**Evy Roussakis, a recently graduated Occupational Therapist Assistant/Physiotherapist Assistant from Durham College in Oshawa, ON describes her physiotherapy volunteer experience in Hanoi, Vietnam in the summer of 2015.**
I want to go to new places, meet new people, and as hard as it was for me to be by myself in a new and differently cultured country, I went to Hanoi, Vietnam for a month in the spring of 2015. I did not go at the best time because it was the country’s rainy season, with extremely hot and humid temperatures and tropical storms that knocked over trees and electrical lines throughout the city. I did manage to enjoy some excursions outside of the country’s capital, but it was the experiences I had within the Friendship Village that made my stay so purposeful.
I applied through the organization Projects Abroad to volunteer myself as a Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy Assistant at the Friendship Village in Hanoi. This community had a school, residences, and medical buildings for individuals affected by the chemical warfare Agent Orange, which was used during the Vietnam War.
I worked in the physiotherapy department. To begin with, there was a huge communication gap because most of the hospital employees did not speak English and a translator was not always provided to us. However, the patients were eager to learn. I did not have much to go on when I first started there in terms of diagnoses and clinical symptoms relating to each individual. I could only observe and make my own deductions as to what sorts of exercises would be beneficial for them to do to make them feel stronger. All I had to do was physically demonstrate what I wanted them to do, and they were able to mimic me.
While the majority of what I was doing was exercise prescription, I also worked on fine motor skills with some of the children who were delayed in this aspect or had physical limitations in their hands. The treatment plans that I created with each patient were added to a large binder that had been put together by a previous Projects Abroad volunteer in that department. The major problem I experienced was the lack of continuity. The Vietnamese physiotherapists didn’t understand what we were doing, nor could we explain exactly why we were doing it. So, the previous volunteers put together this binder for future volunteers to be able to continue the work they had started.
I imagine there are many moments throughout a career in healthcare where you feel as if you have served an important purpose and helped somebody’s life for the better. I have now been graduated for five months and have been working in my field for almost that length of time. I have heard many people thank me for helping them and appreciate what I do. But when a young boy who has been affected by a harmful agent in a war he was never a part of tells you that he feels stronger after doing his exercises with you, I feel like I am serving my purpose.