By Alannah Brooks
I travelled to Vietnam for a three week Nursing and Allied Health placement with Southern Cross University. I was placed at The Friendship Village, a residential rehabilitation facility that was founded for veterans, and children who are suffering from congenital defects as a result of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.
The veterans only get to visit The Friendship Village once in their lifetime. They stay for one month and receive a variety of health services. The children, however, reside there permanently and also receive education and health services. Upon hearing about this opportunity, I immediately wanted to apply; but I did have mixed emotions as my father is a Vietnam veteran who fought on the opposing side to the veterans I would be working with on this placement.
We were designated into groups for each area of the village, like classrooms, veterans, or rehabilitation centre. In our groups, we identified a problem and created a sustainable project as an intervention for the problem. I was in the classrooms group. We observed a range of developmental and socialisation issues in the classrooms. The children would spend most of their time inside colouring in and did not like to share or socialise with each other.
The teachers told us they would like the children to spend more time outside. For our project we painted four simple structured activities on the concrete, with the aim of enhancing a range of skills including coordination, gross motor skills, turn taking, counting, movement, and focus. We also created booklets with simple instructions so that the children could choose which activity they wanted to do, as we found that many of them did not have the ideation to decide on what to do on their own accord. We had to have all of our ideas approved by the board director.
This placement was very challenging, both physically and emotionally. The majority of the children were aged from around 6 to 18 years old, however there were a few adults still residing there from childhood. They had a range of different disabilities and varying degrees of disability.
All of the veterans I met were outgoing. Several veterans mentioned how happy they are when Australians come to Vietnam because they want to move on from the past and be friends. They spoke of forgiveness and forgetting their losses in the war, even though their grandchildren are still suffering the effects of Agent Orange. The time I spent with both the children and the veterans was inspiring and refreshing. The language barrier was a challenge, but we did have translators while we were there.
I may have felt more deeply connected to the experiences on this placement than some other students, as my dad fought in the same war. I have first-hand seen the devastating effects that war can have on an individual and their family. But, to see the effect in a developing country, was an extremely eye-opening experience for me. I am more aware, and grateful, for the resources we have in Australia for veterans, and for those with disabilities. The Long Tan Bursary awarded to me by AVCAT assisted me in being able to afford this placement; it is very hard to afford travel when you are a student and living out of home. Overall, this was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience and I’m glad that I was accepted to attend.
Alannah was awarded a Long Tan Bursary in 2017. She will complete her degree in 2019.
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