Vietnam Friendship Village
A Brief History
Of course, everyone is familiar with the Vietnam War, whether you lived through it or have only seen "Apocalypse Now". The country has gone through some very difficult times since the war ended, known here as the "Dark Ages". Many people forgot about Vietnam once we left, but unfortunately the Vietnamese people are still suffering the effects of the war today. I just want to list a few things that we have learned since our time here.
During the war, twice the tonnage of bombs was dropped in Vietnam, a country about the same size as California, than were dropped during all of WWII in both Europe and Asia. One of the most devastating weapons used was the defoliating chemical known as Agent Orange. From the years 1965-1971 (when the use of Agent Orange was stopped 2 years before America left Vietnam), the US dropped more than 100 million pounds of Agent Orange, which was more than 3 lbs per person at the time including women and children. The U.S. government recognizes 13 medical conditions stemming from exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin affecting U.S. veterans. But Washington denies any connection or culpability with regard to the millions of Vietnamese who were “the direct targets of the spraying, and who are living in areas that were sprayed and are eating the food from the sprayed land.” On the other hand, the Vietnamese government has spent little money in doing sufficient research that would back their claims and it will be very difficult, maybe impossible, to pin-point agent orange as the culprit of any deformity or disease as nearly everyone alive has some level dioxins in their system. However, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the Vietnamese people are suffering from an abnormally large amount of diseases and deformities in past and present generations. Even scarier is that no one can be certain how long it will take for the dioxins from Agent Orange to stop affecting this country.
There have been very little monetary contributions for pain suffered by the innocent victims of the war (by both governments). For example, in the United States, veterans and their families who have been determined to suffer from the effects of Agent Orange get a payout from the government of from $500-$5,000 per month. In Vietnam, the Vietnam government supplies disabled soldiers (of the North Vietnamese Army) about $7 per month. There is a petition to the US government to assist in the compensation process at http://www.petitiononline.com/AOVN/petition-sign.html?
We are working for a little over 2 weeks at the Vietnam Friendship Village outside of Hanoi. The village was established by an ex-Vietnam Veteran, once an active member of Vietnam Veteran's Against the War campaign. Once Vietnam reopened its' doors to foreigners in the early 90's, this man worked on establishing a project to help the Vietnamese people. The village currently houses 120 children suffering the effects of Agent Orange and about 40 war veterans. There are medical facilities, therapy, school, a small clinic, work training, and an organic garden to supply food all on the property. The best part about it is that it is free for the people and is continued by grants from the Vietnamese government and foreign donations.
You can check out the websites for some info on the village:
Our main goals with this project are to help out in the garden (i.e. harvesting vegetables, weeding, cultivating soil, removing bugs, planting trees, etc.) and to interact with the children and the Vietnamese volunteers. There are 8 foreign volunteers in total, from the US and South Korea, and about 10-15 Vietnamese volunteers who periodically assist us.
A portion of the garden that we are working on.
Inside the net house doing a bit of hoeing.
The Vietnamese volunteers literally dress nicer for gardening than we both did at our jobs. This is Hoa, the secretary of VFP in Vietnam.
Cultivating green beans.
A bit of dirt hauling.
Haul one-way, ride back the other.
Waiting to be plucked.
Joanna (Californian) & Amber (Alien)
Enjoying the organic carrots.
We dealt with a lot of off-and-on light rain the first week. The other volunteers: Young-Ji, Jeong-Ha, Tenley, Dung, and Joon-Hyun.
The kids have a variety of deformities, some physical and some mental. So far, we have only had contact with less than half of them, since some are unable leave their beds. The children are extremely friendly, and even though some may not know their ABC's, they definitely know the definition of love and fun; and hugs are given out as though it were as essential as breathing.
Amber & Hoa, who is mute and deaf.
A different Hoa. He is a major picture hog, but with a smile like that how can you say "get out of the picture"?! Hoa (pronounced "Wa") is 20 years old and loves karate and dancing and is excellent at both!
Hoa jumping in another photo with "the organizer", Quan.
Quan, Hoa, and Truoung.
Amber and a few of the children, the little guy is 28 years old.
This little girl, also named Hoa, is blind, but has no problem with legos. She feels the pieces in her mouth and then stacks them on.
This boy worked on this same puzzle over and over for about an hour. He really had to work to get his hands to place the pieces where he wanted them, but he never gave up.
Bach is 16 and speaks pretty good English. He is so polite and a really nice boy.
Some of the other kids:
Justin being hugged by his shadow, Hien.
The boys like to treat Justin as a jungle gym.
Phu is so adorable and loves the camera - trying to steal them from you that is!
Quy (pronounced "key") is very friendly and also speaks a little English.
The children stay on average of about 2-3 years at the village for treatment and skill training. However, several of them have been there for much more that 3 years and will probably spend the majority of their lives there. Most of the children’s families live far from Hanoi and are unable to visit them.