Category Archives: volunteer

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 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.

 

 

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