Six Thousand Miles. Two Countries. One Shared Mission.

Two representatives from Metagenics, one of Vitamin Angels' corporate partners, recently traveled to countries over 6,000 miles apart to see our work in action. Find out not only how their experiences differed, but the surprising similarities between them as well.

By Elysia Cook

Only a few minutes of conversation are necessary to recognize the passion that Cuong Nguyen and Jason Doucett share: to do more, to give more, to be more.

Take Cuong (pictured below), who manages the product portfolio pipeline for Metagenics, one of Vitamin Angels’ corporate partners. Prior to his trip to the Philippines with Vitamin Angels in November 2017, Cuong set up an online fundraiser that ended up earning over $1,200—enough to provide vitamins to over 4,800 children.

“Getting the word out—and that I was able to meet the goal I set up for the fundraiser—made me really happy,” Cuong said, reflecting on the accomplishment. “My friends and family were very generous.”

Jason, a senior territory manager for Metagenics, interjected. “That was way cool, Cuong.”

“Not as cool as bringing soccer balls for everybody! I didn’t have any luggage space!” Cuong was quick to return the compliment, referring to Jason’s efforts to travel with extra cargo on his Vitamin Angels trip to Malawi in August 2017.

“If you had any idea how much trouble I went through to get those there…” Jason paused, laughing at the absurdity. “I had 25 pumps, 40 sets of crayons…I had barely any luggage, because I had all soccer balls.” Despite the hassle, he returned home with even more motivation to give back, and is now developing an organization to build upon his vision and provide soccer balls for children in Malawi.

But make no mistake; the respect Cuong and Jason (pictured, top right) expressed for each other is surpassed by their admiration for the other individuals and organizations they met on their trips. Despite the different climates, environments, and cultures that distinguished their experiences in the Philippines and Malawi, they agreed that the opportunity was life-changing.

“You can’t get access to where we went and what we saw without Vitamin Angels,” Jason said. “You can’t be told it; you need to live it.” Added Cuong, “It’s truly once-in-a-lifetime.” The opportunity wasn’t handed to them, either. Metagenics employees who want to participate in a Vitamin Angels trip must submit letters to a committee, which selects two ambassadors each year.

Jason meets a mother and her newborn while visiting one of our field partners in Malawi. "In America we know that our women are tough, but in Malawi they’re tougher than men, straight up," Jason said. "It’s not even open for debate."

"There are no comfortable places in Malawi..[traveling] brought clarity to me of the struggles of that country," Jason shared.

Despite the picturesque views that the Philippines offers, many parts of the country suffer from extreme poverty.

For Cuong, getting to know the children who benefited from the vitamins was one of the best parts of his trip.

But the firsthand experience, gratifying as it was, came with its ups and downs. In both countries, the scope of poverty was overwhelming. While Jason was completely immersed in it, Cuong witnessed vast discrepancies between the city where the team stayed and the rural areas where they observed the distributions. The distance was short—only a 15-30-minute drive—but the differences were shocking.

“The kids in these areas could only eat rice every day,” Cuong shared. “They could grow food and fish, but they sold what they caught.” As a result, many children in those regions are at risk of malnutrition. He added, “One of those kids could grow up to cure cancer, but they may not have that opportunity because they don’t have nutrition. Who knows what they could do one day, if they had that chance?”

Jason shared, “When I was in some of these huts [in Malawi], they didn’t have a single possession. But what they had on the walls were dusty pictures from six, seven years ago—pictures that Vitamin Angels had taken on a previous trip, just hanging there, curled up and old, and it was very impactful about what we were doing. And they just treasure us coming back.”

He added, “A child wrote me a heart-wrenching letter that he spent all day making—and he doesn’t write English first—and this was written on a scrappy piece of paper; in the letter, it said, “Please don’t forget about us.”

Those memories are moving on their own, but carry greater weight for Cuong and Jason on a personal level. Cuong, who was a child refugee at the tail end of the Vietnam War, knows that a single moment could have altered the trajectory of his life.

“I wondered, maybe there was a time where if I didn’t get on a helicopter the first thing in the morning, I’d be in the same situation too,” he said. “We all don’t start off in the luckiest of places. Each of us has to climb our ladder. I grew up on welfare, thrift store clothes; I didn’t have a lot.”

And just a couple of decades ago, Jason would not have been able to read the letter from the child he met in the field.

“I’m now able to admit it to people, but I was illiterate until I was 28. I couldn’t even read a paragraph,” he disclosed. “I was a construction worker; I’d never read a book in my life.” It took a broken back, which rendered him unable to make a living, for Jason to turn the corner. “I spent every single day for eight hours a day learning how to read,” he said. From there, he reclaimed his potential, which eventually led him to Metagenics.

Those struggles inspired Jason and Cuong to redefine their futures, and help others do the same. Thanks to Metagenics’ partnership with Vitamin Angels, they’re able to do so on a larger scale.

“In the Philippines, Vitamin Angels seems to have been established for a while, so the kids had been taking vitamin A and albendazole. We were going around making sure that they were still well,” Cuong said. “I’m excited to see them thrive even more.”

Whether Cuong and Jason will return to the Philippines or Malawi anytime soon is uncertain. But they encourage their fellow Metagenics employees, and anyone else who wants to support Vitamin Angels’ work, to go forward in that pursuit.

“We are very fortunate to work for a company that affords us an opportunity like this, so just step into it,” Jason advised. “Whatever these things are, don’t ignore them; don’t not write that letter. Do it.”


Giving Tuesday