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Right at Home and Free Wheelchair Mission 

Jon and TerriTerri and I have always wanted to travel outside the United States. Right at Home and Free Wheelchair Mission presented an opportunity to travel outside the United States and not just for a vacation or visit to a tourist trap. A trip to North Vietnam allowed us to experience the people and the culture while giving of our time and attention.

Although our countries may have less than ideal shared histories and politically, they may not align, aging and caring for our loved ones is a basic human experience that we all share. We were honored to have the opportunity to share with those in North Vietnam.

In our senior home care industry in the United States we help our clients deal with loss of abilities. This includes mobility and the need to use a wheelchair. Giving people the gift of mobility in a country that does not have the resources of our own, highlighted our differences. What we also experienced were the similarities. We all age, and many of us will need assistance with activities of daily living and possibly a caregiver to strengthen our quality of life.

November 6, 2018 | Vietnam - Jon Searles

"The crowd in the people’s hall in Van Quan, Vietnam consisted of 40-50 individuals who had been invited to witness the handing out of wheelchairs to recipients who had traveled from the surrounding area. Of those in attendance only 5 would be receiving chairs today of the 12 scheduled to be there. Several of the day’s recipients had to cancel do to illness, ongoing health concerns, and one due to a burn on a motor scooter exhaust pipe suffered on the way to the hall. Local government dignitaries, family caregivers, members of the Free Wheelchair Mission group along with Right at Home team members, hosts from the Give it Back to Kids group, several men and women attending out of curiosity, and the five recipients all sat in the hall ready for the event to begin.

Wheelchair distributionLa Thi Pho’n smiled with her whole face. High cheekbones, sparkling eyes, and a wide grin, missing a few teeth, conveyed her excitement and curiosity. She wore a black covering on the crown of her head. Her outfit consisted of sensible black slacks, a purple shirt with hundreds of white flowers and plastic molded sandals upon her feet. She was wearing her best. La Thi Pho’n did look a bit older than her 78 years but she was happy to be there.

Speaking through an interpreter, Anh, we were able to find out a bit about this lady, whose feet strained to touch the floor from the wooden chair she sat in. She is the mother of 3 sons and 4 daughters who had given her seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. Not unlike her neighbors, her life had been hard in family fields farming rice and corn. Primary school was cut short by family farming chores. She admitted to us that she at one point could read, but that skill had been lost over the years.

La Thi Pho’n son, Tuan, had become her caregiver. Her husband had passed, and in this part of Vietnam it was more polite not to ask how long ago. Ten years had passed since the day she woke up unable to use her legs. A very brief visit to the hospital and no diagnosis she could remember found her under Tuan’s care. Over time she regained some ability to walk with assistance but spent most of her time sitting. She described symptoms of neuropathy in her legs and feet. Being immobile and sitting for long periods of time are not favorite past times of a woman who had spent her life in the fields.

During her interview she continually glanced at the wheelchairs that were lined up at the front of the stage. The stage was flanked by the red banners, gold lettering, and a golden bust of a leader of the political party that normally used the hall, but today the building would be used for the fulfilling of needs that transcend political beliefs and politics.

She told us that her son had hired a car to bring her there because she could only manage short distances by motorbike. She told us that she had just heard of the free wheelchairs from an announcement in her home province. Her son had signed her up and she was ready to give one a try. She said sitting all day was boring and she now hoped the wheelchair would give her ability to spend and bit more time outside and visiting close to home.

When asked if she was ready to stop answering silly questions from a visiting American and was ready to try out the new wheelchair, her smile got bigger, and her eyes got brighter.

The recipients sat in their wheelchairs on stage. By expression on her face and constant admiring of her new found wheels, we could tell that our little lady was not interested in the speeches and special instructions, but ready to start the trip home to see how the wheelchair would impact her life."

Jon with wheelchair recipient
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