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It has been said that big things have small beginnings.

One can definitely see that happening during the Hands of Hope’s first dental health trip to Vietnam that took place from 4-13 January.

The objective of the trip was to teach young school children in the Ben Tre province how to care for their teeth. Ben Tre is a province about 1.5 hours drive from Ho Chi Minh.

A team of 6 people from Brisbane

As Hands of Hope is the community arm of Hope Church Brisbane, the dental health team consisted of 6 members from the church.

There was team leader Derrick, who works as an accountant; Johnson, a pharmacist; Robin, a vet; Jen Lee, a PhD student; Richard, a recently graduated dentist; and Seya, who had just returned to Singapore after years in Brisbane. We worked with 6 Ho Chi Minh-based team members and 3 local contacts in Ben Tre.

The t-shirts we wore when we taught the children had our “Happy Smile” logo, designed by Jensen, a member of Hope Church Brisbane who was unable to join the trip.

It was a smaller-than-expected team, as the target was for 8 members from Hope Brisbane – but we thank God for His amazing provision and strength that enabled us to accomplish many things.

Fundraising to bless 1750 children

Considering that the estimated number of school children went from 1,000 to 1,800 in the last 2-3 weeks before the trip, and the fact that several team members were sick during the trip (see picture above right), we definitely had divine help.

This was evident from the outpouring of goodwill and support among family, friends and colleagues during our fundraising – so much so that we raised a total of AUD13,789.75 (converted from SGD and HKD)!

Our original target of AUD$8,000 was far exceeded and we had the happy problem of assessing how best to use the funds.

We decided to use most of the funds, i.e. 71.29 cents out of every dollar donated, to buy items that would encourage the young ones to take good care of their teeth.

Gifts for the children 

In total, we were able to bless 1,750 children in 10 schools with the following:

  • 4 packets of milk
  • chewable Vitamin C (see picture below left)
  • 3 sets of toothbrush and toothpaste (see picture below right)
  • a plastic cup
  • a small towel
  • a 355ml bottle of mineral water

The water was used during the hands-on teeth-brushing demonstrations (see picture below) in the schools so that the children would be able to rinse their mouths. Often the children’s parents would be watching the demonstrations so they served to educate the adults too.

Teaching children to have good oral health 

The children were taught in groups of about 30 on average – mostly they were in their classrooms, but sometimes we taught outdoors too when there were not enough classrooms (see pictures below).Besides teaching the children that they have to brush their teeth twice a day, we also taught about choosing the right kinds of food and avoiding too much sugar in their diet.

We used visual aids such as posters and plastic teeth models.

There were funny moments when we asked the children why they need good teeth – some of them answered “So that we have teeth to brush”.

Many children did have cavities and missing teeth, as you can see from the photos below. Fortunately, Richard the team dentist said that the decayed/missing teeth were mostly milk teeth so there is a chance that the next set of teeth will be better if the children learn to brush properly now.

After the first few teaching sessions, the team evaluated themselves and decided to simplify some parts of the lesson. For example, the children’s teeth were so small that asking them to brush in a circular motion was too hard so we changed it to a back and forth motion instead.

Furthermore, we had to teach the children how to hold the toothbrush properly so they could manipulate it in their mouths – this was added to the beginning of the lesson. During the lessons, we also made it a point to bend down and help the children so they could follow along better.

One parent told me that her daughter had never been taught how to brush her teeth and this made me realise even more the significance of what we were doing.

Many of the children were a little shy at first, but by the end of the 45-minute lesson, they would smile at us and say ‘Thank you’. Some even posed with some pomelo skins on their heads.

The principals and teachers of the 10 schools also warmly thanked us; they made sure to ply us with fresh coconut water (Ben Tre province is well known for growing coconuts) and would feed us snacks everywhere we went.

Appreciation award by local government 

A local news team filmed us in action on the second day of teaching. That was also the day we were given a certificate of commendation from the Ben Tre Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (see picture below right).

Some of us did not realise that the people of this region had been badly affected during the Vietnam War and once again, we were so thankful for the chance to bless through this trip.

The association had helped make the trip possible by connecting our local contact with the schools. We hope to partner with them again for future trips, for dental health as well as other community improvement projects. All the schools wanted us back and the provincial government representative told us the same thing so we are already planning more trips for late 2014/early 2015.

(For those who want to join a trip or support as sponsors, please contact Derrick [email protected] to express your interest!)

The 5 weekdays we spent in Ben Tre quickly whizzed by – Monday was dedicated to packing the items for the children (this was such an extensive exercise that we came up with a spoof song and dance routine for it – email us if you are interested to see the video, and we taught from Tuesday to Friday.

As we headed back to Ho Chi Minh, we carried with us the memory of the children’s smiles, and the gratitude of their teachers and parents. This trip was indeed a small but great beginning, and we look forward to future Hands of Hope missions to bless the country of Vietnam and its wonderful people.

Written by Jen Lee, Hope Church Brisbane