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Dr. Lan Jones, 26 years in volunteer dentistry - one of the fond memories of Vietnam 2011 trip
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Dr. Lan Jones
Posted 11/10/2011 1:47 PM (#57)
Subject: Dr. Lan Jones, 26 years in volunteer dentistry - one of the fond memories of Vietnam 2011 trip


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Every year on every dental operation trip there are some unforgettable moments and I cherish each unique memory.  I would like to share one special memory that our team experienced during the Vietnam 2011 trip.  We normally travel to a different rural village each day, reaching the most remote elementary schools where no team has ever gone before.  One of the best memories on this dental operation was a day serving the children on a tiny island in the middle of the mighty Mekong River.  To reach this island we had to take two ferry rides.  At 7am we set out by vans followed by a box truck carrying supplies and equipment from our hotel, traveling on a good road part of the way and a dirt road the rest until we came to the edge of the Mekong River.  The first ferry had room for 2 vehicles, some motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians.  We crossed the river to reach a large island where we drove for over 30 minutes on a dirt road lined by fruit orchards and rice fields until we reached the other side of the island.  On this bank of the river, we had to form a human chain to unload all of our supplies and equipment onto an old small ferry that could transport only pedestrians.  The old ferry took us across the river to our destination, a small island 1 mile wide and 25 miles long, with a population of 4,518, and one elementary school with 379 children from pre-K to 6th grade and 70 teachers. 

We set up our make-shift dental clinic in a classroom and worked all day until sunset.  By the time we cleaned up and packed up, it was pitch black.  When our team left the school to walk half a mile to the river bank, an elderly village woman who crafted a torch out of dried coconut leaves and held it high by the river bank for us to see to board the ferry.  Once the ferry crossed the river and reached the large island, it was low tide so the ferry could not dock on the bank of the river and had to stop short of it.  Our local friends rolled up their pant legs and stepped into the water without hesitation.  Our team followed suit with much trepidation, some one wondered out loud about water snakes and blood sucking leeches infesting the river while we took off our shoes and our socks, rolled up our pant legs and made the leap and stepped into the river to walk to shore. In the end we all laughed at the joke and found wading through water and mud under the moonlight was actually fun, a special unexpected adventure, a highlight of our trip that I will never forget.  This opportunity is hard to come by for those of us who live in the major cities like London - England, Ottawa - Canada, Tel Aviv - Israel, Cologne - Germany, or Knoxville, TN - USA.

It took over 2 hours to get to the remote island of Tan Phu that morning, and the same long rough ride back to return to our hotel, but our team was able to help every student and teacher that day.  People on this island subsist on the land and sea.  Most earn less than a dollar a day, and traveling across 2 rivers to reach the mainland would cost $1.00 round trip, a sum most cannot afford.  These people deserve a helping hand, and the memories of the day our team went to Tan Phu island will always put a big smile on my face and warmth in my heart.
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