Published on 6th July 2011
VSA has now ended its programme in Vietnam. VSA’s last volunteer in Vietnam, Anne de Bres, finished a short-term assignment as a nurse educator in the neo-natal department of Binh Dinh Province Hospital at the end of June. She was one of about 60 VSA volunteers who worked in Binh Dinh province since VSA set up its programme there in 1992.
VSA chief executive officer Debbie Snelson says it is fitting that VSA’s final assignment in Vietnam was health related, as health was a major focus of the programme over the last 19 years.
The first group of volunteers to go on assignment in Binh Dinh province included a primary health care specialist and a maintenance adviser who helped get essential equipment at the Province Hospital functioning again. Since then volunteers have included medical laboratory technologists, physiotherapists, midwives, and nurses. In recent years, they have focused on training and mentoring local staff, rather than filling in-line positions.
“We’re proud to have been able to support our partners, the Binh Dinh Department of Health and the Binh Dinh Red Cross, to improve health services in the province,” Ms Snelson says.
Anne de Bres working at Binh Dinh Province Hospital
New Zealand has a long association with Binh Dinh province, which is one of the poorest provinces in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, several New Zealand medical teams were based there, and the New Zealand government funded a new children’s ward at the Province Hospital.
When former VSA director Chris Hawley went to Binh Dinh in 1990 to investigate the possibility of setting up a programme there, he found the local people had not forgotten the New Zealanders who helped them during the war.
“Even after so many years, they still had a lot of respect for New Zealand and for New Zealanders,” he recalls. “They remembered that the New Zealand staff had been prepared to treat everyone, regardless of which side they were on.”
As well as focusing on health, VSA volunteers in Binh Dinh carried out assignments in rural development, fisheries and education. They were supported by a team of dedicated local interpreters, including Phuoc Nguyen who joined the VSA interpreting team in January 1996. He went on to become an indispensible part of VSA’s programme in Binh Dinh, becoming the programme administrator in November 2002, then taking on the job of field officer in January 2006.
Phuoc Nguyen at the VSA offices in Wellington last year.
“The page isn’t big enough to wax lyrical about Phuoc,” says Dee Cresswell who worked with Phuoc when she was the VSA Field Representative based in the provincial capital Qui Nhon. “He is consistent, he is calm and unruffled, and he is extremely patient.”
Ms Snelson agrees: “Nothing is too much for Phuoc. It’s been an honour to work with him; he is very committed to the development of his country, and he built a real engagement with the volunteers.”
Phuoc will continue to liaise on VSA’s behalf with the Nguyen Nga Centre, an organisation supporting young people with disabilities which makes the friendship bracelets for VSA’s annual Project Friendship.
Sustainable fishing in Qui Nhon.