This is an interview with Ms. Aimy Tien (University of Chicago Class of 2013). You can leave comments on this article to get in contact with her.
What is the name of the organization you worked with?
Children of Peace International (COPI) is a humanitarian organization that focuses currently on improving the lives of children and minority communities in Vietnam through education, healthcare, and other social activities. COPI provides funding for orphanages, HIV/AID centers, and schools in addition to aid related mission work. Ultimately, the organization hopes to provide more tools to enable children, in particular, to help themselves.
Give a brief summary of what you did with COPI
I volunteered on one of Children of Peace International’s (COPI) medical missions to Vietnam. This trip was in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain District and the New England District of Key Club International.
Give a brief summary of your experience with COPI
Prior to leaving for Vietnam, each member of the team gathered medication, medical supplies, dental supplies, and toys. With at least 50 pounds each, we met to sort this material for the trip. The trip itself was 18 days, not including flight time, in Vietnam. We traveled across the country holding clinics in areas with little access to doctors, nurses, or dentists. Some areas did not have a doctor for a hundred square miles. Trips to COPI-funded orphanages and the pediatric HIV/AIDS center in Saigon also occurred.
Each clinic day began early in the morning and could last until late in the night. The clinic area would be divided in the various departments: check-in, hygiene, medical check, crafts, dental, pharmacy, and gifts/checkout. The children and their parents would line up to receive the only medical care they might see for many months. I worked as a translator and an assistant to both the dentists and on occasion the doctors. The goal was to treat as many children as possible and if we had time, their parents as well.
On non-clinic days, we tended to supplies, particularly the medication, and also visited the different areas in Vietnam.
Could you talk about the great aspects of your experience with COPI?
The clinical experience was amazing. I could see how I was helping these people immediately. Hearing the stories of people’s lives and witnessing the lack of health care in the area is primarily responsible for my interest in global health. The experience also made me grateful for my life here. Further, I observed how much many members of the Vietnamese team could do with limited equipment and supplies. They were innovative and resourceful in an economic way. We should apply this to the healthcare system in the United States.
Could you talk about things that COPI could have done to make your experience better?
I wish we could have extended the trip to do even more clinic days, but I realize that it was very difficult to secure permits from the government.
Any other experiences you would like to share?
During the second clinic in Sapa, I met a 10 year old girl. She looked like she was seven, far too small and thin. On her back in a sling was her youngest sibling, and she held two other younger siblings in each hand. She told us that earlier in the week her mother had died, leaving her as the only one to tend to the children. Her father was also dead. She had not eaten for days and could not sell any souvenirs to the tourists because she had to take care of the children. Now, two of them were feverish, and she was worried. She said, “Don’t worry about me. Please check my brother and sister. I can’t let them get sick.” Here she was, nearly ten years younger than me, and shouldering more burdens than I will probably ever know. While the doctors checked on her siblings, she tried to dispel our sympathy. “My life is not hard. There are people here with much less.” With no food and no money, she still tried to convince us that we should direct our attention elsewhere. The bravery of that little girl stays with me to this day. It reminds me that there is always something worse, and that even the small differences can help someone survive another day.
Could you explain how you found out about the program, the application process and any tips you have for students interested in applying for the program?
I had worked with COPI since my freshman year in high school through Key Club. Every other year, Key Club went with COPI to Vietnam on a medical mission and also to check on the schools that Key Club had built there. After four years of raising thousands of dollars, I wanted to see the schools in person and participate in the health of a country very close to my heart. I applied on the COPI website and also submitted a personal statement. While the expense of the trip is on the participant, I actually fundraised a majority of the money through pledges. Further, members of the COPI team will often speak with college representatives to help provide a grant for a pre-health or medical school student to participate. Some students have also received credit. Missions currently occur in March and August.
More information about the program: