NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is New Year’s Day, 2020. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Bringing hope in Vietnam.
In the center of the country lies rural Quang Nam Province. Healthcare services are hard to come by, but even harder to find is therapy for children with disabilities. Those were practically non-existent— until two years ago, when an American occupational therapist arrived and Hope Therapy Center was born.
WORLD Radio’s Kim Henderson has the story.
KIM HENDERSON, REPORTER: Caroline Mroeic stands out in Vietnam. She’s tall, her hair is light and curly. And her skills are uncommon.
MROIEC: I first became interested in occupational therapy when I was in high school. Occupational therapy strives to treat the whole person . . .
AUDIO: [SOUND OF CHRISTIANS SINGING IN VIETNAMESE ]
She moved to Da Nang in 2018, when she was 26 years old. She says Vietnam’s Buddhist, communist culture needs the gospel.
MROIEC: There are little altars everywhere in businesses and in homes, um, to honor their ancestors. Um, there’s usually a little shrine or a picture of Ho Chi Minh up in people’s houses or businesses.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF VAN DRIVER]
Mroiec’s assignment was to start a pediatric therapy center in a remote spot, 40-minutes from Da Nang. A government official joined her when she began screening clients.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF VIETNAMESE SPEECH]
MROIEC: They had a list of, um, over 800 kids and all these kids had some kind of medical condition or disability . . .
They went house to house, leaving Mroiec to start with a caseload of 10 patients. Now, it’s up to 30.
They offer group and individual therapy sessions, like the ones that helped a 10-year-old girl with arthritis.
MROIEC: We did a lot of resistance training and Pilates, bar workouts. I would try to make them sort of ballet inspired so it’d be fun for her.
Also, weight-bearing exercise on the center’s rock-climbing wall helped the young girl’s joints. Within a month, her caregiver reported the child was making great progress. For the first time, she was experiencing less pain and fatigue.
And Mroiec was making inroads.
MROIEC: The kids are so friendly and open and always bringing in, you know, bananas from their backyard or, um, they’ll share their rice harvest with us.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF MROIEC INTERACTING WITH CHILD DURING THERAPY]
Being by herself is the hardest part for the Illinois native. In Vietnam, there’s no team of professionals involved in the patient’s care. No pediatricians, no full medical history to consult, no schools offering speech therapy.
Another difference is the cultural view of disability.
MROIEC: . . . blaming the parents or the child for that disability, that puts a lot of guilt and pain onto the parents . . .
That often makes life even more difficult for families. Like this grandmother.
MROIEC: She wakes up at three in the morning, takes care of the farm animals, um, does the house homework and then she brings her grandchild to school so that she can carry him up and down the stairs because he can’t walk.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF THERAPY]
Mroeic faces many challenges as a therapist. Some are universal to the job, others are unique to Vietnam. In the remote village, one mom struggles with mental illness, another dabbles in darkness as a fortune teller. Sometimes Mroeic recognizes the signs of abuse.
MROEIC: That’s been extremely difficult to deal with because it’s not handled here like it would be in the U.S. . . .
Mroiec says the pain and suffering she sees can be overwhelming. She’s tempted to deal with those challenges in two ways—neither are helpful in the long run.
MROIEC: One is to kind of try to close off my heart and, and protect myself from being close and letting my heart get broken by their situation. Another way is being close and taking on their burden and getting burnt out.
Instead, she’s learned to trust in God’s sovereignty.
MROIEC: . . just turning the burden over to Him and trusting that all of this is in His hands.
And she’s coming to see how much God has given her. A supportive Christian family, education, a U.S. passport that can get her into countries like Vietnam.
MROIEC: God has really been opening my eyes to what my responsibility is and being a good steward of those resources.
Still, while Mroiec invests in families in Vietnam, she misses hers back home in Illinois.
AUDIO: [SOUND OF MROIEC FACETIMING HER FAMILY]
They FaceTime when they can, and the ministry has become a family affair. Last year her brother, Miles, helped the center in a big way.
Non-verbal kids at the center needed an alternative communication device. For his college senior project, Miles developed an app they could use in Vietnamese.
AUDIO: [SOUND FROM CENTER]
Mroiec’s two-year commitment ends in March, but she’s thinking of extending until the ministry finds a replacement. It would be hard to leave the wobbly toddlers chasing rubber balls across the center’s tile floor. And the teenager with autism who delights in bubbles.
MROIEC: Kids, just connect so easily. They respond so, positively when, um, somebody shows attention and I’m just so grateful for that and that they are willing to listen to my advice.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kim Henderson.