Within just one week, more than 8,300 needy Vietnamese citizens received humanitarian and medical aid in remote Kon Tum province from the Joining Hands Mission sponsored by the Embassy of Israel in Hanoi and the Family Medical Practice (FMP), a chain of clinics in Vietnam founded and headed by an Israeli physician, Dr. Rafi Kot.

“It’s a drop in the bucket of what these people need, but it’s something,” says Israeli Ambassador to Vietnam Meirav Eilon Shahar, speaking to ISRAEL21c from Hanoi after the September 11-17 mission.

“In our daily routine here, we do training and diplomatic, political and economic work to promote Israel and Israeli companies, but this was about giving back to the community,” she explains.

“We’ve done it every year but on a smaller scale. Last year I took a team to renovate a school damaged by floods. Health, education and water are so essential, and it’s important for us — the embassy and Family Medical Practice — to take care of the less advantaged people in the society where we’re working. Many companies won’t come to these areas; they are a very weak part of society.”

Members of the Joining Hands Mission sported this emblem on their shirts. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam
Members of the Joining Hands Mission sported this emblem on their shirts. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam

The embassy and FMP brought clothing, food, medications and medical attention to 3,500 families in Kon Tum, a 10,000-square-kilometer province consisting of nine districts and small “communes” in the central highlands of Vietnam. In this remote mountainous jungle area, where half a million people from 21 different minority groups live under impoverished conditions, life expectancy is among the lowest in the region.

Central and provincial authorities recommended those needing the most aid, and helped the Israelis publicize their visit ahead of time.

In each place visited during the mission, the embassy and FMP set up medication rooms. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam
In each place visited during the mission, the embassy and FMP set up medication rooms. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam

“We learned that some of the communes don’t have access to clean water. So in two cases the embassy hired a company to dig wells before our mission,” Shahar says. “We also renovated the Mang But Secondary School for Minorities and supplied textbooks for the children.”

Food and clothing donations were packaged in bags bearing Israeli flags and the logo of Family Medical Practice, which sent 120 volunteer doctors, nurses and logistical support staff.

The Israeli embassy and the Family Medical Practice chain distributed bags of food and clothing to needy residents of Vietnam’s In Mang But commune. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam
The Israeli embassy and the Family Medical Practice chain distributed bags of food and clothing to needy residents of Vietnam’s In Mang But commune. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam

“We couldn’t have done it without Dr. Kot. He has been living in Vietnam since 1987 and employs doctors from all over the world, so there are Israeli doctors here as well,” says Shahar. “He’s done other humanitarian missions in the past.”

The work is often lifesaving, says Shahar, now in her fourth year as Israel’s envoy to Vietnam. She watched FMP pediatrician Dr. Jonathan Halevy checking a baby with a heart problem and arranging for an immediate transfer to Ho Chi Minh for surgery.

Kot also donated an ultrasound machine to the Kong Plong district hospital, and his staff provided training.

Dr. Rafi Kot and Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar at the Vietnamese hospital where Kot donated a new ultrasound machine. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam
Dr. Rafi Kot and Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar at the Vietnamese hospital where Kot donated a new ultrasound machine. Photo courtesy of Israeli Embassy in Vietnam

Shahar notes that although Israel enjoys the admiration of the Vietnamese for sharing its technology and agricultural innovations, “in remote areas they don’t know us. I asked in schools if they’ve heard of us, and the answer was no. Now they have some idea about Israel.”