Giving Voice, Sharing Love

Jack Johnson ’23 has fond memories of his elementary school years. He also has memories that he’d prefer not to recall.

“There were students in my school who were bullied and made to feel unwelcome. Many of them had learning and other differences. I had no clue how to help them back then,” says Jack. “Now, all these years later, when I found an opportunity to help children feel heard and loved in an understaffed hospital I jumped at the chance.”

With support from Taft’s Meg Page ’74 Fellowship program, Jack spent one month in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, over the summer working with young children with cerebral palsy, autism, and Down syndrome.

“I primarily worked with children who ranged in age from three- to eight-years old. I also did some rehabilitation work with two adult women,” Jack notes. “All of the work was done in a hospital setting under the guidance of hospital staff, and included speech therapy and physical therapy.”

As physical therapy often involves the repetition and progression of therapeutic movement, the hospital’s physiotherapists taught Jack appropriate “routines” to employ with each patient.

“The speech therapy involved routine and repetition as well,” Jack explains. “We found that songs and music were very effective ways for the children to learn and articulate words and sounds. We would sing along with them. By the end of my time there, I could see that they had really learned to vocalize many of the lyrics.”

The work was challenging at times, often due to the language barrier, and also quite rewarding. But it was the relationships Jack built along the way helped define his time in Vietnam.

“The kids were always happy and excited to see me,” says Jack. “The doctors talked with me about their experiences and what they wanted for their futures. Most impactful, though, was the connection I made with one of the nurses. She had just lost her 18-year-old son from complications of cerebral palsy. She was one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met, and offered to take me places on her motorbike so that I could see the real Ho Chi Minh. I ended up meeting her family and many local restaurant owners. She introduced me to Vietnamese dishes I probably would have never tried, and convinced me to leave the city and explore the more rural parts of Vietnam. This was one of the lasting friendships I made that I never imagined would be possible.”

To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, the Meg Page ’74 fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.