Category Archives: Agent Orange

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.”

 

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.

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.

 

 

VFP Hòa Bình Chapter 160: We appreciate you!

Vietnam Friendship Village has always found strong support within the ranks of Veterans For Peace, a global organization of military veterans and allies working to build a culture of peace, expose the true causes and enormous costs of wars, and heal the wounds of war while working to end all wars.

Several years ago, a number of US veteran ex-pats living and working in Viet Nam got together and formed a Veterans For Peace chapter in Viet Nam. It’s known as Chapter 160, the Hòa Bình Chapter (Hòa Bình means peace in Vietnamese). VFVP-USA Board Member Don Blackburn was one of the founding members, along with Suel Jones and Michael Cull, who were both involved with the Friendship Village early on. (Suel now splits his time between Danang and Albuquerque, New Mexico, while Michael and Don both live in Nha Trang.) Other recognized leaders within the chapter are “the two Chucks”—Chuck Palazzo and Chuck Searcy. Palazzo’s home base is Danang, and Searcy’s is Hanoi, although Searcy also spends a lot of time in Quang Tri Province supporting the work of Project RENEW.

Among other things, VFP Chapter 160 members provide assistance to Vietnamese people still affected by remnants of the American War in Viet Nam, such as the landmines and unexploded ordnance that continue to cause injury and death, and the dioxin that remains in certain “hot spots” in the environment as well as in the gene pool of those originally exposed.

To raise awareness about these issues as well as some money to help victims and their families (funds are often distributed through VAVA, Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin), VFP Chapter 160 began conducting an annual springtime tour of Viet Nam, geared toward peace-oriented veterans and associates. Now in its third year, their tour has been a big success. A stop at the Vietnam Friendship Village is on the Hanoi itinerary, and it is one of the projects benefiting from the tour, as participants help decide how to direct tour monies among many deserving charities at the end of their trip.

One of this year’s tour participants happened to mention the Hòa Bình Chapter’s good work to filmmaker Michael Moore, and Moore subsequently named Chapter 160 as one of two recipients of memorial donations for his father, specifically to help victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam. This news—not of Mr. Moore’s passing (may he rest in peace), but that both the issue Agent Orange and VFP Chapter 160 had been highlighted in this simple way—caused a ripple of gratitude among those of us in the peace community who have been working on this issue for a long time. Hopefully, as a result, our circle will grow just a little bit wider.

2014 Viet Nam Tour group members led by VFP Chapter 160 poses in front of Ushi's, a world famous restaurant (and personality) located in Hue, Viet Nam.

Members of VFP Chapter 160 pose with 2014 tour group members and friends in front of Ushi’s, a world famous restaurant (and personality) located in Hue, Viet Nam.

Supporter Spotlight: Carol Konyha

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Sgt. Tony Konyha in Vietnam—in uniform on one of the bases he served at (left), and during a moment of relaxation (right).

Carol Konyha’s father, Toby Konyha, was stationed in Vietnam for a year between August 1967 and August 1968, serving as a mess sergeant at both An Khe and Pleiku military bases east of the Cambodian-Vietnam highlands. This was a heavily forested region. Even in the lower coastal areas, in the tropical climate, dense vegetation provided ample cover for the North Vietnamese Army, who were staging attacks from neighboring Cambodia at the time. US military commanders’ institution of “Operation Ranch Hand,” the infamous aerial spraying of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Vietnam, helped eliminate enemy cover and thereby reduce the threat to its combatant forces. [To see an interactive map of spraying missions, visit: Chicago Tribune Watchdog.]

The widespread chemical warfare had devastating side effects, not only for Vietnam’s environment, but for many of the humans caught in the drift. Dioxin, a highly toxic byproduct of the Agent Orange formula, caused permanent health problems, even death, to both military and civilian personnel on both sides of the conflict, including genetic mutations that resulted in children being born with severe birth defects such as spinal bifida and other neurological disorders. Sgt. Toby Konyha was one of those whose exposure to the herbicidal “agent” eventually took a heavy toll on his health and on his family.

In 1973, just five years after his stint in Vietnam, and the same year American troops pulled out of the country, Sgt. Toby Konyha died after being diagnosed with leukemia. At the time of his death, he and his wife Mary had seven children: Dorothy, age 22; Jim, 20; Suzanne, 17; Carol, 8; Ed, 6, Christine, 4; and Dan, 2. In addition to his own illness, Toby’s exposure to Agent Orange led to his youngest daughter Christine being born with a malformed spine and water on the brain, as well as an abnormality that required her to undergo open-heart surgery when she was only 2 years old. The first child to be born after he returned from Vietnam, Christine was conceived in Hawaii, when Mary joined him there for a mid-tour R&R break (rest and relaxation).

Despite her physical difficulties, Christine, nicknamed “Ina,” matured into adulthood and managed to live a relatively full life. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Windsor and had a dream of helping children with disabilities and their parents. She suffered a setback, though, in 1997, when she lost her eyesight, a loss directly caused by her birth defects. A shunt implanted as a baby to drain fluid from her brain had deteriorated over time, causing permanent damage to her optic nerves and ultimately, blindness. Ina was just getting her life back on track when she suffered a serious fall, a tragic accident from which she never recovered; she was on life support for nine months before dying at the age of 34.

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Left: Christine “Ina” Konyha in her first communion dress, with her grandmother, Ida. Right: Ina as an adult.

Brother Ed Konyha describes the ripple effect on their family. “The Agent Orange not only killed Dad, it killed Ina too. Mom was devastated after Dad died and she was never the same again. She suffered terrible and persistent depression after being left a widow and having to raise four young children as a single mother in her forties and fifties…it aged her prematurely.”

Toby and Mary’s middle child, Carol Konyha, lived near her younger brothers in Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1990s, but during the final months of Ina’s life, she relocated to Phoenix, Arizona to help care for her sister. In 2003, Ed called to tell her about a documentary titled The Friendship Village he’d happened to see on Canadian television. Produced by Canadian filmmaker Michelle Mason, it tells the story of George Mizo, the American veteran who played a major role in the founding of the Vietnam Friendship Village, and documents the ongoing tragic legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Mizo himself had suffered serious health consequences from his wartime exposure to dioxin, and passed away in 2002. When she watched The Friendship Village, Carol felt an immediate connection with the Vietnamese families interviewed in the film. The health issues they described were much the same as her own family’s experiences. She subsequently became a regular supporter of the Friendship Village, through VFVP-USA, always dedicating her donations “In memory of Sgt. Toby Konyha and Christine Konyha.”

Three years ago, Carol decided to step up her support for the Friendship Village. She asked herself, “What can someone like me do that would be even halfway meaningful?” She figured she could raise some money within her own circle of friends and family, but felt that everyone was probably already inundated by donation requests. She wanted to do the fundraising in a way that would be fun and appealing. A freelance baker known for her chocolate cake and cupcakes, she finally hit upon the idea of holding a month-long bake sale.

Carol’s first bake sale, held in 2012, brought in close to $400. The next year, she raised $578. In 2014, in addition to a bake sale, she decided to throw a “Christmas in February” party—a celebration she had hosted when she lived in Vancouver, just for fun. Carol said party guests were happy to contribute to “her charity”—Vietnam Friendship Village—and most generously gave more than the $10 suggested. On her invitation, she also provided the option to donate online, and some friends did so. By combining a fun social event with her bake sale, Carol tripled her return, raising $1,487 this year!

party_pics

Left: Carol’s chocolate cupcakes are always a big hit. Right: Carol offers up a tray of Danish sandwiches at her 2014 “Christmas in February” party. From left: David Smith, Carol Konyha, Carolyn Christy, Patrick Murphy and Joseph Ho.

VFVP-USA depends on volunteers to help with our fundraising efforts, and to have someone like Carol, who knows firsthand what it means to be a “victim of Agent Orange” is all the more meaningful. We hope her family’s story, and her “fun and appealing” fundraising model will inspire other Friendship Village supporters to consider what they can do.

“The devastation caused by Agent Orange on our family is massive. It goes beyond Dad’s death. It left young children without a father, killed our sister and caused her extreme physical and psychological pain throughout her life, prematurely aged and devastated our mother, and left grandchildren without grandparents. The horror of war and chemical warfare came home with Dad. This is why we relate to those children in Vietnam so well—they are Ina’s mirror image. Their families are our mirror image. We are them and they are us… That recognition is the one silver lining that can be salvaged from all of this: By supporting them, however we can, we heal our own wounds.”

—Ed Konyha

Resident Spotlight: Hay Quang Ngo

Big thanks to Jennifer Nguyen, American volunteer-in-residence at Friendship Village, for providing us with this in-depth profile of a former resident of Vietnam Friendship Village, Nay Quong Ngo. You may also click on the graphic at left to access the PDF file. We look forward to sharing  personal stories like these on a regular basis.

Resident Spotlight: Hay Quang Ngo

Click to download PDF

Hay Quang Ngo, 21, has a winning smile. He has a humble nature to his demeanor every time I see him ride into the Friendship Village on his bicycle, as he always greets me with a wave and a slightly reserved, but sincere grin. Even though he and his family have faced many hardships surrounding poverty, one would never think that Hay has experienced any adversities due to his positive and bright attitude that can lift anyone’s spirits.

Hay Ngo with his father and mother.

Hay with his parents, Nha and Thu, at their home in Duong Duc

Born in 1993 and the youngest of six children, Hay has lived a very difficult life living in the rural commune of Duong Duc in Bac Giang province. His parents work arduously as farmers who raise livestock such as chickens, ducks, pigs, and cows on their small compound that have been in Hay’s father’s side of the family for generations. Hay, however, has never once complained about the struggles that he and his family have faced and continue to face; it was only when I had asked him to answer honestly about his upbringing in Duong Duc that he had timidly confided to me the difficulties that his parents had to endure raising his large family.

During the American War, Hay’s father, Nha Quang Ngo, 64, fought in Dak Lak province for eight years where he was physically injured and disabled in 1971 when bullets had pummeled through his arm and foot during gunfire. Nha has physical mobility difficulties due to his injuries sustained in war, which has made it nearly impossible for him to do his work as a farmer. This has resulted in Hay’s mother, Thu Thi Nguyen, 62, needing to work twice as hard as the sole provider in order to support her family. During war-time, Nha was also exposed to herbicides which have resulted in Hay being born with an irregular spine and Hay’s older sister, Hoa Thi Ngo, 32, being born with a lower mental capacity and short-term memory loss.

Instead of Hay’s sister being selected to go the Friend-ship Village, the Veterans Association of Bac Giang province wanted Hay to take her place because Hoa was over the age limit. Hay’s family also felt that Hay would greatly benefit in being able to have an educational opportunity that he would not have gotten otherwise staying in Duong Duc. In doing so, Hay could lessen the pressure for his parents by helping to financially support his large family once he finished his schooling and found a well-paying job. When I had visited Hay’s family in Duong Duc, Nha also expressed to me that he wishes for Hay to continue to work hard in school so that he can find a job where he doesn’t put any strain on his back doing labor-intensive work. Visiting Hay’s family in their old, life-stained home and hearing their heartfelt stories made me realize just how humble and kind Hay was, especially because of the reasons he wanted to attend university. In this brief visit, I also experienced such genuine hospitality from his parents which culminated in a feast that his family had spent hours preparing beforehand.

From 2009 to 2012, Hay resided at the Friendship Village where he attended high school outside of the village and was taken care of at the residential facility for three years. In this time, the Friendship Village was able to pay for his school fees, books and supplies, and provide a warm place to eat and sleep. Although he is no longer a Friendship Village resident, he still visits the village on a daily basis in order to continue to build the relationships that he has developed with residents and staff.

Currently, he is attending the University of Industry in Hanoi where he is in his second year studying to be a mechanic. Since his hometown in the countryside is too far from school, he rents and shares a small, cramped room with another university student where his life consists of school, soccer, and studying. He hopes to be able to help provide for his family once he finishes his schooling, because he wants to give back to his parents and show how much he appreciates all of the struggles that they have experienced in order to shape the compassionate, young man that he is today.

Impressions: Words and Pictures

Friendship Village Houses

Friendship Village Residences [photo by Daniel Wagner]

After participating in a photography workshop held at the Friendship Village, a young German man by the name of Daniel Wagner emailed a selection of his photographs to Rosemarie “Rosi” Höhn-Mizo (president of our German and International Committees), along with the lyrics for a song he was inspired to write based on his impression of the Vietnam Friendship Village and its residents. Here is a translation of the message he wrote to Rosi:

Dear Mrs. Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo,
I would like to say that the institution and the thoughts behind the project have impressed me very much. Your committed support for the Friendship Village give me hope that the children who suffer from Agent Orange, in spite of their difficult destiny, will have a better life. My experiences with the children at Friendship Village were thoroughly positive. I felt they are grateful for the help and special education they receive.
If it is possible, I hope to return to the Village and lend additional support to this project.
Sincerely,
Daniel Wagner

A selection of Daniel’s photographs can be found on the Visitor Albums page of our Photo Gallery. Here are the song lyrics inspired by his experience:

AS YOU CAME
by Daniel Wagner

You show me something,
I missed for a long time.

It’s how to smile
and how to live my life.

You gave me something,
I already forgot.

It’s how to love
and how to give someone a hug.

When I see you standing here,
and I feel your power of love.
The struggle and the pain,
the feeling of being not the same.

But I promise you, I love you as you came.

When I got here,
to this foreign place.
I was not sure,
if I could handle this mace.

A new country,
another language and morals.

You took my hand
and made me ignore it.
You shown me something,
I already unlearned.

It’s how to think
of a better world.

When I see you standing here,
and I feel your power of love.
The struggle and the pain,
the feeling of being not the same.

But I promise you, I love you as you came.

 

Looking Forward to 2014

washing veggies

As we turn the calendar to another year, we find ourselves a little bit behind… Our Fall 2013 print newsletter is just now being prepared to be mailed, and our New Year email has just now been sent—one sole message riding on the tail end of a great flurry of solicitations mailed in the past month by too many organizations.

Our message is simple. The Friendship Village is a one-of-a-kind facility that provides nourishment, medical care, physical therapy, and special educational opportunities to about 120 children of varying ages (as well as rotating groups of aging Vietnamese veterans whose care is funded by the Veterans Association of Vietnam). Many of the medical conditions or physical disabilities treated there are presumed caused by Agent Orange, lingering effects of the American war in Vietnam.

Now in its sixteenth year of operations, the Vietnam Friendship Village has an inspirational founding story, having grown from one American veteran’s gesture of peace and reconciliation toward his former “enemies.” George Mizo’s dream lives on and continues to inspire people from all over the world who find the Friendship Village and are moved to become part of our extended community of volunteers and donors.

In 2014, our U.S. Committee will continue our efforts to double our fundraising capacity. Your help is needed and there are many ways to contribute. Whether making a personal financial donation, serving on our board, or helping introduce Friendship Village to new supporters via word of mouth, social networking, or a special event (film, slide show, or fundraising party), we welcome your involvement!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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