By Jennifer Herrera

Melanie Bass was born into a family that serves. Three of her four parents are physicians, her brother is in medical school, and her grandfather was a dentist and oral surgeon.

Bass, a student in the School of Physical Therapy, has embraced her family tradition and put the call to serve into action. Instead of heading to relaxing beaches, Bass spent Spring Break 2017 on a church trip to Northern Vietnam. The endeavor was organized by Alamo Community Church, which teams up with a humanitarian organization based in Vietnam twice a year to provide assistance to communities with a special focus on school-age children.

Carrying suitcases filled with children’s shoes donated by the Children’s Hunger Fund, Bass and her fellow church members arrived in the rural area to make an impact. Throughout the 10-day trip, the group taught basic, but critical, hygiene practices like hand washing and teeth brushing. Though the children spoke no English and communication was largely made through translators, laughter and hand motions broke the language barrier.

“It’s a very impoverished area, but the kids are so polite, respectful and grateful, so it’s very easy to interact with them,” she said. “They enjoy doing the personal hygiene activities. They appreciate things that we as Americans take for granted, like having a toothbrush.”

She and the team washed the children’s feet and hands, clipped their nails and combed their hair. They ended the hygiene session with a Polaroid picture, so the children could know what they looked like because, Bass said, many have never seen themselves in a mirror.

UIW Student ARISE Winner Spring Break Service

Bass and members of the mission group trek through Vietnam. Images courtesy of Glocal Ventures Inc.

Bass also utilized her UIW physical therapy training on the trip. She not only helped teach first aid and CPR to village teachers, but addressed the burns some of the parents and children had on their hands from cooking over open flames.

“Once the skin starts healing it contracts, when it contracts it loses elasticity and you lose movement and function,” she said. “We did stretching activities so they didn’t lose function of the hands.”

Her efforts and her dedication to service earned her recognition from her UIW peers. Her professor, Dr. Mona Bains, nominated her for the ARISE Graduate Student Social Justice Award. The Office of Research and Graduate Studies established the ARISE Award to recognize currently enrolled, post-baccalaureate students who have demonstrated exemplary service related to a social justice issue, and who have unselfishly sought to bring positive change in the community. The award’s name is based on the Bible verse “Arise, shine; for your light is come” (Isaiah 60:1).

“It was amazing,” Bass said. “It was a humbling experience to be there.”

In September, she ventured on another mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico along with students from UIW’s schools of physical therapy, pharmacy and optometry to conduct a pop-up clinic with various health care professionals, but the trip was cut short due to the earthquake that hit the area and caused widespread devastation.

Bass hopes to return to Vietnam in the future with her church, and after she graduates, she hopes to continue many short-term medical mission trips. “I really believe that … real change happens with consistency.”