Thien Phuoc Tran Quang, an IVEPer from Vietnam (2017–2018), volunteered at the MCC Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa., during IVEP orientation in 2017.
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Thien Phuoc Tran Quang, an IVEPer from Vietnam (2017–2018), volunteered at the MCC Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa., during IVEP orientation in 2017.

My name is Thien Phuoc and I’m from Vietnam. From August 2017 to July 2018, I had the honour to do my voluntary service in IVEP, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. I worked as an international intern at the MCC United Nations office in New York City. During my year of service, I was fortunate to be able to visit the MCC Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa., and the workshop in Dayton, Ohio, as well as to see the famous meat canning machine in action while it was in Kansas. The day I visited the MRC in Ephrata, what amazed me the most was the people who volunteered there, just like me. They did everything graciously and with a smile on their faces, and when I asked, one merrily replied: "I volunteer here when I have free time."

Our task at the MRC was to lift and stack all the food cans onto the loaders so they could be picked up by the trucks later. I remember wearing a white shirt that day, and at the end of the day, I was hot and sweaty and very tired from all the heavy lifting. My shirt was soaked and it kept clinging to my back. But I felt good about what I had accomplished and when I was told that those boxes of canned meat (chicken and turkey) were destined to Nyangungu, Burundi, to be given to children in an elementary school, I felt those hours of labour were worth it.

I finished my year of service in July 2018 and returned to Vietnam to continue my education. But the precious experience with IVEP has opened my eyes, and now I am prone to notice the tragedies around me that I would have easily overlooked before. Tragedies that are beyond people's control, such as disasters, illnesses, diseases and wars. There are people who still don't have access to food, clean water and education in my hometown. 

When I describe this change in perception to my sociology professor, he offered me this piece of advice: "It is good that you have this revelation. It doesn't mean that you have to solve these problems yourself, but by admitting the existence of these problems and your humble position, you can start working your way, one baby step at a time, toward a solution. And rest assured, you are not alone on this journey. You will find company along the way."

His words struck a chord in my heart. I am not a hero on a quest to save the world from evils. I'm not always strong enough to fight my own evils, my own shortcomings. But I am not alone in this journey. I have met people who share the same goal and vision as me. They are none other than the people who work for MCC, my fellow IVEPers, and of course, the merry people who volunteer their time at MCC’s resource centers. We offer what we can, humble as it is, to help other people in need.

As people, we care about other people. The cans of meat we packed and the medical kits we assembled are sent to many parts of the world and reach the people in need. Humanitarian work transcends borders. And it has always transcended war. My hope and prayers go to all the former volunteers and all who are considering doing IVEP, SALT or Seed in the future: we came from different nationalities and backgrounds, but if we let our love and care for other people lead the way, only God knows how far we can go and what we can achieve.