Category Archives: Viet Nam Friendship Village

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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!

 

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.

Lighter Than Orange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing the Peace of Christmas

by Becky Luening

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

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

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

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

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

 

Season of Giving

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

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

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

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

 

The Agent Orange Legacy in Vietnam

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

by Anna Tadio

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

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

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

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

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