Category Archives: Viet Nam Friendship Village

Flat Stanley Visits the Village

by Paul Wicker

When you see the title of this post, you may ask, who is Flat Stanley and where did he come from?

Well, Stanley was an ordinary student in Mrs. Stunkard’s Fifth Grade class at Paradise Professional Development School in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA until one day, while taking a nap, he was flattened by a falling bulletin board. But that did not stop Stanley. He knew that many children had to overcome physical disabilities to achieve their dreams.

Stanley had always wanted to travel, so his teacher put him in an envelope and asked me to him with me on some of my trips. In 2010 Stanley went with me to El Salvador in Central America. He traveled with other friends to exotic places like Turkey and Lebanon. When he returns to his fifth-grade classroom he always shows his pictures to his classmates and tells them about the wonderful people he has met.

This year when Stan heard I was going to Vietnam Friendship Village he begged me to take him with me so he could visit the residents and have his picture taken with them.

Flat Stanley with a Friendship Village friend

Flat Stanley with Ngo Hai Mai

Click here to see more photos of Flat Stanley at Viet Nam Friendship Village.

Click here to find out how to become a financial supporter of the Viet Nam Friendship Village.

A Building We Can be Proud Of

US Committee members who attended this year’s International Meeting at the Viet Nam Friendship Village came home with a clear assignment: Raise $22,573 to pay for the second-story addition to the school building. The reason we happily accepted this responsibility (and more—proceeding to set a lofty goal of raising $50,000 within the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013) is because when the original one-story, four-classroom building was constructed in 2004-05, we were proud to say it was funded by US donations (split 50-50 between our committee and the Vietnam Children’s Fund), and we want to continue to say that. And the addition is already completed, which is how we know exactly how much is owed for the project. [Click here if you’d like to chip in!]

Blame it on jetlag: despite our committee’s close ties with this beautiful school building, I failed to bring home one photograph of the outside of the building taken from a distance, although I did take a couple shots of one of the upstairs classrooms, which has been nicely outfitted to be able to teach life skills to the children. So last week I asked our Vietnamese partners to take some pictures for me, and suggested they include some of the school children, waving from the balcony—and lo and behold, the next day, several beautiful shots arrived in my email box, along with wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Peace on Earth…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace Pole

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


Cyber Tuesday

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

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

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

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

Meet “Little Long,” VFV’s IT Instructor

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

Village Updates – Spring 2012

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

Heart surgery recipient, Giang

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

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

Friendship Village Performers

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

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

Road construction underway at Village

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

VFV Staff Profile #1

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