by Sevak Hakobyan

Dr. Robin Kim, of Glendale, California, has participated in medical missions to several countries including Haiti, Peru, Mexico, and, in recent years, Armenia.

An anesthesiologist at Adventist Health Glendale (AHG) for the past 17 years, Dr. Kim was asked in 2015 to join a team of physicians and nurses from the hospital on a medical mission to Armenia’s Tavush Region. She confesses that she didn’t know much about Armenia at that time.

“True, Glendale is home to a large number of Armenians, but I knew very little about their homeland,” Dr. Kim recalls. “After I was asked to join the medical mission to Tavush, I actually Googled Armenia to see where it is on the map. And when I arrived in Yerevan in October 2016, as part of the Adventist Health medical mission, I absolutely fell in love with your capital, history, and culture.”

However, outside of Yerevan, Dr. Kim says, and throughout the regions of Armenia, she was saddened to witness the difficult living conditions with which regular Armenians grappled.

“It was strange,” she says. “Armenia is a small country, yet the difference in living standards between the capital and the regions was very obvious. At the same time, I was astounded by the fact that despite their modest means, people in the regions were even more hospitable, and warmer. During my first year in Armenia, I was amazed that people didn’t give much thought to personal space. As someone who was born in South Korea and has had a traditional Asian upbringing, I attach a great deal of importance to personal space. But then I understood that the Armenians’ tendency of standing close to each other or touching one another stems from the warmth of their character.”

Dr. Kim recalls the other medical missions she was involved in. She says things were particularly tough in Haiti, where she has worked in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.

“Naturally, I was affected by Haiti the most,” she says. “Witnessing the human toll of the earthquake was heartbreaking, and we faced enormous challenges. It was also difficult to work in Peru, given the country’s lack of technical capabilities and infrastructures. In this respect, I can say that our medical missions to Tavush, organized jointly by Armenia Fund and Adventist Health Glendale, have been the most successful in my experience. By the time we arrived at the Noyemberyan Hospital in 2016, Armenia Fund had already taken care of all the technical aspects and logistics of our mission. All that was left for us to do was to get to work.” Dr. Kim adds that she has gladly accepted to participate in the 2017 medical mission as well.

Speaking of the reason she has chosen medicine as her career, Dr. Kim says she has always had a desire to help others, and believes that a doctor’s greatest rewards are to heal others and see them smile after they’ve recuperated. Also during the 2017 medical mission to Noyemberyan, Dr. Kim says, she was highly impressed by a group of young medical residents from Yerevan who worked alongside the Adventist Health team during the mission.

“I was fascinated by the future doctors now studying at Yerevan’s State Medical University,” Dr. Kim says. “They’re extremely smart, and were willing to help us at every step of the way and learn new things. I must say that those six medical residents from Yerevan are basically on par with their counterparts in America. And if they experience shortcomings, these are entirely expected, given the lack of certain types of medical equipment in Armenia. As for skills and knowledge, I can only say that the medical residents we worked with are doing a wonderful job. We will definitely continue to be in touch with them, intent on collaborating with them and giving them all the assistance they need.”

Dr. Kim is equally excited about taking part in the 2018 medical mission to Armenia. “So far, I’ve been able to see only Lake Sevan, Dilijan, and Echmiadzin,” she says. “Sadly, this is the second year that I haven’t had a chance to travel extensively in Armenia after completing our mission. Next year, I will try to stay longer so as to enjoy all that the country offers.”

Photo Credit: Areg Balayan