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Physiotherapy in Vietnam by Alice Tarnawski

Alice feeding a child at her Physiotherapy placement

When I first read about the Thuy An Center and started trying to pack my bags for my trip, I had no idea what to expect. I packed far too much, stressed about not knowing the Vietnamese language and was worried about missing home. Little did I know how comfortable I would be here, how much language I could learn and how sad I would be to leave! I left Australia nervous about what I would experience here, but I quickly realized that I had come to a welcoming, wonderful and understanding place that I have absolutely fallen in love with. While an understanding of the language would have gone a long way, I am learning so much every day and I am so glad I came here.

My Physical Therapy placement

Alice working with a patient at her Physiotherapy placement

My days start at 7:45am, when I play with some of the children who are in wheelchairs. We sing songs and wander around the center, saying hello to everyone and trying to name as many animals in Vietnamese as we can. Then, I work with some of the younger boys who are super keen on soccer, so we have put together a soccer group and use soccer-type drills to challenge and improve their balance and leg strength. This is lots of fun and the kids love it.

I have one-on-one sessions throughout the day, working with each child towards their goals. Some of their goals are to improve balance and others are to learn lifelong motor skills, like stair climbing and running. I then go to the feeding area where we help the kids wash their hands and eat their food. This is often messy and the children are always full of energy, so it can take anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour! We then take a long break for nap time (or if you're like me and can't sleep, coconut coffee and/or note writing time at home or at the local cafe), before we start again for afternoon sessions. My day ends with feeding time, followed by dinner with our volunteer family and retiring to our little home next door to the center.

Volunteers working with children in Vietnam

Our little home is so authentic and you really feel like you're living amongst the local people. For breakfast each day, I wander into the town to buy Banh My (bread with meat, chili and mint) or Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), which are becoming some of my favorite things to eat. The locals always wave and say hello as you walk by or as they pass you on their bikes. At night, it is quiet, but we fill the evenings with chats about our day, Vietnamese lessons with our mentor Tronie, note taking, reflection or eating all the different fruits we've found at the local market. Jackfruit is my favorite!

The work being done here by volunteers is really important. We have worked to try and foster group play and we work on goals to improve hygiene, in particular handwashing before feeding time. I feel as though my contribution here is just a small cog in a large wheel and the more support and cogs that contribute, the better the wheel will turn. At the center, we work very independently as the local therapists really only use passive treatments, but the kids love active participation and they work hard to reach their goals. The more volunteers come here, the greater the impact we can make towards the kids’ individual goals as well as the center’s goals.

My overall experience

I will be so sad to leave this fantastic place and I hope that many more people have the opportunity to volunteer here and be a part of the accepting community that is Thuy An. The kids will change the way you see the world with their energy and brightness. You will learn that you really don't need many things to be happy, just a positive attitude and a smile on your face. I would really recommend this experience to anyone considering coming on this adventure. You'll never see the world the same way again and, I hope, you will love Banh My for breakfast just like me!

Alice Tarnawski

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