Author Archives: Stephen Abatiell

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The Original Intent of Veteran’s Day

I’m squished in a taxi rushing through the tight streets of Hanoi’s western neighborhood.  I’m riding with 6 of our Vietnamese partners, as we make our way to drop everyone off after a long day of Friendship Village budget meetings, agreement setting, and celebrations.  I am an American, son of an American who fought in Vietnam.  The oldest passengers in the taxi fought with the North Vietnamese Army.  Mr. Nguyen Cao Cu, the director of education and vocational training at Vietnam Friendship Village, asks me something over the tired and joyful chatter.  He wants to know where my father fought and when, and I tell him, Bien Hoa and the nearby firebases, ‘70-’72.  Suddenly Mr. Cao Cu is laughing, and it’s not just vapors of the Russian vodka we toasted before our taxi ride home, he says, “I fought your father!”

I am filled with anxiety for what this election cycle means for the United States and the world.  I am concerned about our national divide and fallout that may result from these divisions.  I am concerned about the solutions to pertinent problems that will be lost in the chasm of these divisions.  If anything this year has been illuminating.

I have broken bread and toasted with a man that fought my father on the field of battle.  Today we work together to support the special education needs of innocent youth whose health problems stem from that conflict.  Vice Director Nguyen and I could be deeply divided, enemies even, if not for the spirit of reconciliation and dedication to the hard, slow work of peace.

Dedication to peace work is the original intent of Veteran’s Day.  In 1926 congress passed the resolution to set aside the 11th of November honoring the Armistice of World War I with these words…

“Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations…”

I have found great peace and personal growth from the work of goodwill and mutual understanding.  There is immense power in working across divisions.

What will you do this week to perpetuate peace and mutual understanding?

Send your ideas to vfvpusa@vietnamfriendship.org and we’ll share them on our social media feeds!

Director Tuyen receives cast grizzly claw from Stephen Abatiell, as a gift from the US committee.

Big Medicine in Viet Nam

During the US war in Vietnam there were many things carried over hilltops and through jungles by young American men.  These things brought the soldiers luck, memories of home, escape from the reality of war, or protection from it.  Among these special items and as out of place as the young man who’s neck it adorned, a claw of a great grizzly bear made its way through the humid forests of Vietnam.  The man who carried this claw was a Montanan of European decent, the claw a gift from a Native Blackfoot friend, who when unable to dissuade his friend from avoiding the draft, gave his powerful family heirloom as protection…

“When he saw I was going to leave, he loaned me his great, great, great, grandfather’s grizzly claw and told me to wear it all the time and it would bring me what I needed to get back. I believe it did. I held onto it around my neck and it held onto me. When I returned I gave it back to him in worse shape. He said the battering it took was taken away from me.”

Forty-five years later this symbol of strength, protection, and friendship between cultures has been cast and reforged in bronze by the Yellowstone area artist George Bumann.

Last month Becky Leuning, Don Blackburn, and I represented the US committee at the 16th Vietnam Friendship Village International Committee Meeting.  I carried a bronze casting of that original grizzly claw and was proud to present it on behalf of the US committee and all of our supporters, to Dinh Van Tuyen, Director of the Friendship Village.

GrizClaw

The beautiful bronze casting has a heft to it, you can feel the power and weight of the stories it carries.  Blackfoot, American, Vietnamese. This symbol was brought to life by one of our Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA supporters, George Bumann, and he is graciously sharing the proceeds from this artwork with the Friendship Village.

“To share the good fortune that has come our way in life just seems like the right thing to do. We have seen enough to realize how truly fortunate we are and though we are by no means ‘well off’ by American standards, we have been the benefactors of a great number of special opportunities and good luck-opportunities that others have not, or may never have. Caring for our fellow man seems like one of the greatest monuments that we can leave to future generations.”

George is one of many Friendship Village supporters giving their talents and inspiration to honor the lives and stories of our friends in Vietnam.  While you are giving remembrance to the past this Memorial Day, please consider what you might be able to create to honor our future.

If you would like to support the Friendship Village by purchasing one of these limited bronze castings, please contact George Bumann directly.  The price is $105 plus $10 shipping (in the US).  Each claw comes with the story of the original that traveled to Vietnam, a story of strength, protection, and unity.

George Bumann    gb@GeorgeBumann.com    406.223.6859

www.GeorgeBumann.com

 

Kim Anh Nguyen Thi feeling the love at the Friendship Village.

Supporter Spotlight: Kim Anh Nguyen Thi

Kim Anh Nguyen Thi was being oriented to the Vietnam Friendship Village four years ago by four outgoing young residents.  While being lead around the peace garden and the playground they came upon an argument.  Two residents were arguing over a favorite toy, and one of the children was crying.  This wasn’t Kim’s first visit to the village, but it was the moment she saw and understood what the friendship village is really about.  The six children were able to quickly address and solve the argument verbally, and soon were all laughing and playing again.

“That moment, I understood that they are real human beings no matter what kind of disabilities they have. They live in a family with their siblings, they also argue, tease, play, cry, and laugh together as we do, but upon all of those things, they do know how to care and love others. I want to be a part of their love, too”

Kim’s position with Vietnam International Volunteer Placement Service (VIVPS) kept her visiting each week, translating for foreign volunteers, visiting with the children, and enjoying the love of the friendship village and its residents.  She now works with the international NGO, Plan International, where she works with some of the most marginalized and vulnerable children in Vietnam on projects ranging from early childhood care and education to disaster relief.

Although Kim’s visits to the Friendship Village in her native Hanoi only come once a year now she is still touched by the energy of reconciliation present there and still wants to support the residents how she can.

“I found the residents of the VFV have been well looked after and they do live in a healthy environment. What I concern about is besides getting material supports at Vietnam Friendship Village how the VFV’s residents will be supported further after graduating or leaving VFV to live on their own.”

To that end, Kim has made a generous holiday donation to the George Mizo Fund!  This special scholarship fund has been established by the international committees to support older residents in goal setting for their personal independence and to have the means to start the journey.  Funds have already been raised to help one resident pursue a tailoring internship outside of the Friendship Village!

Donating is easy, just visit our donation page and designate your donation to the George Mizo Fund.  VFVP-USA depends on volunteers to help with our fundraising efforts.  We hope Kim’s  story will inspire other Friendship Village supporters to consider what they can do in the life of a resident this holiday season.

Peter Abatiell,  Specialist 4 with the 1st Calvary Division.

Veterans Day Donation

On this Veterans Day I would like to thank all Veterans for their service, and especially my father Peter Abatiell, Specialist 4 with the US Army’s 1st Calvary Division, 1970-1972.

In June of 1969 President Richard Nixon, as part of his “Vietnamization” policy, ordered a stand-down of troops in Vietnam for withdrawal.  The reduction of American troop strength in Vietnam began the following fall.

Troops began leaving the 1st Calvary Division’s Bien Hoa Army base, and with them, the state of the art punch card computers used to track the division’s personnel logistics.  This draw down of men and machinery led to my father’s military occupational specialty change from infantry to clerk typist, where he spent the remainder of his time in Vietnam manually keeping logistics by hand.

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In 1971 the move to take computers out of the office of military personnel management in Bien Hoa created an opportunity for my father to work in the rear offices, away from the front lines.  Today, In our hyper connected, technological work spaces the computer is a necessary tool for creating opportunity.

On this Veterans Day, we at Vietnam Friendship Village Project-USA would like to express our gratitude and thanks to our friends at NatureBridge for the donation of laptop computers to support our mission at VFVP-USA.  This donation will help VFVP-USA support our friends in Vietnam, while helping them create their own opportunities.

NatureBridge Yosemite Director, Kristina Rylands, presents VFVP-USA board member Stephen Abatiell with a generous donation.

About NatureBridge:

NatureBridge provides hands-on environmental science programs for children and teens.  Our multi-day programs take place outdoors in the magnificence of nature’s classroom, where students are immersed in the wonder and science of our national parks in Yosemite, Golden Gate, Olympic, Santa Monica Mountains, Channel Islands, and Prince William Forest.

Founded as Yosemite Institute in 1971, today NatureBridge welcomes more than 700 schools and 30,000 students and teachers each year to our six campuses.  After more than 40 years of teaching and inspiring students, NatureBridge has provided life-changing experiences for more than 1 million participants and is a national leader in the field of environmental education. 

 

The Owl Famliy Band gets everyone hootin' an' hollerin'

Vietnam Friendship Village benefit concert in Yosemite!

One of the things that struck me about life in the Friendship Village, was the abundance of music and dance on a regular basis. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that a place aptly named “Friendship Village” would be a place of celebration and gathering…

On May 29h and 30st atop a hillside in Yosemite National Park, a group of musicians, DJ’s, rock climbers, National Park scientists, and yes, even fire dancers paid tribute to the celebratory spirit of the Friendship Village. In some cases the musicians were scientists, as was the case with Greg Stock, Yosemite National Park geologist, and with the ornithological crew comprising the Owl Family Band.

This community of Sierra mountain people converged on the Flying Spur to celebrate my friend Kylie Chapell’s 29th birthday, and to benefit The Vietnam Friendship Village. Kylie, Outdoor Programs Manager for the Yosemite Conservancy, was generous enough to share her birthday with the Friendship Village, and her home with about 200 Spur Fest revelers. Lagunitas Brewery was generous enough to donate the kegs and raffle items!

A fired up Party go-er.

A fired up Party go-er.

Lagunitas t-shirt raffle winner!

Lagunitas t-shirt raffle winner!

Most of the folks that came up to the event had never heard of the Vietnam Friendship Village, but as I worked my way through the crowd selling raffle tickets on Friday and gave a presentation to kick off the festivities on Saturday night, I was able to share the story of my friends in Vietnam and how their story of chemical legacy connects to us today in 2015.  The ignorance turned to interest, and then to full on rejoicing that we were able to have such fun event FOR a good cause.  People gladly purchased raffle tickets, beers, pizza, and by the end just shoved 10’s and 20’s in my hands like we were at an Italian wedding- all to support the Friendship Village and the George Mizo Scholarship Fund!

By the time DJ PT had dropped his last beat on Saturday night, and the sun rose over El Capitan, (No, really I’m not making this up) The Spur Fest family had had one heck of a time and managed to pool together $800 of their pocket change for the Village!

If you missed out on the music and dancing in Yosemite, there are a few things you can still do to share in the experience!

  1. Put up a picture of Half Dome and dance!
  2. Have a delicious pint of Lagunitas and eat wood fired pizza.
  3. Donate to our Spur Fest Yosemite! fund drive and help us reach our goal of $5,000 for the Vietnam Friendship Village and the George Mizo Fund! (Even small donations can make a BIG difference!)

Here’s how: www.crowdrise.com/vietnamfriendshipfund

The Clangers pulling at the crowds heartstrings...

The Clangers pulling at the crowds heartstrings…

Wood Fired Pizza.

Wood Fired Pizza.

DJ PT's late night closing set.

DJ PT’s late night closing set.

Lighting up the night!

Lighting up the night!

 

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