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  • Writer's pictureREI

Because We Care

Updated: Jan 5

By James Kang, Vietnam, Country Leader


Gen Z Vietnamese students and graduates connected deeply with REI volunteer Terry, even though he is in his late 60s (old enough to be their grandfather) and from a different country and culture. I realized it's not just because Terry is relational (which I think is an overused word that simply means “friendly”), but I believe it’s because Terry cares about the students he meets with, and they know it. 

(r-l) Terry McHugh and his wife with Hien Dang (former HANU student) and An Ly (REI Exchange Fellow)

I read in Forbes about data from a ThinkLab research company that says Gen Z sees the world as a risky place (due to wars and economic recession) similar to how their great-grandparents’ “silent generation” viewed the world after World War II. This has earned Gen Z the description of “old souls in young bodies.” Other studies referred to Gen Z as “the generation that cares,” whether it is about climate, race, social justice, or poverty. 


This means that Gen Z resonates with people who genuinely care for them. This is why the Vietnamese students have such a special connection with Terry, who is mentoring them in business as a retired Fortune 500 executive in property investments. In fact, REI’s many business and medical short-term team volunteers sincerely connect with these Vietnamese students because they care about the people and the country of Vietnam from their hearts. This kind of caring plants seeds that can germinate someday and lead students and partners to have closer relationships with one another.

Dr. Jan Pryor (REI short-term medical team volunteer) teaching at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, Vietname

REI sends long-term staff and short-term professionals to train leaders in emerging nations so that they can train others – building their nations and bringing hope to future generations. This idea was a spark that began in Vietnam 30 years ago and is still going strong today. If someone asked me what it is that keeps this spark of fire going – the volunteers coming back year after year to help our friends, the Vietnamese people – I’d have to say, it's because they care. 


This year alone, REI in Vietnam worked to bring together two medical schools, a national medical school in Vietnam and a U.S. medical school ranked #5 in 2023, into a partnership to develop master's courses in bioethics in Vietnam. We also worked with the Vietnamese Society of Otorhinolaryngology to establish a training center with the U.S. Hough Ear Institute for Temporal Bone Surgery in Ho Chi Minh City. One of the American doctors developing this training center with REI said, "We will have one of the best temporal bone surgery training centers because of the collaboration between the U.S. and Vietnam doctors through REI in Vietnam."


Mr. Hung, REI Exchange Fellow (right with glasses) meeting with 13 Vietnamese graduates from Hanoi University who are interning at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO.

This year, we sent four Vietnamese Exchange Fellows – a university vice dean, a mid-wife, a university deputy dean, and a REI in Vietnam office intern – to the U.S. to train at our U.S. partner institutions. They lived with host families and experienced American day-to-day life and culture as well as professional training. Did you know that since late 2000, we have sent over 135 Vietnamese Exchange Fellows to the U.S. for training? They now occupy important positions at their respective institutions and bring a new culture to their workplace. 


One Vietnamese friend who spent time with REI volunteers said, "It was the first time that I had experienced being with people who seemed to care for who I am and not what I do. I have never experienced this before." 


"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." That has long motivated us at REI (Vietnam), and we are thankful to the staff and volunteers.

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