Author Archives: becky

Peace on Earth…

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut has many of us in the United States meditating, as we grieve, on how to grapple with the epidemic of gun violence in our country. In listening to public discussions of the problem, I’ve heard more than one person draw parallels to the many, many children victims of wars, past and present, worldwide.

Drafting Peace AppealFollowing the ceremonial signing of the 2013-14 Memorandum of Understanding by the heads of the five national representatives present at this year’s International Meeting, one more document was passed around for the signature of everyone in the room. It was an “Appeal for Peace” initiated by our French partner, Georges Doussin. In the photo you can see Georges engaged in the process of drafting the appeal with Rosemarie Mizo and a French translator. Here is the text of the document we signed:

An Appeal for Peace
from the International Committee
of the Viet Nam Friendship Village
— 25 October 2012 —

Wars driven by financial greed have caused the loss of many lives and plunged millions of people into poverty and hunger. The International Committee for the Viet Nam Friendship Village appeals to all people to join hands to replace this inhumane exploitation with a dedication to peace and solidarity; and to replace hatred with friendship. Together we oppose all war.

Here at Van Canh, we have built a Friendship Village for war victims. It is the fulfillment of a dream and desire of veterans to fight for peace. Today, in love and solidarity, we dream about a world at peace. Today we envision the world as a village. For the happiness of every child, let us join together to save that village!

This simple, straightforward expression of a collective dream for world peace is true to the spirit of the founding of the Friendship Village. Doussin was one of the handful of international war veterans originally assembled to carry out the vision that grew out of American veteran George Mizo’s original desire to reconcile with his former enemies.

A visceral understanding of the nature of institutionalized violence often fuels a strong yearning among veterans for a world without war. The absence of war, of course, doesn’t mean an end to conflict, but those of us engaged in “peace work” strongly believe that most, if not all, conflict can be resolved nonviolently. For peace to be possible, humans must be willing to act from a place of compassion rather than competition. We must nurture the basic human urges of empathy, caring and sharing. This goes for nation-states as well as individuals.

One of the unique aspects of the Viet Nam Friendship Village is that it is partially supported by a community of people of different nationalities. This collaboration necessarily requires that we work at fostering cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect at the same time that we work together to provide good nutrition, effective treatments and education for Friendship Village residents. While not always easy, it is a very good practice to be engaged in.

VFVP-USA’s Winter 2012 Newsletter was mailed yesterday to just over 1,000 U.S. supporters. If you are not on our snail mail list, or if you want to share the newsletter with others, you may download the PDF via our newsletter page.

As we get ready to turn the page to 2013, on behalf of our board of directors, I extend heartfelt gratitude, once again, to Vietnam Friendship Village friends and donors in the USA for all your great support. Let us continue to strive together, in all different ways, toward our common goal of a world at peace.

Peace Pole

ABOVE: Dang Vu Dung and Ahara “Shige” Sigemitu pose next to the Vietnamese and Japanese language versions of the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth”  visible on two sides of a Peace Pole discovered at Tam Dao National Park north of Hanoi.


Cyber Tuesday

Once again I feel I’m being pulled screaming and kicking into the holiday season. For me, today, that meant joining other  nonprofits around the world in making a “Cyber Tuesday” pitch via the World Wide Web, hoping to capture the attention of  folks who are in the giving mood this time of year. Writing an appeal is never easy for me, and is usually preceded by weeks of creative procrastination… But since I’d been thinking about possible messages during those weeks, when I suddenly decided early this afternoon that today was the day (Cyber Tuesday!), I hit the ground running. And by the time I put it all together I was feeling pretty good. Good enough to hit SEND!

Star of the MomentAlthough it took up the better half of an afternoon, one reason today’s task was enjoyable is that it gave me a chance to relive a happy evening of entertainment at the village. There were many amazing moments wrapped up in this one event. For instance, an inspiring solo performance of the Mariah Carey song, “When You Believe”… If you had asked me earlier today, I couldn’t have told you the name of the song or the original artist. But I was able to track down those details online after tapping into my memory of this young wheelchair-bound singer, whose voice wasn’t polished by any means, but who managed to find pockets of perfect, emotionally charged delivery throughout her performance. I remember at the climax, the young Frenchwoman sitting next to me thrusting her hands in the air and crying, “Yes!”

Obviously, this young “disabled” woman possesses great courage and passion (not to mention talent) to be able to solo like that in front of a large audience. It’s great to see that the Friendship Village provides a supportive environment for these young people to pursue some of their passions as well as providing general assistance for developing physically, mentally and socially to the best of their abilities.

In case you’re not already on our email list, you may access today’s message here. Please feel free to share the link… and, by the way, Happy Holidays!

Meet “Little Long,” VFV’s IT Instructor

Little Long headshotThey call him “Little Long” because he is short, but if you saw a picture of him with nothing to compare his height with, you would see a normal 26-year-old man, perfect in all aspects, not dwarfed. He is just little. Long was born to a poor veteran family and has a sibling who is also very short. He could not go to school because the prevailing attitude was that it was a waste of money educating someone who was so “different.” When Little Long came to the village he met Suel Jones, a veteran of the American war (as it is called in Viet Nam) who volunteered for many years at the village. People who knew Long at that time will tell you that at first he could not even look people in the eye when talking because of his low self-esteem. He was not used to talking to anyone and would break into nervous giggles when asked even a simple question. One got the impression that he was mentally disabled. But after getting to know him, Suel realized that Little Long was in fact quite smart. In subsequent conversations, Long confided to Suel that his big dream was to study IT (Information Technology) so that he could do what every other young man does—make money, help his family, find a girlfriend, start a family of his own. To do these things he needed a profession. Eventually Suel organized a group of his expat friends to raise the money to send Little Long to school to study IT. This is how Little Long started out as a resident at the village and is now a teacher. Thanks to his own efforts and the help of many friends at VFV and abroad, Long can now look you in the eye and tell you what he thinks.

International Agent Orange Day 2012

In commemoration of International Agent Orange Day, we want to share this article, authored by by Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie Cohen and posted on the website of the Viet Nam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign. If you miss the chance to participate with 51 seconds of silence followed by 51 seconds of action on August 10, 2012, don’t worry. These are simple actions that can be taken anytime. The main point is to help raise awareness in the USA about the ongoing legacy of dioxin left behind in Viet Nam and to do whatever we can to address the problem. Offering support to the Viet Nam Friendship Village is one avenue, and we hope you will do that, but there are many other projects out there working on this issue, and by supporting each other we increase our overall effectiveness in bringing relief to the Vietnamese people who continued to be affected by Agent Orange all these years after the American war.

Call for International Agent Orange Day 2012 US

Village Updates – Spring 2012

Eighteen children returned to their families in early 2012 after receiving medical and/or physical therapy, plus education, at the Friendship Village. As of mid-April, eight new children had been admitted; most of them third-generation Agent Orange victims.

Heart surgery recipient, Giang

One success story features Nguyen Thi Giang, a 17-year-old from Bac Giang Province, a current resident of the Friendship Village who was born with a severe intellectual disability. On a recent weekend visit home, over the course of one day her skin suddenly turned dark purple and her parents rushed her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with both a blood infection and congenital heart disease. The Friendship Village’s doctor arranged for Giang to be treated at Army Hospital 103. A month later, after the blood infection was cured, the hospital’s doctors performed heart surgery for Giang, and she is now doing very well. (Treatment costs were donated by the hospital.)

Visitor Tally: Between January and March 2012, the  Friendship Village attracted 172 visitors, plus 22 groups of volunteers  from 13 different nations. Volunteers provide assistance in special education classes, the physical rehab room, and the garden.

Friendship Village Performers

Congratulations! A troupe of Friendship Village children won Second Prize among 22 groups in a singing and dancing competition organized for disadvantaged children living in Hanoi. These performances bring much joy to those lucky enough to watch them, and the creative activity is a healing force in the children’s lives.

Facility Upgrades: Three of the new residential houses built to replace those damaged in 2008 flooding feature solar-powered hot water systems. Surrounding courtyard and roads have been raised to prevent flooding during heavy rains. A new wastewater system directs water away from the residences and dining hall to a pond outside village walls.

Road construction underway at Village

In Gratitude: VFVP-USA wired a contribution of $8,000 to our Vietnamese partners on March 28, 2012, designated for general operating expenses. We thank each and every one of our supporters, whose donations, large and small, make our ongoing support of the Friendship Village possible!

VFV Staff Profile #1

Ms. Pham Thi LongMeet Ms. Pham Thi Long, Housemother at Friendship Village. During Ms. Long’s 10 years at VFV, she has seen many children come and go. Some came in wheelchairs and left walking. She thinks that simply the improved sanitation and nutrition of the village makes a big difference in the students’ health. Many, of course, come from quite poor families where a disabled child cannot get much attention because parents are busy working. Many spent all day (and night) in one spot with little stimulation or interaction with others. At VFV they have friends/roommates who understand people living with disabilities because they themselves live with disabilities. Ms. Long has much work to do looking after so many of “her children,” but receives lots of help from the less limited-functioning housemates. She says that she just does not know what she would do if the residents did not help each other. It is just like a big family.

Conference Delegates Visit Van Canh

On August 9, 2011, the day before International Agent Orange Day, delegates of the 2nd International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin paid a visit to the Friendship Village where a program was organized to discuss the lingering effects of AO in Viet Nam.

Vietnam Television International was there, and produced this segment documenting the meeting: AO Delegates Visit Van Canh Friendship Village. It features a clip of Director Dang Vu Dung and a few of the international attendees, including several second-generation victims of AO. There is a performance by the children, and I was happy to glimpse a few familiar faces from my past visits to the village. The message of the conference is that the toxic chemicals sprayed in Viet Nam during the American war continue to have devastating effects on families even today, and there continues to be a strong international movement to secure justice and care for the victims.

The Viet Nam Friendship Village in Van Canh, near Hanoi, is one of approximately forty facilities that provide services for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Our village is supported by the Vietnamese government, in cooperation with a community of international friends.

Agent Orange Day is August 10

It was on August 10, 1961, fifty years ago, that the US military first sprayed Agent Orange in Viet Nam, the defoliant containing the toxic chemical dioxin. In an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the lingering effects of this poison legacy, people around the world are getting together on the tenth of August to mark this fiftieth anniversary on what has been dubbed Agent Orange Day.

Our International Committee President, Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo will be attending the Agent Orange Day ceremony in Viet Nam hosted by VAVA (Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin), and we have learned from our Japanese partner Ahara Sigemitu that in his country they are preparing for their first ever 8.10 Vietnam Dioxin Day event. We are sending statements to be presented at both of those events.

In the US, organizers with the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign have a success to celebrate. The legislation they have been working on for four years has been introduced into three Congressional committees by Representative Bob Filner (D-CA). Titled H.R. 2634, Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2011, this bill will help Agent Orange–affected Vietnamese, children of US veterans, and Vietnamese-Americans.

To learn more about Agent Orange Day, check out the Make Agent Orange History blog, Stand Together on Agent Orange Day.

Journalists shine new light on Viet Nam

While in Los Angeles last weekend helping my mother with unpacking and organizing after a big move, I got a call from my father-in-law, Earl, who lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. He had tracked me down to tell me about a great article by Kristin Henderson that was published in the Sunday, March 27, 2011 issue of the Washington Post Magazine. Earl was excited because the article, titled Spring travel: Old war wounds give way to a new Vietnam, includes a passage relating the author’s visit to the Friendship Village, with the account serving as a vehicle for educating readers about the continuing effects of Agent Orange in Viet Nam. Earl read to me over the phone:

In Vietnam, Friendship Village is one of the few places where Agent Orange sufferers can access rehabilitation, education and vocational training. It was created by American, Vietnamese and French combat veterans, former enemies healing each other. A visit to Friendship Village felt like the right thing to do, a guilty American obligation. And we’d been told that, with a little advance arrangement, visitors were welcome to join in the daily life there, just as we were welcome to join the exercisers who rise at dawn to circle Hoan Kiem Lake in old Hanoi. But sitting beside my husband as we drove through the gate, I worried that a facility full of the collateral damage of an old war might not be the most uplifting place for a man who had recently been up to his neck in the damage of a new one.

Sure enough, one of the first volunteers we met told us about children who’d been brought here with “box syndrome” — arms and legs they couldn’t extend because they’d been born with so many disabilities that their families, not knowing what else to do, had kept them in a box. Another volunteer’s handwritten notes described whole families afflicted with disabilities.

It should have been a depressing place. And yet, in a sewing studio, as a young woman with stumps instead of hands deftly laid out fabric and marked it with a pattern, her quiet satisfaction was infectious. She’d learned how to do that here, and with skills like that, she could live her own life.

In the clinic, Vietnamese army doctors and nurses were running a one-day checkup. One of the doctors was making a ticklish child with twisted limbs laugh. Children come here for a year or more. Vietnamese veterans of the war come here for treatment, too, a few months at a time. A wiry vet with a lined face smiled at us as he shuffled past clutching his medical paperwork.

In a colorful classroom, the children were excited about my husband’s camera. A volunteer from Switzerland helped a smiling, birdlike girl named Lien form her fingers into that universal “V” that signifies both victory and peace as the camera clicked. Outside, the rain slowed to a drizzle.

Friendship Village is always in need of donations of money and time. The Swiss volunteer was here for the summer. An American family from Chicago was here for a week, the teenage daughter working with Lien in the classroom, the son outside with a group of Vietnamese children who laughed as they swept up debris from the storm and flung water at each other.

As one of the most prominent Agent Orange-related facilities in Viet Nam, our Friendship Village in Van Canh, near Hanoi, has for years been on the “go to” list for tourists with a conscience, and has received plenty of news coverage, especially around those dates that mark various anniversaries of the end of the American war. Lately, additional attention is being showered on the village thanks to the Make Agent Orange History campaign and the journalism fellowship program called the Vietnam Reporting Project. The latter was the impetus for Connie Schultz’s excellent series of articles published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in January. I don’t know if Kristin Henderson is connected to either of these networks, but I am grateful to all the journalists who find their way to Viet Nam and to the Friendship Village, and then write personal accounts of their experiences. I am grateful to all those who, in their writing, recognize Viet Nam as a beautiful country, not a war, and call attention to the lingering effects of Agent Orange on its environment and its people. Together we can make a difference.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! (Happy New Year)

Today is Tết – the Vietnamese New Year. It is a three-day celebration associated with luck and new beginnings – a time to pay debts, mend broken relationships and renew friendships.

In anticipation of Tết, the Friendship Village prepared a special New Year gift bag for each child and veteran to take home with them when they go to be with their families during the holiday. These gifts were made possible thanks to the contributions of organizations and caring individuals like you, at home and abroad. On the occasion of the Vietnamese New Year, the Vietnam Friendship Village sends everyone wishes for very good health, happiness and prosperity!

We invite you to learn more about Tết and join the celebration by helping to build awareness of the continuing impact of Agent Orange via the Make Agent Orange History campaign, of which we are a partner. Thank you for your support!