Two years ago, as we sat in a little restaurant in Da Nang, Vietnam, the proprietor walked up and offered us his sincere condolences on the unfolding tragedy in New Orleans. That’s how we learned about Hurricane Katrina. George Bush, apparently, didn’t get the message until some time later.
We were visitors to Vietnam in 2005, just finishing up a short stint as Health Volunteers Overseas (HVO) volunteers at a rehabilitation center in Da Nang. Now, here we are, two years later, living and working in Vietnam and participating in a great national effort to stem the rising tide of death and disability resulting from motorbike accidents.
There are, today, 3401 employees of the Da Nang Department of Health who wear helmets provided by Steady Footsteps to work every day. They do this in order to protect themselves and because their co-workers wear helmets, too. But—bottom line—they do it because the Da Nang Health Department now mandates helmet use and employees may not report to work without them. This is the essence of the agreement that we signed with the Department of Health: Steady Footsteps would supply the helmets if the DOH would mandate their use.
Beyond the immediate effect of ensuring the safety of those 3401 employees, however, this project serves as a model for other governmental groups and businesses. Our project has been featured repeatedly on Da Nang TV News, as well as VTV1, based in Hanoi. Footage of my address to the officials of the Department of Health (my mouth moves, but the TV anchor supplies the words), images of brain-injured patients at the Da Nang Rehabilitation-Sanatorium Hospital, and interviews with helmet-wearing workers arriving at Da Nang General Hospital are combined with media exhortations to be safe and wear a helmet.
On the horizon, now, is a new national law which will mandate helmet use by all motorbike riders by the end of this year--an enormous milestone in a nation where 38 people die and many more are permanently disabled every day in traffic accidents. Compliance, though, is not guaranteed. To that end, the next project for the Steady Footsteps crew is to translate and print booklets based on the text of my August 5 post and then to distribute them to the 30,000 students of the University of Da Nang. We thought we’d back up the letter of the law with some vivid descriptions of what happens if your brain is injured—but you survive. We’re planning to include a University of Da Nang helmet sticker with each booklet. These high-achieving universty students are role models for all the younger kids. Whatever they do—whether they flaunt the law or wear their helmets proudly--will have an enormous effect on what other young people decide to do.
The $25,564 USD cost of the Department of Health Helmet project took a big chunk of our personal savings. Printing up 30,000 booklets and stickers is going to take even more. Any contribution you might feel led to make to Steady Footsteps to help in this work would be hugely appreciated. It is a rare and wonderful thing to be able to make this big an impact on a society. Please consider helping us to continue in this work.