Category Archives: Vietnam Travel

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.

Journalists shine new light on Viet Nam

While in Los Angeles last weekend helping my mother with unpacking and organizing after a big move, I got a call from my father-in-law, Earl, who lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C. He had tracked me down to tell me about a great article by Kristin Henderson that was published in the Sunday, March 27, 2011 issue of the Washington Post Magazine. Earl was excited because the article, titled Spring travel: Old war wounds give way to a new Vietnam, includes a passage relating the author’s visit to the Friendship Village, with the account serving as a vehicle for educating readers about the continuing effects of Agent Orange in Viet Nam. Earl read to me over the phone:

In Vietnam, Friendship Village is one of the few places where Agent Orange sufferers can access rehabilitation, education and vocational training. It was created by American, Vietnamese and French combat veterans, former enemies healing each other. A visit to Friendship Village felt like the right thing to do, a guilty American obligation. And we’d been told that, with a little advance arrangement, visitors were welcome to join in the daily life there, just as we were welcome to join the exercisers who rise at dawn to circle Hoan Kiem Lake in old Hanoi. But sitting beside my husband as we drove through the gate, I worried that a facility full of the collateral damage of an old war might not be the most uplifting place for a man who had recently been up to his neck in the damage of a new one.

Sure enough, one of the first volunteers we met told us about children who’d been brought here with “box syndrome” — arms and legs they couldn’t extend because they’d been born with so many disabilities that their families, not knowing what else to do, had kept them in a box. Another volunteer’s handwritten notes described whole families afflicted with disabilities.

It should have been a depressing place. And yet, in a sewing studio, as a young woman with stumps instead of hands deftly laid out fabric and marked it with a pattern, her quiet satisfaction was infectious. She’d learned how to do that here, and with skills like that, she could live her own life.

In the clinic, Vietnamese army doctors and nurses were running a one-day checkup. One of the doctors was making a ticklish child with twisted limbs laugh. Children come here for a year or more. Vietnamese veterans of the war come here for treatment, too, a few months at a time. A wiry vet with a lined face smiled at us as he shuffled past clutching his medical paperwork.

In a colorful classroom, the children were excited about my husband’s camera. A volunteer from Switzerland helped a smiling, birdlike girl named Lien form her fingers into that universal “V” that signifies both victory and peace as the camera clicked. Outside, the rain slowed to a drizzle.

Friendship Village is always in need of donations of money and time. The Swiss volunteer was here for the summer. An American family from Chicago was here for a week, the teenage daughter working with Lien in the classroom, the son outside with a group of Vietnamese children who laughed as they swept up debris from the storm and flung water at each other.

As one of the most prominent Agent Orange-related facilities in Viet Nam, our Friendship Village in Van Canh, near Hanoi, has for years been on the “go to” list for tourists with a conscience, and has received plenty of news coverage, especially around those dates that mark various anniversaries of the end of the American war. Lately, additional attention is being showered on the village thanks to the Make Agent Orange History campaign and the journalism fellowship program called the Vietnam Reporting Project. The latter was the impetus for Connie Schultz’s excellent series of articles published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in January. I don’t know if Kristin Henderson is connected to either of these networks, but I am grateful to all the journalists who find their way to Viet Nam and to the Friendship Village, and then write personal accounts of their experiences. I am grateful to all those who, in their writing, recognize Viet Nam as a beautiful country, not a war, and call attention to the lingering effects of Agent Orange on its environment and its people. Together we can make a difference.