Category Archives: Fundraising

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.

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!

 

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 http://www.donatingiseasy.org/CarDonationInfo.aspx?CID=3204. 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.

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

 

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

toby_pics

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.

ina_pics

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

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!

Welcome Springtime!

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

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

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