Japanese volunteers work hard in Vietnam's remote corners

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Yutaka Kuroda (left), 31, a Japanese physical therapist volunteering in Vietnam, chats with a patient in Vietnamese at a Lam Dong Province hospital

Tomoko Tateno used to cry constantly when she first came to Vietnam seven months ago since no one could understand her and there were blackouts almost every day in her rural neighborhood in the Mekong Delta.

But Tuoi Tre newspaper quoted the 30-year-old as saying "there is no sacrifice" involved.

Tateno, who has a master's degree in environmental science from the University of Tsukuba, turned down many job offers in Japan to come to Vietnam as a volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

She is happy with helping Vietnamese farmers get the reward they deserve for their hard work.

"Vietnamese farmers work hard but know little about technology, and so their income is very low.

"I'm helping them improve their lives and that makes my life more meaningful."

Before long she became a favorite at the Tam Binh District Plant Protection Department in Vinh Long Province.

She studies orange farming technology in the morning and goes out to meet farmers in the afternoon. She has learned quite a bit of Vietnamese.

"I'm working with farmers and it will be odd if I cannot talk to them or understand them," she said.

The JICA Volunteer Program for developing countries has sent 442 Japanese to Vietnam since 1995 to help with health care, agriculture, and education.

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Keisuke Murota, 27, another volunteer, cannot read a textbook for Vietnamese second graders, but he often rolls up his trousers to wade into paddy fields along with locals in the southernmost province of Ca Mau.

The literature graduate from the University of Waseda has traveled to almost all corners of the province to promote a poverty alleviation program initiated by local agriculture authorities.

Yutaka Kuroda, 30, is a popular man at the physical rehabilitation department at Lam Dong 2 General Hospital in the Central Highlands province of the same name.

He is ready in his white outfit before 7 a.m. to begin work as a physical therapist.

He works with patients requiring physical rehabilitation, helping them reintegrate into the community and adapt to their disabilities.

Nguyen Thi My, a Vietnamese colleague, said the hospital is lucky to have "such a well-trained and devoted volunteer.

"Few people in Vietnam master rehabilitation techniques."

Each examination takes an average of 45 minutes, and there is no break, but Kuroda is always smiling, massaging patients and chatting with them despite his modest Vietnamese.

In the room are a number of colorful toys.

Phan Van Danh, another colleague, said "Kuroda made most of the toys or bought them to make young patients feel less stressed when they come here."

Kuroda never complains when patients turn up late. He simply utilizes the time to read books or instruct his Vietnamese colleagues.

The volunteers love being in Vietnam and hope to stay for long.

They have overcome teething problems like the language barrier, homesickness, and poor facilities.

"Things are going pretty well," Kuroda said.

"I have a lot of Vietnamese friends and colleagues.

"I've always liked Vietnam and want to live here. I have gained quite a lot; I have learned a lot of things."

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