Vietnamese peacekeepers make deep impression in South Sudan

Thursday, 2020-01-23 11:33:46
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Members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 join in celebrating UN Day in Bentiu, South Sudan. (Photo: NDO/My Hanh)
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NDO – With their wholehearted dedication, Vietnamese blue beret soldiers wearing white blouses have made a deep impression on international friends and locals, as they successfully fulfilled their mission at Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 (LFH2.1) in South Sudan.

Nhan Dan Newspaper correspondent My Hanh recalled her memories with the Vietnamese soldiers at LFH2.1, as she spent one month living with them in the early days after they arrived in South Sudan. Their operation helps provide a better understanding of the value of peace and the meaning of the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission’s work which has been carried out by the international community to bring the best things possible to the country and people of South Sudan.

Fulfilling assigned tasks despite various challenges

Spending a year in a remote, disadvantaged war-torn country that is completely different from their peaceful Vietnam, the Vietnamese soldiers have successfully accomplished their international mission in South Sudan, after sacrifices and silent dedication to international duty, for the cause, the pride of the Fatherland and the honour of their units, their families and for themselves. Behind the proud achievements recognised by the UN and international friends are the great efforts of each member of LFH2.1 in overcoming all challenges in South Sudan to fulfil their tasks.

Although they were well-prepared both mentally and physically, going to a place like South Sudan to work in one of the toughest, hardest lands in the world, which has been devastated by civil war, was very challenging for the Vietnamese soldiers. In the early days of the mission, everything was new, from the environment to the working conditions and even the food, but they had to learn to adapt. Bentiu is known as one of the three most challenging stations of the UN Mission in South Sudan. Remnants of devastating warfare are still pervasive with abandoned houses, walls with bullet holes and rusty military vehicles peeking out from roadside bushes.

The path leading to the entrance of Vietnam's Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 in Bentiu.

In particular, hospitals in Bentiu were almost destroyed by the war. Doctor Captain Nguyen Thi Thu Ngan said that there were times when she was allowed to go outside the base to examine Bentiu government officials or military commanders. Visiting hospitals in Bentiu, she could understand more fully the brutality and nonsense of war here. There were paralysed patients that were not treated because there were no doctors, along with a lack of medicine, while the conditions in the local medical facilities were worse than any words could describe.

Here, when building a project, if enough materials were not prepared, it may take a month or even several months of waiting for the necessary materials to be transported to continue the construction work. Although the works are only container-style housing complexes, there are times when the construction work is interrupted due to waiting for materials from the capital city of Juba.

The Bentiu “airport".

The only way to reach the isolated area of Bentiu is to travel by air on UN arranged flights, but this is highly dependent on weather conditions. There is only one "airport", which is actually just a landing pad for helicopters because it is not paved. The "airport" is just a vacant lot, which can melt like hot chocolate when it rains, thus preventing aircraft from landing. Not to mention that the distance from the "airport" to Bentiu Base is only a few kilometres but sometimes it costs an hour to travel on the route as of potholes and subsidence.

Almost every early morning at Bentiu Base, the first thing to get used to is the noise of a mosquito-repellent sprayer. In places where malaria is a constant risk like South Sudan, this is an indispensable job for UN units. Along with that are the warnings to save water and be careful of malaria and rabies posted pretty much everywhere. But the most difficult is the fiery heat in the dry season with thick layers of dust or the mud on the roads when it rains.

A tough road in Bentiu.

Even if you have money you cannot buy what you need because there is no restaurant or shop. You must leave the base, to the gloomy town of Bentiu, to buy SIM cards or personal items or fresh food with limited volume. However, in Bentiu, the majority of UN staff do not have the opportunity to leave their workplace during their tenure, due to concerns about security and compliance with the Mission's safety regulations.

During their one year on duty in Bentiu, Vietnam’s LFH2.1 officials quickly adapted to the harsh conditions to perform their duties as physicians. They have done a good job in taking care of the health of UN staff and the local people, making a good impression on international friends.

Members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 relaxing.

The curious, creative and sociable Vietnamese "peace messengers"

When they first arrived, their barracks was bare and unshaded. After only a short time, Vietnam’s LFH2.1 at Bentiu Base had been completely changed and differentiated itself with a neat and tidy landscape covered with a fresh green colour. The difference is so impressive that the neighbouring units would visit to admire their Vietnamese peers. Vietnam’s LFH2.1 has become a model for others to study. They also asked for seeds and seedlings from the Vietnamese soldiers to plant in their own units to improve the landscape. The hot, arid weather in Africa has been conquered by the Vietnamese soldiers who always learn how to adapt to every situation and overcome all difficulties to carry out their tasks.

Land lotus planted outside Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1.

Under the caring hands of Vietnamese soldiers, trees and plants cover their station at Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 in South Sudan.

The movement to plant trees and vegetables was enthusiastically responded to by all of the staff at Vietnam’s LFH2.1. Watering trees and taking care of flowers and vegetable gardens is a favourite daily job not only for the logistics team but also for the doctors, who are used to working with stethoscopes, needles or scalpels.

Taking on a completely new task in a new environment for the first time, without any experience from previous colleagues, Vietnamese soldiers had to find ways to learn and make themselves adapt to the new life and new job in South Sudan. Captain Nguyen Hong Hai, the chief of nursing at the LFH2.1, shared that in his position, he had to learn a lot from his partners and even from other units around. Working in an international environment, with foreign units having experience in deploying these tasks before, it is important for Vietnamese soldiers to actively exchange and learn from them when performing tasks according to the UN standard process.

Meanwhile, Dinh Minh Ky also shared the joy of a chef who has contributed to leaving good feelings towards Vietnam’s LFH2.1 with international friends through the beauty of Vietnamese culinary culture. The hospital occasionally receives important guests and the chef, with the logistics team, was responsible preparing the meals to serve their distinguished guests many times. The dishes that international friends love the most are fried spring rolls, sticky rice and salad. Once, he and his teammates had to get up at 3 am to prepare dishes for the party. It was challenging as foods were limited but they must ensure enough dishes for the party, sometimes serving hundreds of people. However, in return, after each successful party, Ky had the pleasure of receiving compliments about Vietnamese food from international guests. They sent emails to the hospital to thank the hosts for their kindness and to praise the delicious Vietnamese foods.

Members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 during a cooking contest at their station at the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan.

In addition to their duties as medical soldiers, the Vietnamese blue beret soldiers at LFH2.1 are always aware of themselves as "peace messengers" from Vietnam. Not only do they fulfil their mission as blue beret soldiers, they also bring along friendship and are always ready to help not only South Sudanese people but also their surrounding friends. The Vietnamese hospitals often provides professional support to level 1 field hospitals at lower levels, supporting them in disposing of medical waste and sanitising to prevent epidemics. Vietnam’s LFH2.1 is also willing to share oxygen to other hospitals as much as possible. In response, the surrounding international units, such as those from India and Mongolia, are also always ready to send staff and equipment to assist their Vietnamese peers in necessary work such as repairing the roads around their barracks.

Vietnam's imprint

Coming to Bentiu, officials and employees from Vietnam’s LFH2.1 have promoted the spirit of "good physician as good mother", giving their patients peace of mind and trust. There were cases when the patients who were brought in were not allowed to be admitted, but the hospital still had the flexibility to request and receive permission from the Mission’s Medical Division to be allowed to treat such patients. The Vietnam medical soldiers on duty in Bentiu always upheld the spirit of “as a doctor, you should not refuse to treat any patient" who was taken to the hospital. Every month, Vietnam’s LFH2.1 assesses patient satisfaction through a vote of confidence, and they always receive a high level of satisfaction, reaching an average rate of 94-100%. The hospital always ensures the quality of treatment for patients, without any unfortunate incidents.

Air transport for a patient of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1.

The medical commander of the Mission, the Head of Bentiu Base and leaders from other units in the area have highly appreciated the professional qualifications, the quality of treatment and the attitude in contacting with patients from the Vietnamese soldiers. At the pre-deployment stage for Vietnam’s LFH2.1, during his visit to Vietnam to evaluate the ability to deploy the hospital in South Sudan, Iqbal Mohd, Chief Medical Officer of the UN Mission in South Sudan, was convinced of Vietnam's capacity compared to other countries in the region. He said that before going to Military Hospital 175 in Ho Chi Minh City, the unit responsible for establishing LFH2.1, he had held video discussions with doctors and checked the quality of the treatment standards at Military Hospital 175. What Vietnamese medical doctors displayed in the garrison in South Sudan was very worthy of the trust and satisfaction of Iqbal Mohd in the professional quality in those first qualification tests.

Military physician Nguyen Thi Thu Ngan (R) talks to her male colleague inside the canvas tent where Vietnam's Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 operated in their early days in Bentiu.

Doctor Nguyen Thi Thu Ngan spoke about a special case she had handled for the wife of the Bentiu Governor. The "VIP" patient came to Vietnam’s LFH2.1 in critical condition because of malaria and typhoid during pregnancy, with a high risk of miscarriage. However, the doctors at LFH2.1 successfully rescued the patient from the dangerous stage and safely transported her to a higher level hospital. Finally, the VIP patient made a healthy delivery.

In one year on duty, seven cases of severe patients were successfully and safely taken by Vietnam’s LFH2.1 air rescue team to higher level hospitals in Juba, affirming the professional capacity and skills of Vietnamese physicians. Transporting patients by air is a special task with many challenges. The condition of medical equipment carried on board must be ensured to maintain the life and health status of patients until they are handed over to hospitals in Juba. In just a short time, the patient can die from any condition in the helicopter because its high vibration and the noise can make the doctors lose their concentration, which can lead to be unable to recognise in time the signs of a patients’ health turning bad in the helicopter.

According to the Vietnam Department of Peacekeeping Operations, after more than 12 months of officially taking over from the UK level 2 field hospital, Vietnam’s LFH2.1 received and treated a total of 2,022 patients, including 1,958 outpatients, 64 inpatients, and 62 surgeries. The Vietnamese health workers strictly complied with the regulations on medical examination and treatment and the medical report set by the UN, while maintaining full professional regimes on briefings, disease review and drug and medical equipment storage.

A certificate of commendation granted to the Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 by Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan.

Lieutenant General Shailesh Tinaikar, Force Commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan, said that Vietnam’s hospital is among the best providers of health care services to UN staff and locals when required.

For her part, Hiroko Hirahara, Head of UN Mission in South Sudan’s Bentiu Field Office, has many times expressed her appreciation and sincere thanks to Vietnam’s LFH2.1 for their positive and effective contributions to healthcare for UN staff and local people.

Vietnam warmly welcomed in South Sudan

The spirit and determination of the Vietnamese medical soldiers in Bentiu has left a good impression not only on the UN mission leaders but also with the leaders of the local government and the people. Wherever Vietnamese medical officers come, they are always welcomed by the local people hailing "Vietnam, Vietnam!".

A female members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 with South Sudan children. (Photo: NDO/My Hanh)

Female members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 with South Sudan children.

“We are very proud to have contributed a small part in honouring the image of Vietnam in the country where many others are joining hands to carry out the UN peacekeeping mission. You must come here to see how proud you are to see the Vietnamese flag flying next to the UN and other countries’ flags. The pride is so visible that it seems it can be touched…,” Captain Nguyen Hong Hai, the chief of nursing at Vietnam’s LFH2.1, recalled the times he and his teammates made contact with South Sudanese people and felt their love for the Vietnamese doctors.

Captain Nguyen Hong Hai (R), the chief of nursing at Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1, and his teammate outside the hospital. (Photo: NDO/My Hanh)

Before arriving in Bentiu, the officers and employees at Vietnam’s LFH2.1 heard about the good feelings of Africans in general and South Sudanese people in particular for Vietnam. These are stories told by Vietnamese officers who have been deployed to join UN missions on an individual basis in Central African Republic and South Sudan, but when arriving in South Sudan and directly participating in the peacekeeping mission there, Vietnam’s LFH2.1 were actually insiders. For the Vietnamese soldiers wearing white blouses in South Sudan, the Fatherland in their hearts has always been a source of great spiritual encouragement that adds strength and energy to help them overcome difficulties to complete their tasks.

Members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 cherish their national flag.

Vietnam’s national flag flying in South Sudan.

With such spirit and energy, maybe the 10 female soldiers at Vietnam’s LFH2.1 are the ones who understand more than anyone else that they have surpassed themselves to fulfil their tasks. Leaving aside the work of a wife and a mother, the Vietnamese female soldiers, with their strong will and determination to be trained in the army, did not appear inferior compared to their male colleagues on adaptability in life and at work in South Sudan. Their solid rear are their supportive husbands, good children and the assistance from their families at home. It is these things that make them feel more secure in their work far away from Vietnam.

Military nurse To Thi Kieu Chinh during a training on patient reception at Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1.

As for the young unmarried girls at Vietnam’s LFH2.1, like nurse To Thi Kieu Chinh, a year on international duty in Bentiu is also a year she was energised to rise up in life, that is, in any situation, never losing faith and always striving forward. "It was the Africans, who are in disadvantages because of the war but never lost their faith in life, taught me that lesson," Kieu Chinh said. "When I return home, I will miss this land, the people and the special work here."

Female members of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 capture a working moment in South Sudan.

Ten elegant female soldiers of Vietnam’s Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 dressing in Vietnamese traditional dress.

In extreme African climates, there is a risk of insecurity but the Vietnamese soldiers have never lost their optimism. The kindness in hardship shined even more brightly. With the spirit of solidarity, love and sharing, together they overcame each difficult situation and adapted to the deprived life of soldiers far from their homeland. Encouraging each other with smiles, a year on duty with their comrades and teammates is a year in which they share together the sadness and difficulties in work and in life.

Vietnam's flag flies high at the entrance of the Level-2 Field Hospital No. 1 in South Sudan.

It is hard to tell all about the Vietnamese blue-helmet medical soldiers on duty on the front lines for their ideals and meaningful international missions. However, it can be firmly stated that the will and spirit of Vietnamese in Bentiu have laid unforgettable memories in the hearts of international friends. Those are also the beautiful impressions that Vietnamese blue beret soldiers have left on the country and the people of South Sudan.

By: My Hanh - Nguyen Minh