Maternal, newborn health and finding rhythm in Hanoi

I can’t believe I’m approaching the 3-month mark of my 6-month stay in this big, bustling city! I’m finally feeling like I’ve gotten into a good rhythm. When I first arrived, my senses were immediately overwhelmed by a chaotic mix of sights, smells, and sounds: an impenetrable sea of motorbikes swerving and weaving through narrow streets; a cacophony of high-pitched horns honking; a pungent clash of aromas wafting from the sizzling street meat and dizzying traffic fumes. I had arrived in the Old Quarter of Hanoi; thrust into the middle of the action. Those first few days were exhilarating, and exhausting.

The day after arriving I jumped right into my new role as Program Officer for Gender and Reproductive Health at the HealthBridge Foundation of Canada in Vietnam. HealthBridge Vietnam works on a number of public health-related programs, including building livable and inclusive cities, tobacco and alcohol control, nutrition, and reproductive health. My role involves supporting a new maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) project that will be implemented in the mountainous northwest region of Vietnam. The project will seek to improve access to quality health services for ethnic minority populations in the province of Son La.

While implementation of the project has not yet begun, I’ve been preparing background material to help inform a series of planning workshops that will take place in May to launch the project. My primary tasks so far have been to complete literature reviews on measuring, first, male and family member involvement in MNCH and, second, the quality of care for MNCH. Both factors – male and family involvement, and quality of care – are important determinants of MNCH outcomes and, as such, will be used to inform aspects of the project’s monitoring and evaluation framework.

Not only is the work engaging; so too is the work environment. There are currently 12 staff members at HealthBridge Vietnam, and everyone has been incredibly welcoming. Huong, dubbed the ‘master chef’, cooks nutritious and delicious meals for everyone in the office. When lunchtime rolls around, we all sit around a big table to eat and socialize. Even though the conversation is primarily in Vietnamese, I never feel left out, as often the person next to me will translate particularly important or funny bits of the conversation.

Another daily occurrence that I have come to enjoy very much is 4 o’clock stretching. Staff gather in one of the bigger office spaces and perform a series of stretches. After sitting in front of a computer screen all day, my body is certainly grateful for the movement. The slow and deliberate motion of the stretches is calming, bringing my body and mind into better balance. I think I’ve found a good rhythm here indeed.

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