Steamboat Springs Binh Rybacki, executive director of Children of Peace International, is taking a local group of volunteers to Vietnam in April to treat children in six orphanages, a leper colony and three villages who are in need of medical care.
Physicians' assistant Frani Jenkins, occupational therapist Carol Fleming and team organizer Joni Moss, all of Steamboat, will accompany Rybacki on the trip to Vietnam. Dates for the trip are April 14 to 27.
"It was an easy decision to make," Fleming said. "I'm going to go and use my background wherever I can."
She said once she met Rybacki, who lives in Loveland, and saw some slides of the children in Vietnam needing care, she knew it was something she wanted to do.
Rybacki said any volunteer, regardless of medical experience, is of extreme help. She said for every doctor there should be at least six volunteers. Although there are no doctors from Steamboat going, other doctors will make the trip.
An additional 10 people from New York, mostly surgeons, are going to Vietnam and will perform as many surgeries as they can during their stay. In addition to helping the children, the doctors will teach the local Vietnamese doctors new techniques as some of the children will require follow-up surgeries.
"The majority of the population has never even seen a doctor," Rybacki said.
Rybacki grew up in Vietnam and has firsthand knowledge of the problems facing the children there. She said she thinks she can start to make a difference by influencing the younger generations through education and love.
Children of Peace International, an organization that was founded by Rybacki, serves to build orphanages that provide a healthy environment for children in desperate need of care.
Medical missions are one thing the organization does for the children of Vietnam.
"People can blame the poverty and the way children are treated in Vietnam on many things, but I don't blame anyone," Rybacki said. "I'm just going to do something about it."
She said the problem of children living in poverty is such a widespread problem that people assume there is no long-term solution. Rybacki has told her volunteers not to get discouraged from their inability to help more than a fraction of the children in need.
She said the effect the organization has is small but that every life saved is worth the effort.
"The doctors on the missions get discouraged at first when they can't fix people and children come to them being diagnosed for the first time with leukemia or a disease they did not even know they had," she said.
Rybacki has kept in contact with many of her first orphans who are now making a decent living in Vietnam. Children of Peace International offers a place for disabled, blind and deaf children an opportunity to develop skills and be able to eventually support themselves in Vietnam.
She said she is proud to have former children from the orphanages attending college. The organization provides scholarships to children to attend school.
Rybacki plans to continue to expand the program but is unsure how at this time. Rybacki, who has donated 80 percent of her salary to the organization since she started it in 1993, was recently laid off from her 23-year job as an engineer. She said she doesn't know how everything will turn out but plans to work hard to raise money for the organization to continue to take care of the children in Vietnam.
"I'm a person of faith," she said.