A world of good: Part 1 - healing the sick
Headlines can cause heartache. Images from around the world can drain our optimism with depictions of hunger, persecution, illness, and poverty. Storms wreak tragic devastation on communities. Can local Catholics make a difference with problems of, literally, global proportions?
Just look around the pews and you’ll find individuals and organizations helping with international issues. Like the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke, their love for their neighbor doesn’t recognize nationality.
For some it’s a professional calling, others balance their passion to serve with their career and family commitments. But each of them demonstrates “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Part 1: Healing the Sick
Dr. Tram Nguyen remembers when she found her passion.
The Vietnamese immigrant was about 15 years old when she saw an ad for Operation Smile, an organization that repairs cleft lips and palates in children around the world. Her “heart froze,” she said, and she knew, “I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be part of that team.”
Two decades later, she’s formed her own team, Hand-in-Hand Share Missions, which includes physicians, therapists, dentists, optometrists, and others. Since its founding in 2015, the organization has made nine mission trips to some of the poorest villages in Vietnam and provided care to more than 10,000 patients.
Although medical care is its primary focus, Hand-in-Hand Share Missions builds clean water systems for communities rife with intestinal parasites and provides funds for education. An orphanage for mentally and physically disabled children is another special project. The nonprofit funds a therapy room and caretakers for the children, who previously were chained to their beds.
Mission days begin with Mass at 6:30 a.m., “to keep the Lord at the center of the mission,” the Vietnamese Martyrs parishioner explained, and includes prayer as their work begins and ends each day.
Nuns and priests in Vietnam, along with the international Catholic relief agency Caritas, sustain their efforts between mission trips. Stateside, parishioners in the Diocese of Fort Worth make up most of the practical and financial support.
Nguyen has always made a habit to “share my gifts – whatever I have. I’ve always had a passion for helping others wherever I’m at... to do something to give back, to share with other people.”
In high school and college, that drive manifested as painting nails at a nursing home. In medical school, she tutored students in the local school and organized fundraisers to purchase school supplies and meals for them.
During her residency program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Temple, she accompanied a physician on missions to Nicaragua each of her three years there. Not only did the service fuel her passion, but it taught her invaluable lessons she applied on subsequent missions to Vietnam.
COVID travel restrictions have forced Hand-in-Hand to concentrate on domestic mission work. As they did last year, the nonprofit provided free health screenings, dental work, and vaccinations at Vietnamese Martyrs Parish in Arlington in November. Last year about 500 benefited; this year 354 were served by 170 volunteers.
Building a team is critical for any mission’s success and longevity, according to Nguyen. A big plus for local missions — it allows teen volunteers to join. She said, “Youth is able to see the work that we do, and see us, as a Christian, as a Catholic, how we live… so that the kids when they grow up say, ‘I want to be a Catholic like that.’”