Manawatu nurse Anne de Bres, VSA’s last volunteer in Vietnam in 2010, estimates she has returned to the country around a dozen times to help continue Kiwi health programmes that have been running more than 55 years.
Anne, a nurse educator, is a member of the New Zealand VietNam Health Trust (NZVNHT) which continues the legacy of medical staff and former volunteers in Quy Nhon in central Vietnam.
“Kiwis have such a presence there,” Anne says. “It began before the War, continued with VSA and continues today through the Trust.”
From 1991 more than 60 VSA volunteers were in Vietnam. It’s not just respect for the country’s centuries-long struggles for independence that draws Anne back. “The people have such huge hearts. They’re wonderful to work with and are so embracing the way they bring you into their families. You can miss home when you visit but you will never feel alone.”
There’s also the personal satisfaction of knowing her nurse education programmes have made a difference. “I became very involved in neo-natal and I’ve seen such a difference in care that babies and new mothers are receiving.”
Kiwi medical staff operated in Quy Nhon before and during the Vietnam War (1963–1975). Dr David Morris, a surgeon in a 1970s’ team, helped form the Trust and is now a board member. They had a great partnership with volunteers in the same area, David says. “In its 18 years VSA had a huge impact. We often worked closely together, especially with VSA’s nurses and laboratory people.”
Although New Zealand was the first country to provide aid to post-war Vietnam, government funding to NZVNHT and to VSA’s Vietnam programmes ended in 2009. Today it’s the generosity of specialist doctors, nurses, midwives, physiotherapists and laboratory professionals that sustains multiple programmes and projects. “We’ve managed to keep going – just,” David says.
When Anne visits Quy Nhon, the Trust offers some assistance with tickets and accommodation but she supplements her trips. Paediatricians and other specialists fully fund themselves.
Recently the provincial Binh Dinh Department of Health asked the Trust for more support, particularly with nursing education. David says the Trust is keen to let former VSAers know their good work is continuing, and that there are avenues to offer further support.
The Trust is putting together a newsletter for members and supporters and would love to hear from any former volunteers with Vietnam links - see NZ VN Health Trust .
See also 'Vietnam volunteers' legacy' on this site.