In the past week I’ve had quite a few people ask me how I got involved in this volunteer program. So for today’s post I thought I’d showcase the organisation that makes this annual trip possible. And what better way to do that than by interviewing the woman herself, Jackie Wright, President of AVVRG’s Victorian Health Education Team and a Committee member of AVVRG.
ZY: Firstly, can you tell us about the Australian Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG)?
JW: The Australia Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG) is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing humanitarian aid in Vietnam, which it has been doing for over 20 years. AVVRG is a licensed NGO in Vietnam and has four project teams operating in the areas of health (nursing education and dentistry) and school education.
The four teams are the Victorian Health Education Team, based in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), the Queensland Mental Health Education Team, the South Australian Dental Team and the New South Wales Team, which is building and maintaining a preschool, all working in the Vung Tau/Ba Ria area.
ZY: How did AVVRG begin?
JW: AVVRG was formed following a visit by Australian Vietnam War Veterans who where concerned about the people and the country. 20 years after the end of the war they wanted to do something to help the people of Vietnam, so they assisted with building projects in the Vung Tau/Ba Ria area (near where the battle of Long Tan occured). It has grown since then.
ZY: Tell us about the AVVRG Vic Health Education Team.
The Victorian Health Education Team is located in Melbourne, and welcomes members from all over Australia. The team comprises up to 50 healthcare professionals, including nurses, midwives, physiotherapists, doctors, occupational therapists, dietitians, podiatrists and speech pathologists. All team members fund their own visit costs. Currently, the Victorian Health Education Team engages with eight major hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, with each hospital having a specialty healthcare interest relationship with the team.
In 2002, a group of 12 Victorian nurses travelled to Vietnam. They provided education at two hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City – a General Surgical Hospital and a Children’s Hospital. By 2003, the word had spread about the program such that this time 33 nurses travelled to Ho Chi Minh City. They visited the same two hospitals, Binh Dan, Children’s No1, as well as a trauma hospital and a maternity hospital, and also implemented the first International Nursing Conference in HCMC.
This year, the team is bigger than ever with approximately 50 members travelling to HCMC working across eight hospitals.
ZY: Jackie, how did your involvement with AVVRG begin?
JW: I got involved following an education session with Gerry Silk. I have been making the annual pilgrimage for 10 years and I’m now also involved with the planning of the program.
ZY: How has the program evolved since the Victorian Health Education Team’s first visit to HCMC?
JW: The structure of the program has grown the most. We used to just run lectures. It was all very formal, and this meant that the nurses would never ask any questions. Now we encourage more workshops and in-services which are much more interactive for the staff and the team.
The lectures have also changed as a result. Previously, the content was centred around basic “how-to” information. Now the focus is more on management and processes which enable them to make changes themselves.
ZY: What’s been the biggest challenge?
JW: As part of the organising committee, our biggest challenge is the administration side of things: the hospitals constantly changing programs, requesting different lectures, and timetabling.
Further, the two-week program requires a full year of planning. This includes a visit usually 3-4 months before the team arrives to determine the education needs of the hospitals. Flexibility is the key!
ZY: What are you most proud of?
JW: The continued friendships with so many nurses and other health professionals. Also, my Ho Chi Minh Medal! In 2010, myself and a fellow team member were honoured with a HCMC Medal in appreciation of our continued collaboration with the hospitals in HCMC. As the first non-Vietnamese people to receive this honour, this really demonstrated how much the hospitals value the presence of AVVRG. Four more team members received the medal in 2012.
ZY: What is your best memory here in HCMC?
JW: There are so many! But there is one that truly stands out: after becoming close with a Vietnamese woman, we were asked to go and visit her dying father. He welcomed us as part of the family. He died ten days later, but we were privileged enough to be invited to his death party (like a wake). This was very special.
The close relationships we’ve forged with the local people over the years have led to many treasured memories.
ZY: How does an organisation like AVVRG plan to continue to make a difference in the next 10 years?
JW: We will continue to work hard on our annual program, and keep on spreading the word to the wider community.
ZY: How does someone find out more about AVVRG and the Vic Health Education Team?
Visit out website http://www.avvrg.org.au/vic-health-education-team/