"Helen Keller International in Vietnam (HKIVN) was my first full time work experience in the field of public health. I was an American graduate assistant studying for my Master's in Sustainable Development at the SIT Graduate Institute during my assignment, and I was the only American in the Hanoi office most of the time.
As a program assistant with the ChildSight(r) Program, I was challenged to put my theoretical knowledge into practice in order to scale-up impact of HKI's eye health programming. I assisted with many aspects of program implementation in Hanoi, Ha Dong and Kon Tum such as planning, writing grant requests, and editing and creating project reports.
What I liked most about the HKIVN office was the family atmosphere and feeling of closeness as a group. We were a small team with a lot of responsibility and yet we were able to deliver very significant eye health improvements to our many thousands of program participants in Northern and Central Vietnam. As an American who speaks Vietnamese, I was also allowed to practice my Vietnamese on the job which was very exciting for me! It helped to build my professional vocabulary, and played a big role in my becoming a professional Vietnamese medical interpreter in the US two years later, in 2015.
I also came away from my experience at HKIVN with more awareness of eye health and the complicated relationship between genetic, behavioral and environmental causes of refractive errors. I found it fascinating that rural children in Vietnam often live below the national poverty line but experience perfect eyesight, while their urban, middle class counterparts often develop substantial degrees of near-sightedness at early ages which can become progressively worse over the course of their lives. I even made this one of the learning focuses of my Master's capstone paper after completing my internship with HKIVN in 2013.
Leaving Hanoi after only six months was hard. I grew to love the city, the cultural and professional environment at HKIVN and all of my new friends. I would gladly work again for Helen Keller International in the future and recommend HKIVN to any master's degree student studying development, NGO management or public health. In fact, the staff even provided me an extra day off during the week in my contract so that I could do research for my Master's capstone paper at the SIT Graduate Institute!
Bradley Owen, M.A. Sustainable Development
Vietnamese Medical Interpreter