What is the most important part of a car? Wheels, fenders, radiator? Any vehicle will require a number of necessary parts to function properly, but most people would agree that the engine is the most crucial element. In REI-Vietnam, we might consider our Hanoi Project Office as the engine (or at least the engine block) of our work in Vietnam.
Three dedicated people currently serve REI in the Hanoi Project Office— Mrs. Tran Phuong Lien, Mr. Pham Van Toan, and Ms. Nguyen Thi Hai. Their tasks are many and varied, and often require being quick on one’s feet as unanticipated needs pop up suddenly. Even the so-called “routine” tasks take a lot of energy and perseverance.
Since its inception in 1996 Lien has led our Hanoi office. (She was also part of REI’s initial survey team in 1992 and came on board shortly thereafter, so if anyone knows REI-Vietnam, it is Lien!) As Head of Project Office, Lien represents REI to the Vietnamese government, and the government to REI. Everything that takes place under the name of REI comes under her watchful eye.
Which actually entails quite a lot. One of the most time-consuming responsibilities is setting up the program and logistics of REI’s volunteer short-term teams. If you have ever directed a major event, you have some idea of the amount of behind-the-scenes work involved. Every team will be a little different, but take the case of a surgical medical team, for example:
Who is coming? The office needs each person’s CV, current medical license, and biography. This is so that they can obtain each volunteer’s official visa, in order to work in REI's partner hospitals.
What will they do? The office must prepare the program for each volunteer. Where will they work and when? This requires a good deal of back and forth with each hospital. And once the program is set and the teams arrive, the office staff will accompany the volunteers as they serve in their various venues.
How will the volunteers get to the hospitals? The office must arrange for transport for each volunteer to and from their workplace.
Where will they stay? The office arranges housing for each team member. Sometimes this is straightforward, but some of our teams might visit three or more cities, plus some break time on the weekend. Add domestic travel on top of that, and the job gets bigger!
How will they get to Vietnam? Some of our volunteers arrange their own travel, others might work with our HQ in Colorado Springs, but others request that travel arrangements be made on their behalf by the Hanoi office.
How will they get to their hotel from the airport? With the help of the Hanoi office staff, who also see them off on their way home.
What about special requests? Like finding a certain sought-after item to purchase, or needing a special license for a piece of medical equipment, or getting permission to visit a limited-access area of the country, or wrangling with the baggage people about an oversized or overweight piece of luggage, or arranging a weekend holiday... the list goes on and on.
REI also has an expatriate resident team, who work full-time in different universities and hospitals in Hanoi and sometimes outside of the city. Lien and her team are the ones to help develop the Memorandums of Understanding between our resident volunteers and our partner institutions, as well as help obtain appropriate visas. The Hanoi Project Office also works with the Resident Team Leader to provide adequate supervision and guidance in navigating the culture and official requirements.
All this, and much more! Submitting required reports to the Vietnamese government periodically, applying periodically for the renewal of REI’s license to operate in Vietnam, maintaining ties with our close Vietnamese partners...
Vroom, vroom. Can you hear the motor?
Meet the Project Office staff:
Lien, married to husband Long, mother of two adult sons and grandmother of three little girls. Clearly the lynchpin of REI's Hanoi office, when Lien speaks we all listen. “I’m happy to work with my team,” Lien says. “They are hard workers, and we get along well.”
Toan, in his mid-30’s, married, with one 4-year-old son and one 2 ½-year-old daughter. Toan came to work with REI in July 2016, and now focuses on the volunteer medical teams. “A volunteer, Dr. Walter Lee, told me early on that this job would change my life,” Toan says. “I’m seeing that he was right. I feel very lucky to be a member of the REI family.”
Hai, our newest office staff member, who succeeded Nguyen Thi Nga (now studying at Azusa Pacific University in California), began working for REI in September 2018, and focuses on our business teams. “I want to introduce our business team members to Vietnam, not just to the universities where they teach,” Hai says. “I love how our volunteers are eager to spend time, energy and money to help my country. And I love how the learning is reciprocal!”
And a young lady named Tuyet also helps in the office with maintenance and errands.
If you have not yet personally met our Hanoi Project Office staff, may we invite you to consider coming to Vietnam with one of our volunteer teams? You will not only hear the motor running first-hand, but you will yourself make a significant contribution to this special place, as we continue building people to build nations!