Yearly Archives: 2013

Veteran’s Day

Vietnamese Military Cemetary

Last December my father and I traveled around the demilitarized zone in Vietnam with the son of a Vietnamese veteran.  We visited the cemetery pictured above.  All of these stones are for unknown soldiers.  All of them Northern Vietnamese.  As far as I could tell, there didn’t seem to be any national memorials honoring the memory or spirit of the Southern Vietnamese soldiers.  Our guide Quang’s father fell during the early part of the war so his family was lucky enough to have had a military burial.

On this Veteran’s Day I would like to honor all veteran’s and acknowledge the possibility of peace between friends and former enemies.

I called my father to wish him a happy veteran’s day, and to thank him.  He told me a funny little story that I think shows how much has changed in the past 40 years.

This morning he was chatting with our friend Mr. Po, a resident of the Vietnam Friendship Village.  My father told Mr. Po that today is a holiday in the United States, “Veteran’s Day.”  Mr. Po thought this was interesting and asked my father why there would be a holiday that was celebrated by refraining from eating meat…  My father’s confusion broke when he realized Mr. Po was asking about “Vegetarian’s Day.”  After many laughs, they were able to understand one another, and give thanks for what they have, each honoring veterans in their own way.  I will always be amazed that a Vietnam veteran can have these simple happy interactions with a young Vietnamese man forty years after conflict…

Peter Abatiell with Vietnamese veteran at the Friendship Village

Peter Abatiell with Vietnamese veteran at the Friendship Village

 

 

US Students Visit Village!

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This month 5 high school students from different parts of the US spent 3 days volunteering at the Friendship Village.  The visit was part of a month long Southeast Asia service trip organized by Adventures Cross Country (ARCC) of Mill Valley, CA.  The 5 young women, ages 15 through 17, were not sure what to expect from their stay at the village.

“I was pleasantly surprised at how comforting and welcoming the place was. The minute we arrived, we were greeted by an excited Mr. Long and others eager to meet our acquaintance in a friendly fashion. We received many affectionate hugs upon arrival from anyone we came across, which was quite refreshing coming from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. The hugs continued throughout our stay and were much appreciated by our group.” – Naomi

Despite cultural and language barriers the US students were able to make personal connections with students their own age, living at the Friendship Village.

“I was nervous that I would become overly emotional in front of the children, but I soon found out that there was nothing sad about them and there was actually something very beautiful about each of them and our connection. The pure happiness of these kids really taught me that you have to decide to be happy in every situation you are in.

I was kindly greeted by a girl named Long who lived at the Friendship Village. Her happiness emanated off of her as she approached us, her visitors. I don’t know how but we could both tell that we immediately had a deep connection. Even though we couldn’t communicate with words in the same language, whenever we would talk I could understand everything she was trying to say to me. Every time we were able to spend time together we would laugh, smile, and play. It was hard for me to explain in words, but it was one of the most powerful experiences I have ever had.” – Chloe

Grace also made a connection with a young girl at the village, and reflected upon the importance of the project.

“From my perch next to the girl, I watched friendships being made despite the language barrier. I saw in action the success of the VFV’s mission statement:  “uniting caring citizens through international cooperation in the building and support of the Village of Friendship.”

One of the new experiences the young volunteers faced was providing evening English lessons for some of the older residents of the village as well as the cook.

“I feel like I learned more from their passion & enthusiasm for learning than they did from listening to our English lesson. At the end of the lessons, not only did our students feel accomplished with learning, but our group felt the positive energy from them as well. In the end we all bonded and ate together to commence the last lesson. We had brought cookies and they brought out traditional Vietnamese snacks such as rice crackers and dried fish. This potluck brought us all together perfectly as we compared stories of our very polar opposite, but always somehow similar lives.” – Emily

Like many young volunteers, the ARCC students found that they personally received a great deal from their experience.  They have a new perspective on their world and a refined sense of self.  They wish to continue their support for the Friendship Village in the future.

“I’m very grateful that the Friendship Village does exactly what it does, and that is, present the hope for those to grow and learn how to be better than they already are. That is why I feel so strongly about this organization, and I am deeply humbled that I was even able to stay there, even if it was just for a short time. Being partially Vietnamese not only motivates me to help, but personally strengthens my cultural bond to the Friendship Village.” – Emily

Welcome Springtime!

blossomThe Vietnam Friendship Village Project’s U.S. Committee — that’s us! — is a very small group of people, currently made up of eight core members (our board of directors), plus a few stalwart supporters and volunteers. Although we consider our group to be national, that is, we wish to be raising funds throughout the USA, most of us core members are grounded in the West: Judy resides in Alaska; Becky, Don, Dan and Bill in Oregon; Carl and Paul in Northern and Southern California respectively. Then there is Liliane, who sometimes feels kind of lonesome way over there in Maryland…

Our little nonprofit is also unique in that we have no office, no paid staff, and no physical assets to speak of. We meet monthly via conference call; once in a blue moon we try for an in-person meeting. We all do what we can to share tasks, and although some of us may feel spread thin at times, we are proud to be able to say our efforts on behalf of the Van Canh Friendship Village are 100% volunteer. The same thing can be said for our counterparts, the Friendship Village’s German, French, Japanese and Canadian Committees.

In order to boost our fundraising capacity, we have set a high — yet do-able — goal to raise $50,000 during the current fiscal year (Our year starts on October 1st.) At the time we set this goal, each of us board members committed to personally bringing in at least $1,000. My favorite way to do fundraising is by organizing public events, and I’m happy to report that on March 10, my friends and I managed to raise a total of $720 in Santa Cruz, California. (Details to be blogged sometime soon…) I am now looking forward to a second event in Portland, Oregon: a Springtime dinner benefit slated for the evening of March 21, the first day of Spring! Through good food, music, poetry and story-telling, we will celebrate the Fifteenth Anniversary of the Van Canh Friendship Village and the (approximate) Twentieth Anniversary of our U.S. Committee. All the details can be found on the flier below (click for downloadable half-page version). Please help us spread the word… THANK YOU and Happy Spring!

In Memoriam: David Rocovits

David Rocovits, a long-time board member of VFVP-USA, a.k.a. the U.S. Committee, passed away suddenly on January 5, 2013, of difficulties related to a blood clot. He was a good friend to the Viet Nam Friendship Village—a frequent visitor and one of its most dedicated supporters. He will be greatly missed.

David’s brother Dan has resided in Hanoi for many years, and after being introduced to the VFV on a visit to the city in the early 2000s, David made a point of visiting every time he came to Viet Nam, usually every year or two. He was invited to join VFVP-USA’s Board of Directors in 2007, and in 2010 he attended the biennial international meeting at the Friendship Village as the U.S. Committee’s official representative. Over the years, David documented life at the village with his photographs, many of which have been published in our newsletters and on our website. He was a creative fundraiser and brought in a large share of the contributions raised in the USA. Here is the bio Dave submitted several years ago for our Board of Directors web page:

David Rocovits received a BS in Civil Engineering in 1963 from Case Institute of Technology and has been a practicing engineer in Nevada since 1973. He was drafted into the army and served from 1964 to 1966 as a research engineer in nuclear weapons effects. Between 1968 and 1972 he backpacked throughout much of the remote region of Asia from Turkey to Taiwan, and developed a love and respect for the Asian people and their culture. He worked for the California Division of Highways and several consulting firms before going into business for himself, acquiring and restoring residential buildings and managing them as rental properties. Dave and his wife Amy, a native of Taiwan, have a daughter who is an attorney in Reno and a son who is a college student. Dave’s hobbies include photography, pistol shooting, and restoration of Borgward automobiles. Dave has visited the Friendship Village multiple times and enlisted many of his friends, family members and associates in his efforts to raise financial support for the project.

The Rocovits family asks that memorial donations be made to the Viet Nam Friendship Village. Checks should be made to “Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA” and mailed to P.O. Box 599, Arcata, CA 95518-0599.

NOTE: Below is a small gallery of photographs of David Rocovits, taken (with his camera) at the Friendship Village in 2008, 2010, and 2011. The solo pic is from 2010 when he represented our committee at the international meeting, as is the photo of him and Paul Wicker sitting on the bench that was arranged by Dave to memorialize Don Flaxman, a VFVP-USA board member who passed away earlier that year. Dave preferred eating alongside the children in their dining hall rather than in the guesthouse dining room. Of all our board members, Dave was the least “political” in terms of identifying as a “peace activist” or working for peace or against war in any organized way, but he really understood the importance of reconciliation. He always made a point of visiting with groups of veterans who happened to be at the village during the times he was there (with the help of an interpreter). I think part of his motivation was simply cultural exchange. He probably brought along the small photo album of his travels—the same one he shared with me when we were getting to know each other. But he undoubtedly also meant to create more positive perceptions of Americans in the minds of a number of these Vietnamese veterans, and in that I have no doubt he succeeded.