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

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."

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@dailytidings.com.

This story reflects corrections from the print version. Liddle Kidz is based in Vancouver, Wash., not Vancouver, B.C., and founder Tina Allen is an American, not Canadian.