions.

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2018 - April – April 24th, 2018

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By the time you receive this we will have less than 6 months left on our three year term.  As we look forward we sometimes wonder what will continue once we leave – no staff are at the level they could carry on what is started on their own.  And so we are looking at providing some distance supervision once back in the US for a few months until a replacement can be found.

That said we have much to be grateful for.  We just completed the programs for the past budget year.  One of the activities was selecting for each child some toys, seats, tables, blackboards, etc. that they could have in their homes so the family and siblings could continue the therapeutic activities with the child, even when the therapist is not there.  For children who have no toys and whom families thought could not do anything, it is so rewarding to hear the squeals of laughter and smiles as they learn to do these fun new activities that will help them develop.

This year we had 13 new families in Duc Pho start home therapy. Each was different and challenging.  We were disappointed the next district north, Mo Duc, decided they could not arrange permissions for weekend visits and we needed to stop the program we had started there.

The end of March Paul was able to observe the selection and loading of 69 cows to be distributed to families in Duc Pho and Mo Duc. The families will pass on a female calf and then the cow will be theirs.

We enjoyed having some visitors in January and March.  The Treadway family who brought us to Duc Pho and helped us in our first few days here in January 2016, returned for a visit and also said farewell to Vietnam after almost 5 years here as MCC’s country reps.  Phuong Hang and her sister, Minh visited us for a day from Hoi An where they were visiting their extended family.  Hang was in the first MCC International exchange program in 1974 and ended being stuck in the US post the change in government, married another exchange student from Germany and has lived and worked and retired in the US.  It was so good to see her and introduce her to our lives here.  Denise, an OT Esther has worked with in the past visited.  She was able to observe sessions at the center and in homes, as well as spend some vacation time with us in Hoi An and Hue.  It was great for Esther to have another OT to share questions and ideas with.

In January, Earl and Pat Martin visited.  They used to work with MCC in Quang Ngai during the war and were married here 50 years ago. It was fun going along as they looked for the houses they used to live in and places they used to go to relax right around the city. We also accompanied them on visits to family homes of a woman who used to help them when their children were small.  As tourists, it seemed easier to visit homes than we often experience.  We miss having the ability to make friends with whom we can drop in and visit with in their homes without having a special reason and notification.

MCC led a “Legacies of the American War and Peacebuilding for the Future” Learning Tour of Vietnam for 7 North Americans in January. (See the multi-page digital power point like report: https://sway.com/2k5MQ4MIETWnTDxW).  They visited the center and homes of families. They heard stories about Agent Orange and how it still is affecting families. We seldom get to visit families and ask them about the war or Agent Orange with a translator as our visits usually are focused on therapy for a young child (often from 3rd and 4th generation who are not aware of their own family history during the war). By accompanying the learning tour on some of the visits we too heard these stories.   The Learning Tour visited My Lai Memorial and Museum, where 500 unarmed persons were killed by American Soldiers in a group of villages 50 years ago.  The learning tour group then went to Laos to learn about unexploded ordnance and how that is still affecting families from the secret war there.

The TET holiday is a time when families gather together for several days.  This year we met our Daughter, Amy and her husband, David and 20 month old Forester in Taipei for a week together. What fun!

The beginning of April we made a short trip to Chang Mai, Thailand to renew our visa.  While there we were able to meet our current MCC area representatives, other MCC workers and the visiting MCC Executive Director for Canada with his wife who is an OT! We also were able to have dinner with the new MCC Vietnam Representatives who will be arriving in August.  It felt good to be able to see a bit of the broader MCC program in the region.

Thanks for your thoughts and connections.

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December 2017 – December 17th, 2017

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Dear Family and Friends,img_9445

It is the beginning of December and middle of the rainy season. Water pours from the skies numerous times a day and the humidity is near 100%. Wearing freshly laundered clothing, although still damp, is better than smelly, soggy muddy clothing. Today an hour here and there of sunshine feels like a wondorous moment in life!!

I realize that we have not written since July!  Much too long! And I realize that much has occurred.

In August, as we had indicated, I spoke at the national VAVA conference in Hanoi. Serving and volunteering with MCC and VAVA is an honor.  I was one of 5 persons selected to share my story.  Most of the other persons were caregivers who have lived and supported disabled family members victimized by Agent Orange.  In that sense I felt quite honored and felt I was amidst a “holy crowd”.  The National VAVA organization had collected 108 stories of Caregivers from across the country to put in a book they published for the event.  At least 200 persons were part of the event and were hosted at a hotel/ guesthouse type facilty for a night.  For some, this was the first time they had been to Hanoi.  We were hosted and given a tour visit to the Ho Chi Minh Masouleum, the General Assembly building, and taken to a live traditional opera musical.  We were served special meals and treated as special folks.  And of course, with MCC and VAVA encouagement, I read my “speech”in Vietnamese.  At least I tried!!

While in Hanoi we enjoyed being part of the larger MCC exchange program and its process as we met and had a little time with the two Vietnamese IVEP’ers who were going to North America for one year of service and volunteer work with church programs there.

Back here in Duc Pho, one of the most important changes for our daily work has been that we now have had a full time translator to help with teaching and explaining things each day!! We were ready to give up, however, one day in mid- September a young man showed up in response to our job search via VAVA Quang Ngai.  He jumped right in and began to assist with translation. His name is Hoang. He is young, quiet, and rather shy. What a great help!  I feel that I can at least have someone to explain and follow-up in so many scenarios.  On weekends he accompanies us and we are able to bridge the language challenge with families.  This does not mean we do not use Vietnamese however it means less stress in explaining some details related to therapy and disabilities. And we can get help making phone calls and clarifying schedules, one of the more difficult things to do in foreign language.

The budget year and rehab program we have been involved with here in Duc Pho began on the ground in September instead of April, however all works for the “good”. This means we have been continuing and expanding a home therapy training program with trainees to assess individual needs of persons with disability.  After completing an extensive assessment in the home, they consult and confer with me, the therapist, to plan therapy activities they can do in the home.  Paul and I get to accompany them on some of the visits to demonstrate and model therapy and activities in the home.  After 10 months and 10 visits the family will hopefuly have some idea of what they can do for the better functional skills of their disabled.

With the 37 families who began last year we are now seeing some exciting changes in attitude and hope.  It begins of course with the trainees.  One woman who I have been working with said, “I see that you use very simple and small things and ideas to make a therapeutic activity so that it is easy to use and do.  Anyone could use this but it makes a big difference in the function of the person’s skill or ability.”  Like sitting straddled on a bench so that one’s arms must cross the middle of the body to pick up a cup or a block and place it on top of another on the opposite side.  This crossing of the middle of the body activates nerves and muscles and stimulates the eye muscles and the brain.  This does not have to be understood or explained however, believing and seeing the change in the ability of the person to balance, use both sides of the body, and move about more smoothly after doing this activity for 30 minutes, is what matters.

Are these people Agent Orange victims?  Sometimes maybe, but, they are identified as disabled and needing some rehab by the commune leaders and the VAVA representatives.  For me, the important part is that the families and disabled persons have a chance to feel some hope and progress in their daily living and occupational skills. It is quite different from a “charity only” program and so often the understanding is limited.  No test exists for children to link disabilities to Agent Orange. There is no national Vietnamese or American program to support aid to victims in the third and fourth generation. (We learned some local governments are assisting some third generation victims). When we ask for stories from some of the parents, they say they were children or not born during the war and do not have the stories from the older generation about possible exposure to Agent Orange.  I, Paul, just checked the spray maps and found that when I was living in Can Tho in the early 70’s, the area close to Can Tho was sprayed very heavily - on the map it appeared more heavy than Quang Ngai, and I drank water from the canal. I did have early prostate cancer, one of the recognized Agent Orange diseases. The other Mennonite volunteer living in Can Tho also had early prostate cancer and also now has Parkinson’s disease.  Was it caused by this?  How could my children know this, if I did not know it and I was a specialist on maps?

In the past few months our travel and time apart has included a three day weekend to the mountains of Kontum where we hired a tour guide to show us some of the tribal villages and life.  Paul then decided to return for an actual foot trek over more rugged terrain with a guide.  He shared some of these highlights in a Facebook post, “The two day trek near Kon Tum to visit remote fields and houses on stilts made of wood and rattan was very rejuvenating. It brought back memories of living in the jungles of Borneo in the late 70’s. It also helped give me some insights into how I can use my role of supporting Esther’s therapy work to experience my own interests in understanding how the economy works for those who have experienced the stresses of a family member with disability. It was a hard trek, some of it through old forests and up steep mountain hunting trails. I had visions of needing to go barefoot like the 72 year old local guide when the soles of my hiking boots fell off an hour into the trek. Fortunately I was able to tie the soles back on with string.”).

Taking a few days apart to do our separate interests was refreshing.  I, Esther, went my way to a women’s retreat called REST in the Ninh Binh Province.  A good time of being and also meeting some other English speaking women.  October included a week vacation to the mountainous area of DaLat.  In 1970 we had visited this town for our first Anniversary celebration.  Much has changed with development and expansion of vegetables and flower garden industries.  Everywhere one looks the hillsides are covered with greenhouses.  The elevation means very pleasant temperatures and beautiful blue crisp skies.  From there we took time to visit the big bustling city of Ho Chi Minh.  We explored some of the tourist sites like the old PO, the cathedral, the old palace, and the War Remnants Museum.  We also visited Pastor Trung and his wife, Bich, who we knew from the 1970’s and visited one of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church worship services.

We have been invited to join the MCC team for meetings and celebrations for Christmas in Hanoi so we decided to take some of our vacation days and celebrate there as we did at the end of last year.  In another 10 months we will heading back to life in the US.  Details beyond retirement and being closer to family and friends to be decided.  May each of you be blessed with joy and peace and warmth of knowing the hope and love of this season.

We love your letters, notes, responses, and even phone calls to our local phone which rings here in Duc Pho, Central Vietnam!! (804) 730-7459!! Please do give us a call!! Or call on Facebook messenger if you feel better doing that. These days the access to WiFi etc. is pretty amazing.!!

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July 2017 – August 1st, 2017

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Flexibility and Surprises40-img_9125-1

Post a 4 day retreat, the end of June, with Vietnam MCCers and their families we returned to Hanoi.  Our plan was to visit a Dr. in Hanoi, the “big city”  in one of the larger hospitals to get a second opinion about Paul’s hernia, which was diagnosed in May.  The visit on Tuesday June 27th resulted in learning that the Dr could schedule him for surgery the next day.  The recovery from a laparoscopic procedure would result in less invasion to the body; one night over night; and one week of more limited recuperating. So, although a change in plans, we are grateful this has been part of a bigger plan of care for us.

On Friday, July 7, we returned by plane and bus to our home after Paul had a positive check up with the Doctor and had some stitches removed.  It felt good to be home.  The gracious, caring culture of Vietnam blessed us repeatedly during the time of recovery and being in “repair” mode.  The day after returning from the hospital in Hanoi we were visited by all the MCC staff with gifts of roses and personal verbal blessings for Paul’s speedy recovery. Being at Karen and Major Treadway’s home in Hanoi with their family also felt like home with caring and love, as needed.  Each of their 3 children were happy for some time to be with us. We loved the opportunity to surrogate grandparent.  The day we returned home to Duc Pho the entire staff from the center visited bearing a special vitamin drink of birds’ nest for his daily consumption!

Retreat here in Vietnam with the Vietnamese staff and their families was a great experience of mixed languages and cultures.  The site was at a coastal resort about 4 hours South East of Hanoi by bus right on the beach.  Team building games, splashing and swimming in the waves and water, visiting a nearby safari type zoo, and indulging in the fresh seafood meals prepared each day by the resort were some of the highlights.  The games and activities were really fun and often silly beyond words!!  All ages were able to participate!!

One month prior, in early June, Paul and I headed out to a rented house on the Big Island of Hawaii where we had one week with our daughter Amy, David, and 10 month old Forester.  Time was mostly spent playing with and caring for Forester.  What fun!! He has of course changed significantly since we last held him at one month of age!  And he will continue to change and learn.  His bright, responsive, and mostly happy personality were great to be with.  His interest and ability to check-out various shapes of objects, whether they were toys or simply other objects provided interesting time together. Amy and David celebrated an early 5th Anniversary while we baby sat and we also got to cook some of our favorite family foods.  (Supplies, kitchen tools, and time deter us here in Vietnam from getting around to that sort of cooking.) We visited the beach, the volcano sites, and the nearby pool as part of our time together.  Now, when we speak to Forester on the screen he smiles immediately and seems to recognize us!!

Our little town, growing town of Duc Pho now has a supermarket, a large electronics store, and now two English language centers where native English speakers teach English!  Yes, that means we are no longer the only native English speakers in town!  We were able to meet one of the 3 foreign teachers from the US who teaches at the privately run center. We offered our friendship and assist when possible knowing how difficult it is to learn a new language and culture.

We also had a visit from another OT. She is from Australia. We mentioned her in our last blog. She works and teaches OT Australian students in the city of Danang.  She was able to come and visit our center a few days.  It sure was great to have the ideas and input of another therapist.  So encouraging and affirming! We had visited her work in Danang back in May.

I, Esther, have been updating files, goals, and activities for each of the persons at the center.  Of the 20+ persons I am about half finished upgrading and writing for each one.  The heat of the season seems to make time and brain power move more slowly!  However, when I look at each person’s files and see the progress in each I am excited and feel the blessing of health, life, and rehab!!  For example, so many of the children are now part of groups of two or three as they share an activity.  This is progress from 6 months ago when these children would sit and stare out the window or lie on the floor while the other children participated in an activity.  Much of this change has occurred with the staff modelling or gently encouraging these persons to join in an activity.  One can feel the care and sense of positive outlook available to the patrons who come to the center daily.

One special activity in mid-June was hosting a group of 16 college students from Fresno Pacific College, 2 professors and a tour guide for a day at the center.  In preparation, Paul reviewed some of our sources on Agent Orange and the war and tried to talk about it from the vantage point of the Vietnamese and ourselves back during those war years. They seemed to enjoy observing the therapy activities and other activities at the center. Paul and I hope that some of this experience that day will impact their lives as they choose and process their future.

I need to complete continuing OT education every couple of years. Feeling the need to actually meet other OT’s I elected to attend a National OT Conference in Perth, Western Australia in mid July with some support from MCC. It was a great three day event with a little extra time to see the botanical garden, the zoo and Fremantle historic town.  In addition to meeting one of my former teachers from Richmond, I also got to meet 4 Vietnamese who are part of the group in Vietnam that is sending 5 students to India to get their degree and bringing Indian professors to Vietnam to start two OT University programs in Vietnam.  On the 28th of July, we learned more about that program and got to meet several other foreign OT Volunteers in Vietnam that we did not know about before.  We attended a one day workshop in Da Nang for those interested in OT to network and to learn from each other’s experiences. From all of this I received lots of affirmation for what we are doing and that it is the best that can be done at this time without OT educated local staff.

I have been invited to share about my experiences of doing OT therapy at the National Agent Orange VAVA Conference in Hanoi. There will be representatives from each of the provinces. I feel quite honored.  I seek your support as I prepare for this event the 1st week of August in Hanoi. I am grateful for Paul’s ability to accompany me.  This will be an opportunity to share and to learn more about what is being done in other parts of the country for people affected by Agent Orange. I even got fitted for a Vietnamese dress for the occasion.

We send each of you much love and wishes for peace and joy for each moment in your lives.  We love hearing from you when you receive our blog and hope we can stay in touch with life in your world as well.

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May 2017 – May 2nd, 2017

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We were invited to share with the small house church we were involved with in Richmond on a video conference call.  We reflected on how alone we sometimes feel without other English speakers in our work and social circle and no local faith community to share with. We do keep our minds and souls challenged with meditative readings and on line daily emails from Richard Rohr. These meditations reinforce that it is not what we do or how proficient we are in the Vietnamese language that counts, but that we are open to listening with many senses and letting love flow through us.

PROJECTS

We are still glad MCC works through partners and as such VAVA who we work under has responsibility for most of the administrative aspects of running a project. Still we are included when reflecting on lessons learned and changes to propose for next year. MCC fiscal year just ended.

Esther hopes to include more training for staff next fiscal year for the home therapy and establish a baseline of supervision with individual therapy at the center before sending staff back out for on site therapy.  The use of smart phone video and photo capabilities has really helped Esther understand what staff are doing as has frequent visits along with the staff to homes. Parents and siblings/neighbors were participants in the homes and it was great to see them reinforcing/encouraging the disabled children. Some of the younger children were more comfortable in the home setting and more active in playing than at the center. One highlight was having the older girl who reportedly was kept locked in her room with her sicks to protect herself from strangers, come join us in the guest room and sit down beside Esther. And after a short time she put her one arm around Esther while still holding on to her two sticks in the other hand. These are grace and love moments!

Working out the procedures for getting premission to actually visit family homes has been the biggest accomplishment of this past year. In addition to the home therapy visits, Paul was able to visit about 50 family homes along with staff both pre and post the families receiving a cow as part of the cow bank distribution. The visits reinforced that these families really are in need and that most of them already have experience raising cows and that cows are a way to save up long term capital to inprove the family  financial outlook.

CENTER GARDEN

The second planting of the garden has been much more successful than the first. The center hired an experienced gardener to prepare and plant using mature compost and lime.  It has been great to see the staff harvesting vegetables every morning. Sometimes I get a chance to help weed in the afternoon.

LUKE MARTIN BOOK

We recently received a copy of Luke Martin’s book, A Vietnam Presence a history of Mennonite and related partners work in Vietnam from 1954 to post 1975.  Since we were also with the Mennonites here from 1970 to 1974, we knew many of the people mentioned or had heard about them. It takes us back in time to process our feelings of helplessness to end the war’s destruction. It tells of our mutual efforts and questions and yet also tells of administrative efforts at international mediation and care for those in need regardless of their politics that we were not aware of at the time.

It was great to recently reconnect with Max Ediger, one of our former co-workers in the 70’s. He led the regional MCC Retreat in Siem Riep Cambodia. He is still working in the area leading interfaith peace and reconcilation workshops.

RENEWAL

The home therapy was held on weekends and we have not been so good about taking comp days right away.  We took a short break to the two proviences south of here last month.  Next month we are looking forward to getting to see our grandchild, Forester at half way point for us. This month Esther hopes to meet another OT she learned about who volunteers in Da Nang. In July she will attend an OT conference in Australia to get some continuing education credits needed to maintain her licensure in OT.

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February 2017 – February 4th, 2017

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This is the beginning of spring flowers, the 7 day Tet or Lunar New Year holiday and marks one year since our move to Duc Pho from Hanoi last February 1, 2016.  Like last year, our landlord and neighbors invited us to accompany them to visit family during Tet in the surrounding country side.  Only, this year for Tet, other staff also invited us to their homes and we felt a little more comfortable with what was expected and how to act.

The past two months have challenged us emotionally as we went along with the staff on assessments of persons and their home environment who have been affected by Agent Orange birth defects. Universally, we observed the loving care and coping of the family members caring full time for these children. Some of the children already attend the day care center and receive therapy there.  Several others had tried attending, one with the help of a neighbor to provide transport, but had difficulty adjusting. The goal of the training program is to collaborate with the staff to develop individual goals and therapeutic activities in the homes for the children and their families. The challenge will be to focus on what we and they can do, and not on the overwhelming physical, mental and social deficits presented by some of the new contacts.

For many of the families and trainees the person with disability is often seen as someone who “cannot do anything” or is not expected to be able to do anything.  Truly, for some persons their reality, as I see it, is also daunting and does not produce many ideas for activities to perform at home by and with the family.  An 18 year old who is agitated and needs to be physically secured in a small room for her safety when the family is engaged in living, who becomes very agitated when anyone not familiar approaches and attempts to strike out. Or another person who scratches and bites herself with distress with no clear cause for her agitation or an 11 year old who is twisted with Cerebral Palsy so that placing him in an upright position for better air control is not manageable by the grandmother who is the sole caregiver during most days.  We pray we might find the language of love, energy and strength.

The comprehensive assessment form with simple yes/no answers has worked better than we anticipated. Using smart phone photos and videos of the children has helped Esther supplement the form even when she, herself, has not met the children. At the end of the month we have another two day training session with an interpreter to assist the staff with starting therapeutic activities in the homes.

At the center it has been exciting to see some of the creative activities by the staff and some of the changes by the children.  The center recently purchased appropriately child sized folding tables that can be rearranged for group activities.  One day we observed them working in small groups to learn how to blow air through a straw to create bubbles in a soapy water basin.  First each child experimented with a small cup to make sure the children understood not to suck the water but instead blow. This activity provides oral motor control, cause/effect, and regualtion of breath control using the therapeutic purpose for such an activity.  Another day when Esther was not at the center, a staff doing individual therapy with a hyperactive, child who could not focus, sent a video of him now playing with a balloon and small plastic racket.

This past month we went on a shopping trip to Da Nang to purchase additional educational games and toys the staff can use.  We were able to find key items we saw being used when we visited the Kianh Foundation Center the beginning of December. The staff already have seen a model of some of the toys and games being used in a special education type setting.

At Christmas we spent a little over a week in Hanoi, our first visit to the big city since moving here last February.  It was great to meet the new MCC workers who will be living and working in Hanoi and spend time with colleagues of faith through the Hanoi International Community Church.  We also took two days to go on an outing to celebrate our 47th Anniversary.  That was special since the hotel added rose petals and a special greeting with cake to add to the celebration!

The beginning of January, new MCC workers, Josh and Beth Kvernen and their two sons, Soren (3) and Than (5) visited us along with Hanoi office staff and Major Treadway, the co-rep for MCC Vietnam. They will be developing learning tours about the legacy of war, especially Agent Orange.  Together we were able to visit some of the families who received cows and learn more about their personal exposure to the spraying during the war and the effects on them, their children and grandchildren.

In another week we will join the other MCC workers and project partners for a Southeast Asia retreat in the city of Siem Riep, Cambodia. We hope for good health and inspirations which will bring us back with new vigor to continue to share the love and concern for others which we are meant to share here in the world.  Health and strength for each day continue to be a gift we do not take lightly.  We feel blessed by each breath.

Wishing each of you joy and peace for your journey,

Esther and Paul

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Dec 2016 – December 10th, 2016

Dear ones far and near,

img_7162Click here for link to additional photos

Since we last wrote in September, there is much to share and much to be grateful for.  Currently, here in Duc Pho, Quang Ngai, in the Central part of Vietnam we celebrate small and big joys.  The days are cooler (74 F/23 C) so that we do not need to be wiping away dripping sweat and have the variety of sleeping without fans, AC’s or open windows!  The garden project for growing organic vegetables for the center patrons has begun, the soil has been distributed, the irrigation has been built, and the first plants planted!  Paul has been able to carry heavy loads, shovel and dig, and get his hands in the soil a bit, as well as, participate in the planning of the project.

In the area of  therapy and Occupational Therapy work, based on a request and decision from MCC and VAVA the partner organization under whom we work, I developed some simple functional assessments for use by non-medical persons when they visit homes of victims of Agent Orange spraying.  I took my years of experience, my observations of life and needs here, and some materials from other sources to make a form of 23 pages using English and then translated it with Paul’s Google translate and another person’s language knowledge.  We took the weekend to teach 8 persons. Using the technology of a Power Point, smart phones and photo and video capabilities, we will begin by visiting homes along with the trainees and assisting and guiding them in use of this approach. We were able to find a local person who knows some English and wanted to try translating.  It was very helpful and took the pressure away from my need to always be thinking and speaking in two langauges!  For the next weekends we will be accompanying persons to observe and give assist as they use the functional form and consider what might be done in homes to improve their daily quality of life.  Many of these people do not come to the day care rehab center because they are unable physically or because it is too far to come daily. The hope is that we can generate some therapy activities that the family will be able to do at home after they have been trained and after they see a demonstration of an idea.

In October and November we had the joy of visiting three other centers for persons with disabilities – one near Hoi An and two in Danang.  This provided ideas and motivated us to request that the staff have the opportunity to visit and gain ideas from such a learning tour. For those of you who share some funding with MCC for our work this is the sort of thing that your money supports.  We just returned from this experience.  It was very exciting to see the staff absorb the new ideas, ask questions and return to try out some of the new things immediately!  No, we will not recreate a place such as we observed, but we can implement some of the ideas and thus make a difference for some of the patrons or persons with disabilities. 

We have had some visitors coming here also!  This was quite special since we were able to travel to various homes with the visitors and benefit from translators.  You can imagine that many ideas are left floating or incomplete when all is expressed in Vietnamese.  Although we are getting a bit better in some settings – not all!  One group of visitors were the MCC Southeast Asia representatives, Jeannie and Dan Zimmerly Jantzi who live and work from Cheng Mai, Thailand.  They had visited here in 2014 and were quite encouraged to see the progress of the project which VAVA has begun here.  Ron Byler, the MCC USA director was also part of that visiting team, along with Vietnamese staff from MCC Hanoi.  Great to sing some songs in English together, enjoy meals around the table in our native language, and hear descriptions of the other MCC projects in  Southeast Asia, and the world from these directors respectively.

Mid- December we plan to fly to Hanoi and spend a little over a week with other team members there – some will be simply rest and relaxation over the Christmas holidays and some will be meetings.  We look forward to the big, big city and meeting with colleagues and faith friends from our first three months here in Vietnam.

On our personal lives, we both are well and healthy! Sleep well and eat well and try to get some exercise as often as possible. We both completed yearly physcials with no negative results.  Our hearts and spirits are blessed frequently with chats and views of little Forester, who just completed his 4th month here in the world and was part of the Thanksgiving gathering at his other grandparents home in Placerville, CA for a few days.  So special to see his little face and hear the sounds he makes at this time!  Our children and their partners continue to be well and our siblings and extended family are well.

As for the surprises and changes which can be impacted due to politics I would quote words coined by a friend.  “No matter who arrives in the White House, the people we need to live with (and I would add, to love) are all around us. We have cracked open many new and old conversations in the past year. We are talking about the truth, safety, love, hatred, Right now these conversations are wounds, but maybe we can begin to heal if we take care of each other.” For me, taking care of the other, means taking care of myself by breathing, loving this being, listening to the other and sharing my life with the other as possible.

In this season of advent, waiting, changing weather, new mornings each day we cherish your care and communication and we feel your love and send ours your way.  The privilege of life for this moment is given to each of us.

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Sept 2016 – September 24th, 2016

Click here for link to September Photo Album:

Sunday September 11th we landed in Danang, Vietnam after having had a month of immersion and absorption with our new grandson, Forester Orion who was born July 23rd in California.  As we mentioned in our last blog to you, our plans were to take our vacation time to be present with family.  And we were not disappointed in any way!  We were able to participate in the life of Forester’s early weeks, hold space for Amy and David as they made parenting a reality, and help with some of the daily chores such as cooking, laundry, and shopping and most of all just holding and being bathed in baby oxytocin!!  Our leave taking to return to Vietnam on September 10 was planned but not easy!

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We also were able to journey east to Lancaster, PA for some time with Paul’s dad, who continues to be well and of course aging. He agreed to participate with Paul’s brother and sisters in having an early 90th birthday celebration, for his December 2nd birthday.  This was a true joy to see so many family and relatives come together to honor and show joy for John, Paul’s dad.

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Prior to leaving for this month long vacation we were participants with MCC team from Hanoi who came here in July to plan and discuss budget ideas for this current year.  For 4 days we followed along to visit homes with persons who have severely disabled family members. We sat in meetings in the various village meeting halls, visited families who have been recipients of cows from the Cow Bank Project in the past two years, and MCC /VAVA meetings to discuss the pros and cons for rehab and cow projects in the next fiscal year.  We also had opportunity to report on and show the persons from Hanoi MCC our work here at the center over the past few months.  The use of a translator to explain and clarify was very helpful for us.

The week before we left the center was busy with a major fund raising event for the 55th anniversary of the start of Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam on August 10, 1961.  There was a music and cultural program including songs and skits related to Agent Orange. Through out the program as is common here, they announced the names and amounts of donations $5-$50 from individuals and businesses in the town and wider district.  We were amazed at the 90 million collected ~$4,000 US before expenses. This showed us again how there is local Vietnamese awareness and support for the persons who are suffering from the lingering effects of war.

While in the US, my Dad called to tell me about a program he was watching on C-Span about Agent Orange effects in Laos.  We later watched the 90 minute program which told about similar effects in Laos from a secret war but in Laos there is a lack of local awareness and a lack of government and private support. We are thankful to be part of a local organization here in Vietnam with such strong local and government support. Here is a link to that program for those with the time/interest: https://www.c-span.org/video/?414519-1/discussion-focuses-agent-orange-vietnam-laos

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Knowing that I, Esther, was going to be gone for a month from the center I was able to create a plan of suggested activities for each patron for the local staff to implement with the patrons in my absence.  This was a stretch for my language but upon my return I see that many of the ideas were used and continue to be helpful for the program here.  Our days continue to be sweat covered, but we are looking forward to some respite when the rains begin – next month.  Humidity of course is high!

Paul has been involved in teaching English, reviewing MCC/VAVA plans for next year and helping with translation of OT materials for Esther’s training classes.

We are missing Forester and his changes each day but knowing that he can know our love and care from a distance. We had a wonderful 20 minute video chat the other day watching him play and talking to him.

Click here for link to September Photo Album:

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July 2016 – July 16th, 2016

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Click here for link to July Photo Album:

It has now been more than six months since we moved to central Vietnam post language study in February. By now our use of Vietnamese to manage life feels less challenging although still limited!

Esther is beginning to see some changes in the patrons and response to the therapy.

Here are a few surprises and observations:

- A hug from C, our house helper, as she realizes I honestly like her cooking.

- The 13 year old, Tai, is now able to speak without twitching and explores a new physical challenge expressing satisfaction with his skill.

- The 4 year old Bạo An with Cerebral Palsy is learning to crawl using his arms and legs to move to the toy across the mat.

- Eleven year old Nguyet is joining other peers on the floor as they play using her own initiative. And she calls to her Dad verbally when he arrives to take her home.

- Three year old Hiếu, born with Cerebral Palsy, verbalizes in communicative exchanges with the therapist.

- H who speaks only to herself, has begun smiling and making eye contact with others here at the center.

- Twelve year old Long, expresses his happiness by singing to himself at noon time after lunch. Beautiful notes of a Vietnamese tune.  He does not express himself verbally and yet his singing expressions give a beautiful message of peace and joy.

- Other notable changes as seen from daily observation are – children using their utensils to feed themselves, using the rest rooms properly, sharing toys and looking out for the other person, and standing in space to copy physical movements each AM.

A new activity has been working with three young children who come just for the therapy session and who have more involved physical disabilities due to cerebral palsy. Since they are still young there is more hope the therapy can prevent secondary issues. Although I spent several years at the beginning of my OT practice at a center for children with cerebral palsy, it is different here being the only professional, instead of part of a comprehensive team. There are written resources in both Vietnamese and English with some being an adaptation of the English version. Caregivers and adults here in Vietnam are literate and interested in written material to some extent. I am trying to pick some materials to handout as I have a limited ability to explain the nuances of what is happening and why. As in any culture,  the desire for “fixing” ones child or of making things all better is quite high. I can only love and share what I can and know and believe that this will be received.

img_0857One special event this past month was two days of training on community based rehabilitation for about 50 health workers from the district.  We found out about it because they used the meeting room at the center for the training.  Along with the local staff we were able to join in the training and practice sessions using some of the same persons Esther works with in therapy at the center. We were pleased to learn one of the instructors, Dr. Tran Trong Hai, had supported MCC’s work by Gail Dick, an MCC Occupational Therapy Rehabilitation Volunteer in Hanoi in 1996.

Last month we took a few days away to the town of Hoi An.  This was a rejuvenating break.  And in mid-August we plan to take a vacation to the US to be with our little grandson and daughter and husband, in California.  He should arrive early August!  On this trip we will also fly to the east coast for a few days to visit Paul’s dad who is nearing 90.  We return here September 10 after a bit more time with the “new baby and parents”. Please understand that this visit, our intention and focus is to visit and be with immediate family. Your thoughts and connections by email, and phone to our US former home phone number encourage us. We love to hear of your lives and work.

This month we want to share a little more detail about the daily activities at the Day Care and Rehabilitation Center where we work. Click here for a description of the rehab activities.

Click here for link to July Photo Album: https://blogphoto2016july.shutterfly.com/pictures/9

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