Author Archives: becky

Therapy Pool Makes a Big Splash

This post is adapted from an original news story written by Friendship Village Physiotherapist Phan Van Thien.

therapy pool

German physiotherapist Veronika and physiotherapist Phan Van Thien guide children in swimming exercise.

Since opening its doors on March 18, 1998, the Vietnam Friendship Village (VFV) has stood as a living symbol of international friendship and solidarity. International support continues to make good things happen at the Friendship Village. Thanks to contributions from the State of Vietnam, the Veterans Association of Vietnam, the French Committee for the Vietnam Friendship Village, and the International School of Prague–Czech Republic, a 180-square-meter pool came online this spring, adding water therapy to the health care modalities used in treating Vietnam Friendshp Village residents, many of whom suffer from musculoskeletal disorders. The completion of the pool was celebrated with a first day of swimming enjoyed by all leaders, staff, veterans, and children of the Vietnam Friendship Village.

Director Dinh Van Tuyen welcomed the contractors and builders of the swimming pool to the official opening on May 7, 2015, and acknowledged them for quality assurance, and for completing the project on schedule. VFV medical center staff have been charged with receiving, managing and utilizing the pool for patients’ therapy needs, and improving their professional capacity to serve and care for veterans and children in this way. The pool area is divided into two parts, one for swimming and the other for exercise and therapy, and can accommodate between 8 to 10 patients at a time. To begin with, a timetable of weekly exercises has been created for veterans and children using the pool, and physiotherapist Phan Van Thien has completed training courses in aquatic therapy and in pool management.

Health benefits of aquatic rehabilitation described by Mr. Thien at the opening ceremony include muscle development, improved breathing, regulation of blood pressure, improved blood circulation and other cardiovascular benefits. He stressed that any aquatic therapy regimen should be guided by a doctor or physical therapist to ensure proper process and correct movements. Veronika, a German physiotherapist who has been providing services and training at the medical center, acknowledged VFV for its humanitarian work and welcomed the addition of aquatic therapy to the treatments and rehabilitative care available for patients. She and VFV medical staff, who already benefit professionally through exchange and sharing of expertise, look forward to developing new skills in the area of aquatic therapy.

Mr. Lo Minh Tien, a veteran from Son La Province who fought at Khe Xanh in Quang Tri Province in 1968, expressed thanks to the Vietnamese government , VAVN, and international partners for the chance to come to the Friendship Village for care, treatment, rest and relaxation. He said he never dreamed of receiving aquatic therapy, and remarked on how relaxing it was, saying it had eased his chronic headache and helped him sleep better. His wish was that many more veterans, and particularly the children at Friendship Village, would receive similar benefits from the pool.

A boy named Luong Nhat Tan, a third-generation victim Agent Orange/Dioxin (his grandfather was exposed during wartime), was happy to say that the swimming exercise helped him study better. He was also excited to be able to learn how to swim safely and how to use a lifejacket, because he was aware of several children in the countryside who had drowned in swimming accidents in ponds and lakes. Tan said looked forward to sharing his new water safety knowledge with friends when he returns home.

All of the children and veterans who take part in aquatic therapy are provided with buoys and lifejackets, and guided by professional physiotherapists. Everyone is very happy and excited to be able to swim and do aquatic exercises, especially in the hot weather. It was not surprising to hear that the atmosphere in the swimming pool is, in the words of our Vietnamese partners, “really joyful and noisy.”


Tan goes to school

Luong Nhat TanLuong Nhat Tan is a 12-year-old boy from Yen Bai Province. After his father died and his mother left home, Tan and his younger brother were sent to live with grandparents. But the family was really struggling financially, so in 2012 the local Veterans Association arranged for Tan to stay at the Vietnam Friendship Village (VFV).

Tan had a dream of one day getting a job to help support his family, but his family’s difficulties had kept him from attending school, so he was way behind other children his age. Last August, an Australian nurse named Caroline who was volunteering in Tan’s classroom at VFV recognized Tan’s intelligence and his potential for reintegrating into public school, and approached village administrators with the suggestion of hiring a tutor to bring him up to speed in basic education so he might be ready to enter public school in September 2015. Tan’s teacher at Friendship Village, Ly, supported Caroline’s proposal, and agreed to take on the extra duty of serving as Tan’s tutor.

When VFVP-USA board members learned of the need for funding Tan’s tutoring and school expenses, Joseph Little promised to raise the money at Niagara University where he works as a professor of English. Ever since returning from a trip to Vietnam in summer of 2013 when he and his partner Samantha volunteered at VFV, he had been organizing Niagara-based fundraising efforts on behalf of the village. They got started in December 2014, and by March, the Niagara group had already reached their goal — $1,125, which will cover Tan’s 2015 tuition, summer and winter uniforms, books and basic supplies such as pens and notebooks, plus Ly’s tutoring services. Ly was honored to take on the extra work, and rearranged her personal schedule accordingly, with the blessing of her family. She said that the fact that Tan is an eager student and enjoys learning makes her job a joyful one.

This story is an example of one individual we have helped to support through a targeted fundraising appeal. Board member Paul Wicker is taking the lead on developing a special “George Mizo Scholarship Fund” for the purpose of funding additional educational and/or vocational training opportunities beyond what is already provided at the Friendship Village. In some cases, funds may go toward funding salaries for young residents who are in the process of developing professional skills by serving as assistant teachers or teachers in training in Friendship Village classes (for example, computer classes and tailoring classes). We are still in the process of working out details of the George Mizo Fund along with our international partners, and we look forward to sharing more news about this exciting development in the near future.

Donate your vehicle to the Friendship Village

dragondelsurVFVP-USA board member Stephen Abatiell lived out of his old Volvo during many a back-country ski trip in Yosemite National Park. During a road trip to Mexico, the car assumed the nickname “Dragon del Sur” (though, thankfully, it was not a fire-breathing dragon). When his car was finally ready for the junkyard, Steve traded it in for a donation to Friendship Village.

Donating a car, truck, RV, boat, motorcycle, or other vehicle to Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA is easier than you might think, thanks to CARS™, a service that “streamlines vehicle donation programs for non-profits, helping them to maximize profitability.” (The acronym CARS stands for Charitable Auto Resources.)

The first step in donating a vehicle to VFVP-USA is filling out a secure online donation form at A representative will contact you shortly thereafter to guide you through the next step in the donation process. If you prefer to contact CARS by phone, call 855-500-RIDE or 855-500-7433 and one of their representatives will help you arrange your donation.

Lighter Than Orange

LTOklGerman film illustrates Agent Orange’s devastating effects with personal stories of Friendship Village families

We are pleased to announce a new addition to the Friendship Village film library, a German documentary titled Lighter Than Orange: The Legacy of Dioxin in Vietnam. The feature documentary is the debut of Matthias Leupold, a professor of photography and video based in Berlin. The film premiered last spring in Portland, Oregon, and was also screened by Leupold at the Veterans For Peace Convention in Asheville, North Carolina last summer.

The film is currently making the rounds in the festival circuit. Lighter Than Orange was selected for screening at the Kuala Lumpur EcoFilm Fest (Oct. 2014) and the DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival (Feb. 2015). It was an Official Selection for the Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York (March 16-22) and came away with the Grand Prize Documentary Feature Award. It was also a Gold Award winner in the Filmmakers World Festival in Jakarta (March 18-27). Next steps include distribution on DVD, including a 45-minute educational version (full is 70 mins.), and publication of a companion book.

The film will be an excellent tool for educators teaching about the war as well as activists working to boost awareness of the lingering effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. For us, it will help illustrate the role of Friendship Village in helping some of those affected.

Lighter Than Orange highlights the stories of a handful of Vietnamese veterans exposed to Agent Orange during the American war. After ten-plus years of nonstop fighting, these survivors returned home eager to rebuild their lives, only to be confronted with new challenges: numerous miscarriages, stillbirths, and children with incurable illnesses and debilitating deformities. The individuals featured in Leupold’s film—temporary residents of the Friendship Village during the time of filming—represent an estimated 4 million Vietnamese people still affected by the toxic legacy of a war coming up on its 50-year anniversary.

The soft styling of this striking film humanizes the Vietnamese war veterans—our former enemies—and helps to cushion the intensity of their stories. By visually linking the veterans’ home lives to scenes at the village, Leupold’s film conveys the fact that the young residents of the Friendship Village are the offspring of some of the people most heavily exposed to the chemical defoliant—those who fought in the war. It provides a window on challenges faced by these kids and the services provided to them at the village, while also highlighting the plight of some of the more severely disabled children who are often cared for at home by their parents, invisible to the public eye.

We look forward to touring with this film after its wider release. If you are interested in organizing a screening in the future, please let us know.

Sharing the Peace of Christmas

by Becky Luening

One hundred years ago today, a spontaneous ceasefire took place along a large swath of the western front—the line where troops from opposing armies were dug into muddy trenches separated in some places by mere yards, engaged in one of the bloodiest wars in history, World War I. This temporary pause in fighting was borne of a cultural tradition shared by a majority of the  soldiers on all sides, the celebration of Christmas. Troops not only stopped shooting at each other, but actually came out of the trenches to fraternize in no man’s land. They sang together, shared food and drink, and swapped gifts and stories. This very un-warlike event, which came to be known as the Christmas Truce, threatened to weaken men’s resolve to fight. In essence, enemy soldiers, given the chance to meet face to face without threat of violence, could not help but recognize the common humanity of “the other.” For some, taking up arms again when fighting resumed was quite difficult if not impossible.

George MizoAs the celebration of peace in our culture is dwarfed by the celebration of war, I believe that the 1914 Christmas Truce centenary is well worth celebrating, and I hope the story was shared around many a family table today. But in reflecting on this one popular example of peace breaking out during wartime, I also hope that people will remember and celebrate other moments and examples of peace-making between enemies, perhaps less known but no less powerful. One such example is the story of George Mizo’s return to Vietnam in 1988 in search of reconciliation with his former enemy. Mizo’s passion for peace not only led to the founding of the Vietnam Friendship Village that our Committee exists to support, but also paved the way for many different people to establish a relationship with Vietnam based on peace and friendship and healing of the wounds of war.

My wish this Christmas Day is that people all around the world come to recognize our collective capacity for laying down arms (ceasing violence) and recognizing the humanity of “the other,” and begin working together to heal and feed our war-weary, peace-hungry world. Near the end of The Friendship Village [the 2003 film by Michelle Mason], George Mizo says:

“Hope is an illusion. If you want to create something, you have to actively work at it, and not hope that somebody else, somehow, some miracle is gonna happen. . . . We either will create a world of peace, or we won’t. But it’s our choice.”

If you are inspired by the story of George Mizo and the Vietnam Friendship Village, please consider making a charitable donation to Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA today, and when you send us your check or fill out the online donation form, please include a personal dedication to help inform and inspire others in turn. [See examples of dedications in our past newsletters. Please sign up for our snail mail list if you wish to receive our next print newsletter, due out in early 2015.]


Season of Giving

December is upon us, and Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA is but one of many charitable organizations scrambling to make the most of the holiday gifting season. In that vein, you may look forward to more blog posts on this website in the coming weeks, with updates and special appeals from the Friendship Village. (You may even be treated to an email message, if you are on our list… If, however, you feel inundated by email appeals, perhaps you will be moved to reward VFVP-USA for our extremely infrequent use of that medium!)

Rhizophora film imageToday, to kick off our end-of-year support campaign on behalf of Friendship Village, we share with you a very special short film featuring the unique “voices” of 11 Friendship Village residents. Designed to raise awareness about the ongoing consequences of Agent Orange, this mesmerizing movie manages to touch on intersecting global issues of disability / war / environment. The film, titled Rhizophora, is a project of Julia Metzger-Traber, a US American/German choreographer and performance artist based in Berlin, and her partner, Italian choreographer Davide De Lillis, a teaching/directing/performing duo working under the name ¿Che.Ne.So?.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a “sneak preview” for VFVP-USA supporters, not to be shared publicly, as Julia and Davide are in the process of submitting Rhizophora to various film festivals before releasing it to the general public. They will also be making a few minor edits to this almost-final draft.

Click here to watch Rhizophora on Vimeo. The password is: Friendship


The Agent Orange Legacy in Vietnam

One of the unique aspects of the Vietnam Friendship Village is the two-way street of learning and growth that happens there. The Vietnamese residents, some now young adults, are enriched by interactions with volunteers from different countries and cultural backgrounds, and vice versa. It is not uncommon for U.S. citizens who travel to Vietnam to develop a deeper interest in the history of the American war there, and to awaken to a sense of responsibility for the damages that remain. Anna Tadio is one such traveler. She is an American high school student who experienced Vietnam, and the Friendship Village, on a trip with an organization called Adventures Cross Country. —Ed.

by Anna Tadio

Crossing the border into Vietnam, the first thing one notices are the overwhelmingly friendly people. From offers of help to the train station, to recommendations of where to eat a cheap authentic meal, I never once have felt the anti-American animosity that I am sure I would feel if my people were subjected to the brutalities that took place during the Vietnam War (or as they call it here the American War). Although the war officially lasted for 19 years, the most destructive attempt at preventing communism was the United States’ use of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange that is still permeating the environment today. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy authorized the beginning of Operation Ranch Hand, the U.S. Air Force code name for the use of this toxic herbicide.

Manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, Agent Orange was sprayed for 9 years. Over 20,000,000 gallons of chemical herbicides and defoliants were used to deprive the North Vietnamese of hiding spaces and food supplies. The concentrations of this chemical were hundreds of times greater than considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. U.S. helicopters and planes sprayed the countryside at 13 times what was recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 20 percent of Vietnam’s forests were sprayed, including endangered mangrove forests. 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange and about 3 million people are now victims, including second- and third-generation offspring of those originally exposed. Hundreds of thousands have died and hundreds of thousands of others are struggling with major disabilities including children who are born each year with deformities. The Vietnamese victims have no way to pay for medical treatment or care for their severely disabled children while they try to earn a living.

For ten days I have had the unique opportunity to spend time volunteering at Friendship Village in the suburbs of Hanoi in northern Vietnam. This sanctuary for victims of Agent Orange was founded by a man named George Mizo, a U.S. war veteran who, while experiencing the horrors of the Vietnam War, became a peace activist and widely spoke out against the war in Vietnam. After suffering from a series of health problems, his doctors attributed his sickness to his exposure to Agent Orange. As a way to make amends with the people he spent so many years killing, and as a way to help those that the U.S. government still has not, he helped create a place for both young children and Vietnam war veterans to live, play, and receive medical care, emotional support and vocational training so that they may lead a somewhat normal life when they leave their safe haven. Children and veterans stay for different time periods, and they are not required to pay a dime. The village currently receives more than half of its funding from the Vietnamese government and receives another large chunk from international donors including the United States, Japan, France, Canada, England and Germany.

When I walked into the village, I observed a pleasant environment with light yellow buildings surrounding a huge park with a playground in the middle and a pond that at one time was the home of fish that the residents grew for another protein source. It felt peaceful. The relief I felt at seeing such a well-maintained establishment was washed away when the first resident came out to say hello. Luian, one of the residents, is half as tall as a full-grown Vietnamese woman, and her face tells a story of serious birth defects and emotionally stunted growth. She appears to be 14 and in reality is 29. She had a huge smile on her face and gave each of us American students a huge hug and grabbed someone’s hands. Other residents poured out of their classrooms to say hello, all smiling broadly. Some had clear disabilities and deformities while others seemed to be functioning quite well until I realized that one girl was deaf and others I had first thought were younger, were ten years older than my prediction. It was powerful to see how despite of all the difficulties they face on a daily basis, the kids we met seemed happy and were excited to welcome newcomers and volunteers to their little safe haven. The challenges these residents face include cleft palates, mental disabilities, deafness, hernias, extra fingers and toes, throat cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, colon cancer, soft tissue sarcoma, lung cancer and liver cancer. I couldn’t help but wonder what their life is like when they are not playing in the wide-open spaces of Friendship Village.

I spent the week gardening on site, and doing research on Agent Orange to spread information to people around the world who do not know about this issue. While my impact was small, it made a difference in my life to see the openness and forgiveness exhibited by these innocent children who had no part of a “communist revolution” but are experiencing the consequences of the U.S. government’s actions over fifty years later. For people interested in visiting Vietnam, Friendship Village is a place of reconciliation and a place to give back to the people we harmed so many years ago, and who are still feeling the consequences of our actions today.



Villager Snapshot: Mai Ngô

by Paul Wicker, VFVP-USA board member

Mai Ngô had been at the Friendship Village for the past two years. She was born in 1993, and she is from Lạng Giang district in Bắc Giang Province 36 miles northeast of Hanoi. She has worked in the tailoring shop at the village, where she learned to make clothes.

She is known in the village for her singing ability and happy disposition. Whenever there is an event that provides an opportunity for a song, Mai is always involved and frequently is a soloist.

Mai is the kind of person who has ambitions. She said on her Facebook page, “Push my limit. Why not? It is time to see what I can do!”

With that in mind, Mai recently left the Village to work in the sewing room for LSHELL Designs in Hanoi. LSHELL Designs is affiliated with the Donkey Bakery, a company that employs people with disabilities. Her goal is to support herself in an independent living environment and to save money so she can study fashion design in the future.

We wish her well in her new endeavor.

Party Time at the Village

by Paul Wicker

This was my third trip to Vietnam Friendship Village to attend the biennial international planning meeting. It has become a bit of a routine process. You see old friends — members of the international committee, Village residents and staff. There are two days of formal meetings that produce the next two-year plan.

Things were pretty normal up to that point, but then came a surprise party. It was hosted by some of the Village residents and foreign volunteers. This was, without exception, the best party I had ever experienced in Vietnam. The menu consisted of Lê Văn Đô’s mystery punch, dumplings wrapped in leaves (Bánh bt lc) made from a recipe supplied by Hóa Bùi and Hang, and — the pièce de résistance — crepes coated with sugar and honey, preparation of the latter supervised by French volunteer Julie Duvert. I believe that I hold the record for the number of crepes consumed due to the efforts of Nguyễn Long who made sure that my plate was never empty. We all had a great time, sharing food, singing and communicating through language as well as non-verbal means.

VFVPartytablePaul Wicker, front center: “Now this is what I call a Happy Meal!”
[Photo: Auguste using Alain Bonnet’s camera]

The Vietnamese are always asking you to sing your favorite songs, so after the delicious meal, it came time for the “Voice“ competition. German Committee members Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo and Brigitte Mueller kicked it off by singing “Auf einem Baum ein Kuckuck” and “Die Gedanken sind frei,” both songs with a special meaning. The first one is like a children’s song, but one can also see the cuckoo as a symbol of freedom and the huntsman as a symbol of oppression. Japanese partner Shige Ahara sang “Smile” and the international duo of Shige Ahara and Auguste Bechler sang “What a Wonderful World.” Auguste Bechler, Alain Bonnet and Julie Duvert formed a French trio to sing “Aux Champs Elysées.” The Vietnamese villagers sang “Trái Đất Này Là Của Chúng Mình” (“This World is Ours”) and Mai Ngô sang an American pop song (from the Disney film Frozen, if I’m not mistaken).

Then it was crunch time for the Americans. Don Blackburn claimed that due to fatigue he couldn’t remember the words to any song unless there was a Karaoke machine. It was going to be up to me to uphold our national honor in the sing-a-thon. I racked my brain for several minutes and the only thing that popped into my head was, “Home on the Range.” I remembered the first stanza, but the next hurdle was difficult for everyone: I can’t sing. It was pretty embarrassing, but thankfully the crowd was in a forgiving mood.

VFVPartyFriendship Village “Kids” (many of them now adults) mix it up
with international supporters and foreign volunteers
[Photo: Maria Mulvihill using Alain Bonnet’s camera]

After the evening was over, the members of the international committee realized that we had learned an important lesson from the party. We have always referred to the young residents as “kids” or “children.” The residents hosting the party are now young adults and it is time to make some changes that reflect that reality and take advantage of their skills and capabilities.

A big thanks to Long Cảnh and Julie Duvert for organizing this splendid gathering.


by Paul Wicker

I have returned to my home in Van Canh Viet Nam
To the place called Viet Nam Friendship Village
This is where my family is
These are my brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren
Home is where you are loved and love in return
We are all the same people
No matter the language, culture or appearance
I have known this since I first came to Viet Nam Friendship Village
I have arrived
I am home

Thanks for Spreading the Word

Just a quick post to say how much we appreciate all the volunteers, visitors, poets and filmmakers, journalists and photographers who help spread the word about the Van Canh Friendship Village, and about the larger issue of the long-term effects of Agent Orange/dioxin in Viet Nam.

Click to read Kimberly's article at

Click to read Kimberly’s article at

Often we receive email messages from supporters sharing links to online articles or blog posts we wouldn’t otherwise know about. Sometimes we hear from authors directly, or secondhand through one of our partner committee members in Germany, Japan, France, Canada or Viet Nam. We have begun listing links to people’s online blogs and articles on our sidebar.

Yesterday, I received snail mail from Kimberly Hughes, staff writer with the Mainichi newspaper in Japan. She enclosed this note (see pic) with a printout of the article she wrote about the Friendship Village, published on March 1, 2014. The piece, Vietnam Friendship Village offers healing, hope to those impacted by war’s ongoing legacy, is a very well written introduction to our project.

Thank you, Kimberly!