Friday, December 22, 2006

Cao Bang - and ADRA in Cao Bang

So, wow, I've officially survived my first work-week in Cao Bang town. At first I was afraid this week was going to be overwhelming and non-stop work - the first day certainly was! But fortunately things got much easier on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and I hit the weekend tired, but feeling much more confident.

On Tuesday afternoon, our first full day in the ADRA office, we had a meeting with peer educator leaders from the local high schools. At the end of the meeting one of the students asked me what I liked best about Cao Bang town. I told him that for now it must be the office - because that was the only thing I had seen at that point! Fortunately, that has changed, but only a little.

So here I'll give you a bit about my work as I will come to know it: I work for ADRA in Vietnam. ADRA is the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. As you might guess, it's associated with the Adventist church, the same church that sponsors the school where I did my MPH degree, Loma Linda University.

ADRA is structured a little differently than other international NGOs, mostly in that each country office is entirely it's own entity and ADRA in Washington DC (or Silver Springs MD to be more precise) is more of an umbrella organization to its numerous regional and country offices. ADRA in Vietnam is a small project, and Cao Bang province is currently its biggest office and project base (they also do cyclone relief projects in the south and they're currently thinking about expanding more permanently in the south by setting up a regional office in Ho Chi Minh City).

Here in Cao Bang there are currently 3 large projects with 14 full-time staff and 2 part-time staff who are shared with the Ministry of Health (2 of the full time staff are also seconded from the ministry). Here's a quick breakdown of the projects as I understand them:

  1. ACHI: Adolescents Choose Health Initiative - by far the largest project involving the majority of the staff and budget and basically our bread-and-butter. It mostly consists of two major components. The first is a youth education including sex education, substance abuse education and life skills education which are carried out by the field staff and peer educators. The second component is a counseling component. Here staff maintain a hotline telephone and website counseling service for adolescents who are encouraged to ask/send questions about love, life and growing up, and our fabulous staff gives them all the answers to life! Wish I were a Vietnamese youth...

  2. ENSADE: Enhancing Safe Delivery for Ethnic Minority Women - this is one of the founding ADRA projects and one that is so well established that we don't have to stress much about it any more. This project is in close partnership with the Ministry of Health and works on improving knowledge and training for rural health care providers in ensuring safe delivery and reaching of underserved and minority populations. Mostly we're just concerned with how to scale up this project.

  3. New Start - the New Start project is the newest project, and it is a tobacco, alcohol and substance abuse research project with the long term goal of establishing grounds for a substance abuse intervention in Cao Bang town. Badly needed, but not a lot of local capacity for dealing with these issues. So this one is going to need more time and attention.

Of course there's a lot more to it than all of that, but I'm still trying to figure it all out myself. Somehow I'm supposed to learn about all of these projects, timelines, budgets, staff, policies and procedures, implementation, etc., etc., etc., by the end of this week so I can officially take over on January 5th. Whew, it's a huge learning curve, but I'll get there in the end. I only hope it's fast enough because, of course, it's not that all could be running smoothly, but there are already bumps in the road that are only going to make it all more challenging. But it's a fantastic opportunity - and a fantastic staff to be working with. I really feel blessed to be in this place at this time.

I only wish I could say hello to the people on the street downstairs...sigh, all in good time...

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