Student Travels to Vietnam to do Research for Her New Club

Imagine traveling to a completely foreign country to help strangers, all on your own. While most kids join clubs at the school, most club activities happen during school hours. However, for junior Michelle Albright, her club became an intense reality. Over Holiday Break, Michelle traveled to the other side of the world to gather research for her club.

Michelle recently started a club at the school called A Step in the Right Direction. The club is focused on giving monetary support to a group of mostly local podiatrists (from San Francisco, Chicago and Israel). The podiatrists have been taking trips to Vietnam for the last 14 years helping people who are unable to afford fixing their foot problems. The podiatrists choose to work in Vietnam because of the high need for surgeries. Local Vietnamese doctors are not able to perform certain surgeries while the podiatrists are able to operate and teach the local doctors better techniques. The club supports the International Extremity Project, which helps people of all ages with their foot problems, but focuses mainly on helping children.
Michelle was inspired by her dad, who is friends with the podiatrists and has already participated in multiple fundraising events for the cause. Since Los Altos is so far away from Vietnam, it is hard for Michelle and her club to do much for the cause besides fundraising. Therefore, this Holiday Break, Michelle had the opportunity to go with her dad to Vietnam and participate hands on with the project, while researching for her club back here in Los Altos.

“We flew from San Francisco to Taiwan… then we flew from Taiwan to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which took three hours, and then we drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho which took like four-and-a-half to five hours,” Michelle said. “So it was a solid 24 hours of travel.”

On her first day in Can Tho, Vietnam, Michelle and the rest of her group went into a hospital at around eight in the morning to begin the screening process of the patients; people with severe foot problems. Michelle participated by taking pictures of the patients, taking videos of how they walked and inputting information into the computers while the doctors examined the patients’ feet.

“We had the doctors look at them to decide whether they should have surgery, rehab, if they need to go see a child therapist or if we just couldn’t do anything,” Michelle said.

Overall, the group screened 86 patients in 2 days and signed 34 of them up for surgery. Michelle was able to see how successful the project was, after seeing the improvement of patients over two years.

“There was one person in particular who came in last time,” Michelle said. “He couldn’t even walk; his parents had to carry him in. They didn’t think that they could do much but they put him in surgery, just to see if they could fix something. [After the surgery] he came in walking all by himself. The doctor started crying … it was great to see.”

Although Michelle did not partake in the actual procedures, she observed them from the inside of the operating room.

“The first day was probably the hardest because it’s such a big thing to experience for the first time,” Michelle said. “Just cause seeming them prepping for surgery got me a little nauseated. But on the second day when we did more surgeries it was a bit easier on my stomach.”

After her trip to Vietnam, Michelle plans on continuing to help the cause by using her experiences from her trip to inspire others and raise awareness. Although her club started after club day, the club now has around 10 people that are focused on the goal and are planning on getting more involved.

“I think we’re just going to focus on fundraising right now,” Michelle said. “That’s a big part of what we can do, because you know we don’t have the experience to actually help with the procedures or since it’s such a foreign country that’s hard to get to, it’d be hard to get kids to go there, at least in the early stages of this club.”

Michelle’s trip to Vietnam was an eye-opening experience that has given her a new perspective on her everyday life.

“It was just a really humbling experience to know that you don’t have a lot of problems,” Michelle said. “When you think of the people there who are taking life as it is. They can’t walk but they’re still smiling after everything.”