By Jen Bakken
DELANO, MN Though Elizabeth Hutter, a 2000 graduate of Delano High School, has done a lot of traveling, a recent trip to Vietnam will always hold a special place in her heart.
With an interest in southeast Asian culture and the desire to volunteer, Hutter spent five weeks working with children in orphanages.
The experience she brought with her, as a critical care registered nurse, enabled her to assist not only the disabled and ill children, but their caregivers, as well.
From helping with therapy, range-of-motion exercises, massage, administering medications, and daily living skills to much welcomed play time and hugs, Hutter fell in love with Vietnam.
Although the language barrier created a challenge at times, she said she felt safe, learned a great deal, and hopes to return one day.
“At first, it took some major convincing to get my mom’s OK with this, because she was scared I was going alone,” she said. “She didn’t understand why I wanted to go to another country instead of just helping here, but she came around.”
Through an online blog, Hutter kept in touch with her parents, Bob and Diane Hutter of Delano, her sister Emily Hutter, as well as many family and friends.
Thanks to those in support of her goal to help Vietnamese children, she arrived with suitcases full of baby wipes, bottles, clothing, toys, stickers, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, and much more.
In an Agent Orange victims’ baby orphanage, Hutter made a special connection with a 5-month-old boy named Dung (pronounced Yoong).
“I took him into my home for five days, because he needed treatments for bronchitis,” she remembered. “He was so cute, I wanted to take him home with me, and even though I couldn’t, it felt wonderful to return him healthier.”
Agent Orange was a herbicide used during the Vietnam War that has caused may health problems for the Vietnamese, as well as American servicemen, including cancers and birth defects.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the Vietnam War,” Hutter said. “There is still Agent Orange there. It is still causing birth defects and other health problems, and there’s said to be 3 million people living with the effects of Agent Orange.”
For Hutter, although the beauty of the country was breathtaking, it was difficult to witness the destruction of war that is still visible in areas. It surprised her to learn there are still landmines left behind, and about 8,000 people are killed or injured every year by them.
Most of her time was spent devoted to the needy children, but she was also able to do some sightseeing, including a visit to My Khe Beach, formerly known as China Beach to US soldiers.
“I felt like I experienced a piece of history,” she said. “In the book, ‘Letters From Vietnam’, there are several mentions of this beach.”
Once she became accustomed to being hot, eating a lot of rice, and taking cold showers, her travels in Da-Nang, Quang Ngai, Halong Bay, and other cities created many memories she will cherish forever.
“The entire experience with the children has changed me,” she said. “Even though I’m only one person, and couldn’t save the children of DaNang in five weeks, I am one person and have the power to make a difference in someone’s life.”
Hutter is now attending graduate school at Marquette University in Milwaukee. To read more about her thoughts and experiences in Vietnam, visit her blog at www.volunteerjournals.org/author/ehutter.