REI-Vietnam News

Ten Years Well Invested

by Randy Vernon |

Image: Ten Years Well Invested
Judy Fenlason with OT/PT team, biking to conduct a therapy workshop (2005)

Twenty years, actually, adding Cliff and Judy Fenlason’s REI tenures together. This month REI-Vietnam celebrates the many years of service of Cliff and Judy, who will be ending their formal contribution to REI the end of May 2014. Their professional and personal investment in the lives of the Vietnamese people has made a profound and permanent impact. Read more about their legacy…

How do YOU define “a life well lived?” A hefty bank account, nice cars, a passport full of visas to faraway places, hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter followers? Definitions differ, but we at REI see it as the intentional investing of one’s life in the lives of others, to see them flourish professionally and personally, and to see them do the same thing for the next generation (“Building people to build a nation,” to coin a phrase).

Cliff & Judy Fenlason in Philly

Cliff and Judy have been doing this in Vietnam with REI since 2004. Cliff has been the Deputy Director and the medical program coordinator. We recently asked them about the highlights of their years of service. “The key part for me,” Cliff said, “was helping professionals visiting Vietnam for a short term of service to make a long term impact on their Vietnamese counterparts, both professionally and personally.” Judy added, “I also had a deep desire to see our resident staff flourish, that they might be better able to invest their lives in the lives of the Vietnamese people.”

Much of Cliff and Judy’s service has been mobilizing, organizing and mentoring medical teams, specialists who share their expertise with Vietnamese doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Listing ten years’ worth of trips and training goes beyond the scope of this article, but one highlight was helping our Vietnamese partners host the ASEAN ENT Conference (that is, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Ear, Nose and Throat Conference) some years ago in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Our team of 22 presenters and facilitators, joined by another 15 for another week in Hanoi, made this our largest team ever. The conference was such a success, and our doctors’ contributions so vital over many years leading up to it, that afterwards the Ministry of Health honored REI-Vietnam with a reception and awarded five of our leading ENT doctor-surgeons, and REI itself, the prestigious Ho Chi Minh medals.

Cliff and Judy with medical team in November 2011.

But if impact comes on a nationally-recognized level, it also comes quietly and unacclaimed. Over the years Cliff and Judy helped a number of our Vietnamese health professional friends come to the USA on REI Fellowships, 3-12-week visits for exposure and learning sponsored by one or several of our doctors. At one unforgettable event in HCMC, a farewell for our first ENT team leader, Ron & Margi Bailey, several former REI Fellows raved about their experience of being brought into the Bailey home and virtually adopted as part of the family, something unthinkable in their home culture. They were welcomed not only as professional colleagues, but also as friends and family. “We will never be the same!” one REI Fellow said. Cliff and Judy have likewise welcomed ten Vietnamese Fellows and other visiting Vietnamese friends into their Gig Harbor home. Whenever back in Vietnam they make a point of deepening those relationships. Our Vietnamese representative, Ms. Lien, and her husband are an endeared part of that too.

Dr. Anh and extended family with Cliff and Judy. Cliff and Judy with Ms. Tram of HCMC Health Dept

One special relationship that Cliff and Judy treasure is with a sharp young man and his family. REI professionals first met Thu when he was a student. One funded a scholarship to help him complete school. Cliff met him a few years later after he’d graduated and been tasked with developing a new department at Hanoi University (HANU). Shortly thereafter Cliff welcomed Thu to Portland when he moved there to further his education through a PhD program. After Thu went home to get married and brought his wife, Quynh Anh, to the USA also, they exchanged numerous visits between Oregon and Washington state. Cliff and Judy were like surrogate grandparents on the scene when their first child was born and celebrated with them at Thu’s graduation. Now Thu is back at HANU more professionally equipped and personally prepared for building Vietnam. This is at the heart of Cliff and Judy’s service: not just professional training, not just teaching, not just advice—but enfolding people in caring relationships, for a lifetime.

Thu and Quynh Anh with Cliff and Judy on a ferry near Seattle. Cliff on boat in jungle river. Cliff and Carrie in exercise group on Hoan Kiem Lake

Memories of people and places are etched on Cliff & Judy’s hearts. They say they’ll never forget the neighborhoods of Hanoi, the bustle of HCMC, the culture and history of Hue, nor the progressive city of DaNang. During their many trips to Vietnam they also got to see such exotic places as Da Lat, Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, Nha Trang, Lao Cai, Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Cam Ranh Bay and the Mekong River.

What’s next? Cliff emphasizes that they are NOT retiring, but merely stepping away from their leadership roles with REI-Vietnam in order to pursue other creative avenues of building people to build nations, as well as to spend a bit more time with their four adult children and their nine grandchildren. Issues of age, health and energy level underlie the decision, but Cliff and Judy are also excited about the younger generation stepping up into new roles and leading REI-Vietnam for the next ten years…and beyond.

REI-Vietnam leadership team

And so REI-Vietnam bids a fond and grateful farewell to Cliff and Judy, at least as full-time staff. They will be sorely missed, both in the USA and abroad. And they, too, leave a piece of their heart in Vietnam. (After a medevac flight Cliff also left his gall bladder in Singapore, but that’s a story for another time…)

Cám ơn (thank you), Cliff and Judy!

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