Archive for Thursday, June 7, 2001

Humanitarian trip educates travelers

Friends say freedom is more appreciated

June 7, 2001

After spending two weeks in Vietnam on a humanitarian mission, Ellen Bartz and Linda Bock say they are more appreciative of their freedom.

The traveling duo trekked to Vietnam, where they participated with Heart to Heart International, Feb. 11 to Feb. 25. Heart to Heart is an Olathe organization that offers medical assistance to third-world countries. The organization airlifted medicine and supplies to hospitals and clinics in Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, the two spent most of their time educating people in villages on supply availability. Bock said the Vietnamese people had medical knowledge yet lacked needed resources.

"They have the people and they've got them trained," Bock, Eudora resident, said. "But they don't have the supplies and they don't have the medicine."

Because of problems with Vietnam customs, clothing and food items cannot be taken into the country. Instead, the organization took cash donations and purchased items, such as rice, after entering Vietnam.

"Three hundred dollars' worth of rice fed one village for two months," Bartz, Lawrence resident, said.

With charitable medical and supply donations, Heart to Heart helped meet those needs.

Much of the work was diplomatic, but Bartz said she hoped to branch out to help even more should she go again.

"Next time I think I want to do something more hands on," Bartz said. "I think I'd like to work a little more in the field."

Heart to Heart divided the volunteer group into two teams; one went to North Vietnam and one to South Vietnam. After being assigned to the southern half, the two said they felt disappointed at first. But after hearing of the northern group's struggles, they felt blessed.

"Nine days into the trip, the supplies still weren't cleared by customs in North Vietnam," Bartz said.

"You got the impression the people in the north would never see the medicine," Bock said.

Bock and Bartz also visited a leprosy village during their stay. Bock said the village's reality was far different than its stereotype.

"It was one of the nicer places we saw," she said.

The two experienced some culture shock, or "culture enrichment" as Bock said, during their Vietnam mission. Their biggest enrichment, they said, was seeing Vietnam traffic first hand.

"We'd see six people on a moped," Bock said.

Bock and Bartz said perhaps the greatest lesson learned was the war's impact on the nation, even 26 years after American troops withdrew.

"We didn't rebuild Vietnam," Bartz said. "All the people who helped us in the south were paralyzed."

Eric Gruber can be reached at

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