In love with Vietnam

Facing the World: A Journey to Bring Smiles to Unfortunate Children

We visited Katrin Kandel’s home in London on a warm summer afternoon, which, Katrin said, reminded her of the heat of Hanoi summers.

Located in the centre of London, the home of the voluntary CEO of Facing the World (FTW), is decorated with beautiful paintings, some of which are from Vietnam.


Our conversation with Katrin revealed her compassion for Vietnamese children with birth defects and the motivation for her to pursue a journey that has brought about life changes for thousands of unfortunate children in Vietnam.

A UK-registered medical charitable foundation set up in 2002 to treat children with craniofacial defects, FTW has, since 2007, assisted Vietnamese doctors to help bring smiles and a normal life to thousands of Vietnamese children with craniofacial birth effects.

CEO of Facing the World, Katrin Kandel. Photo: Hai Van/VNA
Katrin Kandel, Voluntary CEO and Trustee of Facing the World (left) and Le Ngoc Chi, General Director, VIN Group for the Vietnam Grand Prix (right) signed a cooperation agreement in 2019 in Hanoi. Photo: FTW

FTW initially brought Vietnamese children to the UK for treatment at the foundation’s partner hospitals with costs ranging from £50,000 to £1million per child. However, since 2008, the foundation began sending multidisciplinary teams of medics to Vietnam to join localdoctors operating on complex surgical cases.

Since then, the foundation has developed a unique, clear, sustainable strategy and solution which will continue to lead to tens of thousands of children, initially in Vietnam and then beyond, to receive the treatment they need for often horrifically disfiguring birth defects.


 GE Healthcare Monitors donated by Facing the World to Vietnamese hospitals to help in the fight against COVID-19. Photo: FTW
  Craniofacial consultant Mr Christopher Forrest examines patient during a clinic at 108 Military Central Hospital’s Center for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery as part of the FTW Craniofacial mission to Hanoi in November 2019. Photo: FTW
Christopher Forrest, Head of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Toronto Hospital for Children and a surgical team from the 108 Military Central Hospital’s Center for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery examinated a patient in 2019. Photo: FTW
A child from northern rural Vietnam, being given his smile back by Facing the World at the108 Military Central Hospital, Hanoi. Photo: FTW

Katrin said the key to this viable and sustainable solution is to take the “teach a man to fish” approach. FTW awards international training fellowships to Vietnamese medics, having sent more than 100 doctors to top medical institutions in the UK, Canada, the US and Australia to observe and learn new techniques and approaches.

These fellowships are supplemented by in-country medical missions where complex surgeries are carried out by coordinated teams of the Vietnamese doctors and the international doctors involved in the fellowship program. Since 2008, there have been on average two missions to Vietnam per year, with all missions now including teaching conferences to which doctors throughout Vietnam are invited.

The foundation also regards telemedicine as an important part of its training strategy. FTW has partnered with a platform technology developed by In Touch Health that enables the development of a ‘hub-and-spoke’ outreach program within Vietnam. The platform facilitates a two-way mentoring, educational system for international partners as well as longer terms domestically. 

Katrin pointed out that while the number of doctors can't be multiplied, technology like Telemedicine can help multiply their expertise. According to Katrin, Vietnam is in a strong position to roll out the approach. To date, £2.4million worth of telemedicine equipment and technology has been donated to FTW partner centres in Vietnam.

FTW has now partnered with three hospitals in Vietnam: the private Hong Ngoc General, and two leading public hospitals in Vietnam, the 108 Military Central Hospital and Viet-Duc University Hospital.  In 2018 at the 108 Hospital, the foundation opened the Centre for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery, the first of its kind in South East Asia. After 8 years, the Centre is expected to reach and treat 60% of all children born in Vietnam with significant facial differences.

In the next 5 years, FTW plans to enable 40,0000 operations to be performed by its trained Vietnamese doctors. The foundation expects to send at least another 200 Vietnamese doctors abroad for training. Medical equipment which is considered to be game changing will continue to be donated.

Doctors of FTW gave examinations to children at Viet Duc University Hospital, Hanoi in 2018. Photo: FTW
UK and Vietnamese medics working together in surgery at Viet Duc Hospital, Hanoi in 2019. Photo: FTW
Canadian and Vietnamese medics working together at the 108 Military Central Hospital’s Center for Craniofacial and Plastic Surgery in 2019. Photo: FTW

FTW’s efforts have been recognised by the governments from Vietnam and UK. Katrin Kandel was awarded the Vietnamese President’s Medal for Friendship. She was also awarded the Points of Light Award in recognition of excellence, commended in 2017 by the then British Prime Minister.

Katrin said an important goal in the longer-term is for Vietnam to be very much part of the surgical expertise at FTW, acting as a craniofacial centre in Southeast Asia. When the foundation is able to expand into one of the neighbouring countries like Laos and Cambodia, Vietnam is expected to become part of the training scheme similar to the UK, Canada, Australia and America. She noted that with the 108 hospital and Viet Duc hospital being accredited by the Royal College of Surgeons for Accreditation, the hospitals are now seen as having the expertise for training which is at a level similar to the UK hospitals.

Leaving Katrin’s home, we understood why Katrin is determined to change the destiny of unfortunate Vietnamese children as she told us a touching story about a baby she had met. The baby, perhaps only six months old, had severe defects that made her look frightening to any ordinary person other than a doctor. She turned into an adorable child after an operation performed by FTW medics in collaboration with Vietnamese doctors. Katrin said it was such a lovely feeling seeing the change that could make a child who is ostracised become part of society. She said the very lovely children that have bad birth defects and the love that their families have for them have largely encouraged FTW and herself in fulfilling the foundation’s mission in Vietnam.

Story : Minh Hop/VNP Photos: Hai Van & FTW

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