'It's all one world, and it needs to be a global effort'
It's hard to imagine anyone more suited to a relief mission to Vietnam than Sandy Cohen.
Cohen was part of a medical team that traveled to Vietnam March 20-April 3 to provide free medical exams to disadvantaged children in Kien Giang and Dong Thap provinces and Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. She owns Hartford-based Advanced Home Medical Supplies and she has two adopted children from Vietnam, nine-year-old Noah and eight-year-old Jesse, who also participated in the mission.
Cohen's sales rep at Medline, her largest donor for the mission, is Adam Pilachowski, who was adopted from Vietnam.
"I know many people feel that there are a lot of children who need help in this country, but my children were born in Vietnam, and that's a strong connection," Cohen said. "Plus, I really feel it's all one world, and it needs to be a global effort."
In all, 90 volunteers traveled to Vietnam with the Northfield, Minn.-based nonprofit Catalyst Foundation. In addition to providing medical exams to 600 children in three rural villages, they planned to help build 100 new homes, distribute one month's supply of rice to 300 families and donate new bikes to 200 children.
Cohen learned of the mission after she and her children attended a Vietnam culture camp run by the Catalyst Foundation.
"I have a friend from Connecticut who also has an adopted daughter from Vietnam and who attended the camp, and we went to a seminar on the expedition," she said. "We had been planning a back-to-the-homeland type of visit to Vietnam, but when we walked out of the seminar, we looked at each other and said, 'I guess we're not doing any kind of resort visit, are we?' After hearing of the needs over there, we couldn't in good conscience book our usual type of trip."
Cohen realizes her efforts represent only a small step toward improving the lives of disadvantaged children in Vietnam, but it's a step in the right direction.
"We hope we can pass on the data we gather-as far as the number of parasites, the types and the severity-to another group that has the funds to put in a safe and clean water system," she said. "We need to have proof of the need to get the attention of those groups. We wish we could skip the little steps, but we can't."
Cohen was able to secure donated supplies from Medline and a handful of other companies in the industry, as well as others outside the industry. Medline donated about $3,500 worth of aspirin, cold medications, dressings and other supplies.
"Sandy already is penciling me in for the next trip," said Pilachowski, who hasn't returned to Vietnam since his adoption. "I'm excited for her children. It's going to be a great bonding experience for them."
The mission marked Noah and Jesse's first trip back to Vietnam since their adoption.
"They're nervous," Cohen said. "My son is excited and my daughter keeps asking us, even though we've assured her, whether she's going to be left there. Isn't that heartbreaking? We've told her that even if she wanted to stay, she couldn't." HME