Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Hoa Van Leprosy Village

The "iffy" Internet has once again foiled the putting together of this entry....the pictures came up in the order that they wanted to, not necessarily in the sequence of the story of how this heartwrenching yet enriching day unfolded.

The Global Village Foundation's Moblie Libraries Team, with whom we worked all last week, decided that they too would like to be involved in the leprosy village project, so our crew of 13 left in two vans early Monday morning to travel to the boat launch site, just past the city of Da Nang. As usual we left at 6:30 a.m. sharp (that's 7:15 Vietnamese time!)

After loading the boat with 100 blankets, medical supplies, hand knit leprosy bandages and goodies for the children, we set out onto the blessedly calm sea, to cross to the village which can only be accessed by water or a precarious hike down a jungle trail. Our craft was heavily ladened and we were glad that the six life rings were not forced into service for the 17 people on board.

Upon arriving the unloading took place on a beautiful stretch of beach. As there is no pier, we lept off the boat into the water and handed our precious cargo, hand over hand ( actually head over head) across the shallows and hiked toward the village gate.

The customary introductions of the village chief, the People's Party Representative, the Nurse and Secuirty Gaurd were followed by cups of tea. Without delay the blankets and medical supplies were doled out to each family. There are approximately 300 people in the village, with about 50 suffering active cases of leprosy with another 40-50 whose disease has been arrested. They were grateful for the blankets as the weather continues to be unseasonably cool.

I was able to meet with the nurse in his "clinic", which brought tears to my eyes. The examining room, as you can see is neglected, filthy and poorly equipped. How infections are treated and cured under these conditions is a mystery.

The bandages, knit by so many compassionate women from coast to coast in North America, were the first that this nurse had seen. He uses a commercially made bandage, supposedly for tropical ulcers but they are flimsy and small, so he was excited to see our product. He preferred the smaller gauge yarn, but assured me that every one would be useful.

We wandered through the village and the fields behind to reach the school. The crops looked healthy and although we were assured that the village was able to subsist on the crops, an older woman did make an appeal to us to bring rice, cooking oil and noodles the next time we visit, as the elders who are unable to work in the fields are hungry. How could one not resolve to return??

The school consists of a delightful kindergarten, decorated colorfully with posters and decorations ( financed by a Japanese NGO) The two rooms for students 6-12 years old are sparsely furnished and have NO equipment, illustrative pictures, posters, maps or charts. Each student seemed to have one exercise book. How they drooled seeing the crayons, pens, pencils etc sent by the kids in Kenora. as well as folks from the home towns of some of our group. Our indefatigable Oil from Thailand again did her balloon tricks.

The afternoon sun became quite warm as we putt-putted our way back across the bay. Our group was quiet, each staring back at the beach as it receded, lost in thoughts of how they were touched by this experience. The beauty and serenity of the village's location, the warm sand, the green fields, the quiet absence of motor bike horns, the cleanliness of the village ( no plastic bags or garbage) all painted an unlikely background for the reality of the pain and isolation of this community.

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