"Former Cape woman helping orphans in Vietnam"

CAPE COD TIMES, December 6, 2013


PROVINCETOWN — Cao, who is about 5 years old, weighs just 20 pounds.

Although the other children his age are starting school, he remains in diapers in the infants' section of an orphanage outside Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, where a former Provincetown woman first met him and felt an instant connection.

Now that woman, Katie Veatch, hopes to raise money to return to Vietnam to take Cao a walker so he can join other children in school and other activities.

Veatch also wants to provide training and supplies to the caregivers and other children at the orphanage.

A silent auction fundraiser Saturday at the Kobalt Gallery will help send Veatch, 31, and her boyfriend, Tommy Czyoski, 27, to Vietnam to take equipment and nurturing massage skills to the Que Huong Charity Center, where about 330 children live.

"I just want to help in whatever way I can," said Veatch, a massage therapist who recently moved from Provincetown to Boston to work in pediatric massage.

Veatch would adopt Cao and a few other orphans "in a heartbeat," but adoptions between Vietnam and the United States are largely prohibited, she said.

Most children at this orphanage will stay there until they "age out" at 17, Veatch said.

Poverty makes it difficult for children with special needs to get supplies and education, she said.

Also, children in orphanages often lack nurturing touch, which is important for early development, she said.

When Veatch first arrived at the Que Huong Charity Center in 2010, she was one of 20 volunteers selected to travel to orphanages to provide touch therapy with the nonprofit Liddle Kidz Foundation.

She returned with the foundation in 2012, after receiving a degree in massage therapy. And in March, Veatch made a third trip with Czyoski to that particular orphanage to see one special child.

Veatch felt a special bond with Cao since 2010. He had been found in a box at the gates of the orphanage and looked "the size and shape of a potato," she said.

No one could say his exact age and no one thought he'd live, she said. But when she returned in 2012, Cao "was still on this earth," she said.

It appears he has the symptoms of spina bifida, a birth defect when the bones of the spine do not form properly around a baby's spinal cord, although he's never been diagnosed, she said.

Veatch, however, thinks he and other disabled children at the orphanage could benefit from equipment, books, sensory activities and training in massage that is easily found in the U.S. but sorely lacking in the orphanage.

"We are not a registered nonprofit yet," she said. "We're trying to get there. But for me, every minute that they lack stimulation is critical."




"Liddle Kidz in Vietnam"

A short documentary of the most recent Vietnam outreach trip with the Liddle Kidz Foundation in December of 2012. This was my second trip on a team of volunteer massage therapists to teach massage and nurturing touch techniques to caregivers in orphanages. 

Filmed and edited by Laki Karavias.


"Healing Touch"

Ashland Daily Tidings, October 02, 2012

By Janet Eastman

Katie Veatch knows the benefit of tender touch on a tiny orphan's face, arms and tummy.

For the second time, the Ashland massage therapist is volunteering to spend long days in Vietnam, soothing abandoned babies' muscles and bones, and teaching caregivers hands-on nurturing methods.

Before she leaves each clinic or government-run agency, she will make sure the health-care providers have a copy of an infant and pediatric massage instruction book translated into Vietnamese.

"None of these children gets the loving touch of a parent or the attention they need because there are so many children and so few caregivers," says Veatch, 29, a former nanny and yoga instructor who graduated from the Ashland Institute of Massage in June.

Vancouver, Wash.-based Liddle Kidz Foundation selected her from more than 1,000 therapists volunteering to provide massage over 18 days to children in Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, Da Nang and Hanoi starting in November.

For the children deemed adoptable, Veatch and the team of 21 other massage, occupational and physical therapists hope to pass on the benefits of infant massage. Practitioners believe touch relaxes and soothes both the baby and the person giving the caresses, and deepens bonding through one-on-one time.

Close physical contact and touch also can stimulate muscle and cognitive development and can improve a child's sleep and digestion, say practitioners.

For the orphans with severe disabilities or a terminal illness, the volunteers hope to comfort them while also teaching caregivers that it's safe to cuddle and offer these children compassionate care.

Veatch recalled during her first trip to Vietnam in 2010 that caregivers didn't want the American therapists to touch one of the babies. When they asked the reason, a caregiver drew back a blanket to reveal lesions on his leg.

"There is not enough education about HIV and AIDS, so they are afraid to touch these children," says Veatch. "My colleague said that it was essential that this baby especially was touched and he was."

It is estimated that there are 1.5 million orphans in Vietnam; half of them were given up by parents because of HIV and AIDS, according to a 2009 report prepared by the Boston University Center for Global Health and Development and the Hanoi School of Public Health.

Veatch needs to raise $4,300 to pay her travel expenses, lodging and food to join the Liddle Kidz Foundation volunteer group, which was founded by Tina Allen to provide touch therapy in orphanages around the globe. The foundation's slogan is "Children are our greatest gift and should be treated with extraordinary care."

A fundraiser with music, food and drinks will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, at the Ashland Community Center.

Admission is $10 to $12 and there will be silent auction items donated by local businesses, from gift certificates to Boulton & Son Butchers and Shop'n Kart to membership at the Ashland Tennis and Fitness Club and original art.

Michelle Stewart of the Ashland Institute of Massage says her manager donated a massage at the school's Chrysalis clinic and Stewart also collected gift certificates from friends who own Tabu Restaurant, Earth Friendly Kids and Nimbus.

"Katie is inspirational," she says.

Veatch, who held a yard sale in September to earn money for her expenses, is hanging up fliers about her fundraiser around town.

The fliers bring home her point: Children in orphanages may have food, clothing and shelter, but often don't receive "an essential ingredient for basic health and happiness — touch." Without it, children often feel discarded, forgotten and even untouchable.

"People sometimes ask me, 'Why not do volunteer work here?' " Veatch says. "It's important that I let them know that I also do outreach work here" helping infants, mothers and veterans.

She is a volunteer labor coach at Providence Medford Medical Center and has worked with Joshua Graner, a board certified acupuncture and Chinese medical practitioner with Ashland Integrative Medicine, who organizes a free monthly alternative medicine clinic for veterans. And she teaches infant massage to teen mothers at local high schools.

"I volunteer my time here," she says, "but it doesn't require $4,300 of travel expenses to do that, which is why people don't hear about it."

She says local volunteer work is important and satisfying, but her efforts in Vietnam are equally rewarding.

In 2010, the Liddle Kidz volunteers massaged hundreds of children in seven orphanages and children's care centers.

She once saw an uncommunicative boy thrashing around in his crib be calmed by a volunteer massage therapist. "It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced," she says.

When she visited her first orphanage, she was instructed to pick up any crying baby.

She did so for hours, holding different children. Every once in a while, she would look over at a boy quietly lying in his crib. She learned his name was Cao and although he looked like an 18-month-old, he was actually 3 and had just endured shunt surgery to relieve the pain of hydrocephalus, fluid buildup in his skull that led to brain swelling.

She embraced him and his head rested in one of her hands. She still cries today when telling his story and learning that he would not survive.

But she is also optimistic about the other babies who receive nurturing touch. She says teaching caregivers to caress babies helps these sometimes-forgotten children connect with others.

"If they aren't touched, they go through life without making connections," she says. "We love making these little cuties happy by holding them, but more important, we are teaching the work to others who can then teach others that touch is invaluable to children."



Much Needed Love for Vietnam's Orphans

A short documentary of my first outreach trip to Vietnam with the Liddle Kidz Foundation in December of 2010. In Tina's words: "The Liddle Kidz Foundation, along with our international volunteer ambassadors, brought nurturing touch and pediatric massage therapy to orphaned infants and children throughout Vietnam. This 14 day outreach journey took our volunteer pediatric massage therapists to 7 orphanages and hundreds of children all across Vietnam."


"Provincetown woman puts infant massage skills to work in Vietnamese Orphanages"

Provincetown Banner, May 11, 2011

By Deborah Minsky

Katie Veatch had certain goals when she set out for Vietnam last December with a group of infant massage practitioners and therapists from across the country, but as it turned out she had no idea what really lay ahead of her: hard work, moments of joy, and no small amount of heartache.

In a whirlwind of days blending into evenings, Veatch and her group worked at government-sponsored orphanages, a child-care facility operated by nuns, a “private” home for abuse victims run by a woman who had herself been a victim of abuse as a child, and several senior care centers and homes for war veterans. Their primary purpose was to work with caregivers on site, teaching healing massage techniques for both children and adults and enabling them to continue the practice after the American contingent returned to the U.S.

“The idea was to work with the adults and give them the tools to use,” says Veatch, a longtime summer visitor to Provincetown who made the Cape End her year-round home three years ago. “Massage is a huge part of Vietnamese culture but probably not used with children.”

Overcoming language barriers with the help of translators, the American volunteers struggled to counteract shyness and even skepticism from many of their hosts about the practicality and effectiveness of their methods.

Veatch had followed an indirect career path prior to travelling to Vietnam on this mission of healing. In college she studied psychology and child development and became interested in yoga. Following graduation, she worked as a nanny in various posts.

“I sensed for a very long time that [infant massage] was the direction I wanted to go in, but I didn’t know how to get there,” Veatch says.

It was not until she had been turned down for a particular job last year that she decided to ramp up her resume. Instead of pitying herself for not getting the job, she became proactive about expanding her skills. Following links to infant massage classes, Veatch learned of an “amazing, roving teacher-crusader” named Tina Allen. Based in Washington, Allen crosses the country regularly to teach classes in infant massage and therapeutic care at various sites coast to coast. She also takes volunteer groups abroad to spread the word and teach her methods to caregivers at underfunded orphanages, nursing homes and day-care facilities for adults and children.
In July Veatch enrolled in a course with Allen at a school in Worcester, and from the very first moment of their meeting she was enthralled. Hearing of a December trip to Vietnam, she tried to sign on, only to be told by Allen that the crew of volunteers had already been chosen. The door to the opportunity was nonetheless left open, if only by a small crack of possibility. Allen spoke to Veatch at length, recognized her enthusiasm and skill in yoga, and encouraged her to take the second massage class the following weekend. In the end, she invited her to join the group selected for Vietnam.

The next challenge, raising $3,900 as her share of trip expenses, proved to be much easier to overcome than Veatch had expected. Thanks to coverage in the Banner and a basic appeal for funds from friends and strangers alike, Veatch says, she was able to raise support well beyond her initial hopes.

Her two weeks in Vietnam opened with a grueling 30-hour trip to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, followed by dinner, early bed and a first meeting with “clients” scheduled for the next morning. No time to process the rigors of the trip and the strangeness of new surroundings. No time to recover from jet lag. According to Veatch, somewhere along the way, she and her colleagues essentially had lost an entire day crossing time zones. But it was fruitless to wallow in fatigue or disorientation, she says — there was a lot to accomplish in a short period of time, and Allen was not one to let her group sit around and wait for opportunities to present themselves.

Initially, Veatch says, she was daunted by her lack of massage certification, but in the face of severe need and the emotional tug of many children desperate for human kindness and personal interaction, it was pointless to worry about any “official” level of skills, she says. Her instincts and motivation were strong, and her love of children and prior experiences as a nanny and yoga practitioner took over. There was nothing to do but jump in — literally pick up babies lying in cribs or languishing on floor mats, and get to work. The emotional challenges were huge.

“My first real shocker was a small boy with hydrocephalus, housed in the infant room, hardly moving, non-responsive. He resembled an infant physically but was actually three years old. I wondered, was he ever going to crawl? Was he even going to live? This was my reality check. I sat there and held him for an hour. Then I kept going back to him,  . . . time after time. The question of attachment is not something I take lightly. It breaks my heart knowing I have to let these kids go,” Veatch says.

Through repeated practice, peer encouragement and sheer determination, she grew to see herself as a healer and started to trust her own capabilities more deeply. She worked one-on-one with children of varying ages and levels of need, helping a young teen gain a degree of flexibility in legs that had been immobile, comforting toddlers who had barely known the balm of human touch, and — with persistence — coaxing shy smiles from many.

She also learned a lot from her more seasoned colleagues. It was clear that, despite certain protocols, Allen was not one to stand on ceremony and wait for instructions. She did not intend to minister solely to the cute, cuddly or relatively healthy children, Veatch says; she wanted to see and care for the second-floor victims, those hidden from public view who more often than not were kept from therapeutic nurturing because of the grievous extent of their illness, physical disability, or developmental delays.

Although most host caregivers showed concern for their young charges and wanted to work with the visiting “teachers,” that was not always the case. On one startling occasion, Veatch recalls, adults were nowhere to be found when the volunteers arrived for their day’s session. Apparently word of their arrival had been received in advance, and Allen’s team faced a room full of terribly needy, unsupervised toddlers playing with all manner of rusty, dirty, dangerous implements. It was as if the staff had scaled the walls and given themselves an unscheduled day off. 

Veatch eventually found her comfort level with adult massage practice. A moment of true understanding occurred at a facility for retired Vietnam War veterans. Her particular client was a former Vietcong soldier who bore no apparent animosity to America, despite the fact that his body was still riddled with shrapnel from old war injuries.

“The most moving part of this experience came when we were all in this big room, giving massages to these  men. We had no shared language; it was incredibly silent. One of us started singing Beatles songs, and then the men started singing with us. Soon everyone was in tears.” 

Allen plans a return to Vietnam this December and Veatch hopes to be asked back. She intends to enroll in massage school in the fall.

“I will follow open doors,” Veatch says. “This trip taught me a lot about where my boundaries are. There were parts of the trip that were discouraging and parts when I wondered what we were doing and whether we were effecting change. Then I come back to little moments and can see the connections that we were able to make. I think of the kids and the Vietnamese caregivers we worked with. I know we did not change the world in two weeks, but we did help.”



"Provincetown's Veatch on a mission to help Vietnam orphans"

PROVINCETOWN BANNER, September 10, 2010

By Pru Sowers

Katie Veatch’s upcoming two-week “vacation” to Vietnam could literally save children’s lives.

The certified yoga teacher, who also tends bar and shucks oysters at Townsend’s Lobster & Seafood in Provincetown, is working towards raising the $3,900 she needs to join a group of occupational and physical therapists traveling to Vietnam in December. The group will visit six orphanages there, ranging in size from 50 to 500 children, to teach nurturing touch, baby massage and developmental movement to the orphanage caregivers, many of whom are so overloaded with feeding and diapering the kids that they have little time to interact with them. The country has hundreds of orphanages housing an estimated 1.5 million orphans under the age of seven.

“There are so many kids and so few caregivers,” Veatch says. “We take it for granted, the touch we get all the time. [The orphans] don’t have someone to run to their aid when they’re in need. They don’t have someone to hug them and hold them when they’re under stress.”

The trip is organized by the Liddle Kidz Foundation, a pediatric massage therapy organization that offers a variety of courses to parents and medical and physical therapy professionals. Veatch first learned of the group when she took a class taught by its founder, Tina Allen. When Allen said she was putting together a group of people to travel to Vietnam to work with children and caregivers in orphanages, Veatch immediately volunteered. And she soon won a spot on the 23-person team selected from 700 applicants.

While Veatch is more focused on yoga than massage, the two practices overlap at many junctures. Veatch will be learning pediatric massage techniques and administering them to the children. In addition, Allen wants Veatch to offer yoga classes to the American volunteers themselves.

“It’s all about movement and body and knowledge of one’s own body. I imagine this trip will be very emotional for everyone. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work with the volunteers and get them centered,” Veatch says.

Because the 23 volunteers won’t be able to spend much time at each of the orphanages in the two weeks they are in Vietnam, one of the goals is also to teach the local caregivers how to touch and massage the children even when they don’t have much time.

“Rubbing a baby’s foot an extra 30 seconds while changing a diaper even helps. The idea is we want to teach them how to use whatever time they have with the children. Through touch, in the long term, it helps bring [the children’s] stress levels down,” she says.