Volunteerism as Videographer in Vietnam Begins
Just Say Yes
Volunteerism, unlike a full-time job, allows you to bring to life and apply your skills, ambitions, teamwork, and facets your current day job may never call upon. This I was to discover by exploring a simple wonder that kept bothering and enticing me to take action.
As I walked past our community TV station for coffee several times a week, I kept looking at their offices and wondering, “Is there a way I can get Laverne and her children’s charity some airtime and visibility? Her charity, No Ordinary Journey Foundation (NOJF) is doing such cool work in Vietnam, helping children stricken with cerebral palsy (CP). Working for western’s Canada’s primary cable provider, I already had an in, knew many of the TV production staff, and was just transitioning into my own videography, after years speaking in Toastmasters and producing my podcast series for several years. I asked her if I can drop her name and she said go ahead. I contacted the station manager and explained, as they were always looking for local success stories like this to feature on their community TV station. He was interested and I set up a 1-hour exploratory meeting with the 3 of us. When meeting day came, I met Laverne at our main office, introduced her to our station manager, and began the meeting. The video we created that was aired on Shaw TV in June of 2014 can be seen here Cerebral Palsy Volunteer Mission in Vietnam – March/2014
Over the full hour, Laverne explained how her charity and purpose started, having a daughter with severe cerebral palsy. With dampened eyes, our station manager said, “This would make a great story for us to profile on our TV series”. We were in. With application in-hand, our meeting was a success, and moments after, both elated, as Laverne and I were walking out, she turned to me and asked, “Would you like to come along and be our videographer?” Never in my life did I respond “YES” so fast. Her next mission to Vietnam was only 4 months away. Did I have all the video gear I needed? Could I get 3 weeks off work? How was I going to tell my wife?
Laverne’s charity missions were simple. Gathering local health care volunteers, being of physiotherapy, nurse, and caregiver professions, I was to be a fly on the wall, hovering over everyone with my video camera, catching them in action. In total there were 8 of us plus several young health care professional “to-be” volunteers from Vietnam. The mission was for 3 weeks and comprised of delivering 2-day workshops at various rehabilitation hospitals across Vietnam. Having a solid contact in Vietnam, up to 40 mothers and their cerebral palsy-stricken children would be sourced, invited, and attending. You can meet our team here with my video tribute to them – “Hue in a Day”
Our volunteers would lead parents and their children through rotating 2-hour one-on-one breakout sessions, showing first-hand how to exercise their children and use mechanical aids to help the children lead better and independent lives. We all stayed in the same hotel, so our daily routine began with a 6 am team breakfast in the restaurant. By 7 am we were on the road for a 1-hour ride to the rehab hospital. Up to 9 am the parents were arriving on their motorbikes with their children. With the local staff and officials, we would have a full room of near 80. For me, along with videography work, it gave me insight into my other passion; LEADERSHIP. This experience helped me share my learnings with my article, “Vietnam – My Lessons Learned in Leadership”.
My Videography Career Begins
Introductions and an explanation of what and how NOJF does was done ceremoniously, with their local officials attending. But the best part, was when we handed the mic in an orderly fashion to each mother, in sequence, to have them share with everyone, THEIR story; their story of how they first learned that their child had CP and would never get better. Several mothers broke down and cried. Then, our local ex-pat who was our lead interpreter leans over to me and says, “These mothers are telling their stories in public for the first time. No one has ever asked them. No one has ever cared!” That revelation moved me and I knew my video story here is something the world needs to see and hear. Seeing those mothers holding their children, ranging in age from 8 months to 15 years was heart-breaking. But I knew this is what I wanted to do; capturing stories like this – their stories.
Our traveling 2-day missions took us from 2 hospitals in Saigon to 2 in Hue. That gave me a good cross-section of Vietnam to observe.
Our days were long, arriving back at our hotel by 5 pm. I was on my feet the entire day, always moving and finding the most optimum video shot. I didn’t want to miss anything. During those full days, we got to meet, talk and play with their children. The parents and children were treated to morning and afternoon snacks, including a full lunch, fully covered by the charity. It was a time for us all to connect. Arriving at the hotel, we would all take 1 hour to freshen up and all meet for dinner in the lobby. The best part was our daily debriefs during dinner, where each of us would talk in-turn about what we learned, saw, and felt that day; sharing our feelings and observations. I was not left out, as I watched (and captured) everything on video. As a team, we would always pick a different restaurant, café, or street vendor to dine from. It was a time for all of us to bond and build. We were all here together, giving of our time, for these parents and children, of very modest means. By 9 pm, we would turn in, having spent the full day in non-air-conditioned rooms. With temperatures near 30C, it was the high humidity that was a killer. After almost every lunch, many of the parents and children would have a 1-hour siesta, before starting our afternoon workshops.
My Routine For 3 Weeks
Back in my hotel room, my work was just beginning; doing backups, viewing my days’ videos, and charging all my batteries for the next day. By 11 pm I was turning in. Never have I awoken to an alarm clock. So here, I always slept with the room lights low and the TV on a local TV station I couldn’t understand. I slept until my first awakening, which was usually around 3 am. Arising, I would begin by constantly sipping water to prep for another long hot day. I archived each day’s videos into chronological folders, reviewing what I may have missed so I could capture that scene today. Each day I would shoot about 100+ segments totaling several hours. By 6 am we would all gather for our buffet breakfast and chat. By 7 am we were on our van to start our new day. I kept that routine for nearly 3 weeks, sleeping only 4 hours daily. Never once did I ever feel tired. I was on a videographer’s dream mission of being embedded in the middle of this mission. Evenings and weekends we would spend touring around VN, shopping, talking to many locals, exploring their culture, and trying their different foods. That is where my love for Vietnam began to build. I was raised happily and modestly in an agrarian prairie village back in Canada. So this was like going back to my childhood. I loved the food, the smells, and the people. Visiting markets and street vendors I was always captivated by the many smiles. I made good eye contact, as I couldn’t speak a single word.
Another fantastic thing our mission did was have us break into groups of 3 or 4 and do home visits. Each of our groups would visit a pre-selected family, so our therapists can assess first-hand, what the parents and children have for aids in their house; what their children may need. Some were within 15-minute walking, but some, like mine, were especially challenging. If the 1-hour bus ride from our hotel wasn’t enough, it was the final 20-minute motorbike ride we needed to make on a 5-foot wide concrete pathway meandering lush growth and waters in the Mekong Delta. A final 10-minute walk across a monkey bridge to a 2 room, grass-walled, hard-packed dirt floor to meet a 16-year-old boy, Canh, and his family. Born with his limbs mangled, he had to be carried everywhere and placed, in a ball. Once inside, we were met with nearly 15 of the family and friends for a 2-hour meet and interview which I was excited to video. When we came into the house, a quick tour led us to meet Canh their son. When I shook his hand and made eye contact, my father-in-law’s face flashed before me.
My father-in-law back in Canada had a similar warm glow with a soft smile that Canh reminded me of. My father-in-law was also severely stricken with a related neurological disease, Multiple Sclerosis. It was both moving and significant; leaving an impression on me which was to fully develop the next morning.
A highlight for us was that a producer and cameraman from VTV4, Vietnam’s international English broadcaster based in Hanoi, would be following us for several days to do a documentary about No Ordinary Journey Foundation for airing on their local stations. With my 6-minute tribute video to our team, it was decided by our local TV station to use mine as an intro to their documentary, and with their permission, it was aired here in Western Canada. To view it and other videos I made while in Vietnam, please search for “Video-Connects” on YouTube.
Last Day Arrives With Affirmation To Me
It was now Friday, the last day of our mission. After the weekend of cultural exploration, we would be flying back to Canada early Monday morning. Slowly pulling ourselves together at 7 am in the lobby of our hotel, to collect for breakfast, I called my wife back in Canada to say hello and update her about our mission. Long before I left, we both decided to donate money for a wheelchair purchase on this mission; a wheelchair that would be given to the neediest CP child who could not walk. But we never spoke about this anymore. On that call, my wife said she finally went online and contributed, which was confirmed by Laverne with thanks, moments later. I shared my meeting with Canh on the previous day’s home visit. I told her how her father’s face flashed before me when I met and shook Canh’s hand. She replies, “Funny thing – that day of March 4, was exactly 4 months to the day, that her father with MS that I spoke of above, passed away. Being in Vietnam nearly 3 weeks, the last day of our mission, all tired and achieved with memories and many experiences, and this revelation was now confirming “a sign” – that what I was doing in Vietnam was right and good. I was in my element – what I was born to do – and I wanted to continue to do going forward – capturing real stories of real people – on the ground floor with video camera in-hand and narrated stories – hearing stories no one has ever heard, no one has ever shared, because no one has ever “cared to ask”.
After our 1 hour drive into the nearby rehab hospital, we sat outside watching all the parents bringing their children on motorbikes for our last session. On this mission, we had a specialist from Australia, Dr. Barry, who is Australia’s expert on cerebral palsy stricken children and would be assessing the severe mobility children on his flat table. Canh was being carried up the stairs. It was now his turn on the table. After his assessment, while twisting, turning, and flexing, Dr. Barry turns to Laverne and says, “There is nothing we can do for this boy, but he does need a wheelchair”. That’s when Laverne enlightens Dr. Barry with the arrival of our wheelchair donation just that morning. She turns to me and asks, “Do you want your wheelchair donation to go to Canh?” With passion I say, “Yes, of course. Canh is the 16-year-old boy we did our home visit with just yesterday”. Small world.
With our 3-week mission winding down, everything came together for me. On that last day, my story not only surfaced but solidified and was confirmed. My father-in-law’s passing was but a gateway of “paying it forward” to Canh here in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, with our gift of a wheelchair, so his parents wouldn’t have to carry him around and he could wheel himself around their yard. My story was just scripted. I came here to capture a story, but as a bonus, and even bigger, my story of signs, purpose, and mission surfaced. For me, it was a clear “sign” which I turned into a speech delivery for several of our local speaking events back in Calgary. It was the official birth of my videography business – Video-Connects.com.
My Return Visit Set For My Documentary
As the last day of our mission was wrapping up our team was measuring up Canh for his new wheelchair to be delivered in several weeks. After hearing how my dots came together that last day, Laverne says, “now you have to come back to do your story”. So it was set. Her return follow-up mission was about a year later. I already began to plan the return visit, where I would be collecting narrative, video clips, and pics to produce the story above in video. As we all found out, Vietnam is Awesome. This couldn’t be happening in a more deserving and welcoming country. I will be back.
Signs is what I firmly believe each and everyone has, to help guide us forward with what we should do in our life journey. It was a story I now had to capture in video. With that closing day, Laverne invited me to come back with them in a year to video my story on their follow-up mission. That would be my 2nd mission with this charity in August of 2015.
This was Mission #1 – March/2014 – Stay tuned for Part 2 – Mission #2 – Aug 2015 – My Return to produce my documentary