Veteran’s Day

Vietnamese Military Cemetary

Last December my father and I traveled around the demilitarized zone in Vietnam with the son of a Vietnamese veteran.  We visited the cemetery pictured above.  All of these stones are for unknown soldiers.  All of them Northern Vietnamese.  As far as I could tell, there didn’t seem to be any national memorials honoring the memory or spirit of the Southern Vietnamese soldiers.  Our guide Quang’s father fell during the early part of the war so his family was lucky enough to have had a military burial.

On this Veteran’s Day I would like to honor all veteran’s and acknowledge the possibility of peace between friends and former enemies.

I called my father to wish him a happy veteran’s day, and to thank him.  He told me a funny little story that I think shows how much has changed in the past 40 years.

This morning he was chatting with our friend Mr. Po, a resident of the Vietnam Friendship Village.  My father told Mr. Po that today is a holiday in the United States, “Veteran’s Day.”  Mr. Po thought this was interesting and asked my father why there would be a holiday that was celebrated by refraining from eating meat…  My father’s confusion broke when he realized Mr. Po was asking about “Vegetarian’s Day.”  After many laughs, they were able to understand one another, and give thanks for what they have, each honoring veterans in their own way.  I will always be amazed that a Vietnam veteran can have these simple happy interactions with a young Vietnamese man forty years after conflict…

Peter Abatiell with Vietnamese veteran at the Friendship Village

Peter Abatiell with Vietnamese veteran at the Friendship Village

 

 

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

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!

In Memoriam: David Rocovits

David Rocovits, a long-time board member of VFVP-USA, a.k.a. the U.S. Committee, passed away suddenly on January 5, 2013, of difficulties related to a blood clot. He was a good friend to the Viet Nam Friendship Village—a frequent visitor and one of its most dedicated supporters. He will be greatly missed.

David’s brother Dan has resided in Hanoi for many years, and after being introduced to the VFV on a visit to the city in the early 2000s, David made a point of visiting every time he came to Viet Nam, usually every year or two. He was invited to join VFVP-USA’s Board of Directors in 2007, and in 2010 he attended the biennial international meeting at the Friendship Village as the U.S. Committee’s official representative. Over the years, David documented life at the village with his photographs, many of which have been published in our newsletters and on our website. He was a creative fundraiser and brought in a large share of the contributions raised in the USA. Here is the bio Dave submitted several years ago for our Board of Directors web page:

David Rocovits received a BS in Civil Engineering in 1963 from Case Institute of Technology and has been a practicing engineer in Nevada since 1973. He was drafted into the army and served from 1964 to 1966 as a research engineer in nuclear weapons effects. Between 1968 and 1972 he backpacked throughout much of the remote region of Asia from Turkey to Taiwan, and developed a love and respect for the Asian people and their culture. He worked for the California Division of Highways and several consulting firms before going into business for himself, acquiring and restoring residential buildings and managing them as rental properties. Dave and his wife Amy, a native of Taiwan, have a daughter who is an attorney in Reno and a son who is a college student. Dave’s hobbies include photography, pistol shooting, and restoration of Borgward automobiles. Dave has visited the Friendship Village multiple times and enlisted many of his friends, family members and associates in his efforts to raise financial support for the project.

The Rocovits family asks that memorial donations be made to the Viet Nam Friendship Village. Checks should be made to “Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA” and mailed to P.O. Box 599, Arcata, CA 95518-0599.

NOTE: Below is a small gallery of photographs of David Rocovits, taken (with his camera) at the Friendship Village in 2008, 2010, and 2011. The solo pic is from 2010 when he represented our committee at the international meeting, as is the photo of him and Paul Wicker sitting on the bench that was arranged by Dave to memorialize Don Flaxman, a VFVP-USA board member who passed away earlier that year. Dave preferred eating alongside the children in their dining hall rather than in the guesthouse dining room. Of all our board members, Dave was the least “political” in terms of identifying as a “peace activist” or working for peace or against war in any organized way, but he really understood the importance of reconciliation. He always made a point of visiting with groups of veterans who happened to be at the village during the times he was there (with the help of an interpreter). I think part of his motivation was simply cultural exchange. He probably brought along the small photo album of his travels—the same one he shared with me when we were getting to know each other. But he undoubtedly also meant to create more positive perceptions of Americans in the minds of a number of these Vietnamese veterans, and in that I have no doubt he succeeded.

Come Sit at Our Table

US Committee table at Friendship Village

VFVP-USA members Paul Wicker, Becky Luening and Don Blackburn enjoy a meal at the Friendship Village.

As we get ready to turn the calendar page from 2012 to 2013, I want to thank all of our friends in the USA and elsewhere who have helped support the Viet Nam Friendship Village with a donation this year—whether $10 or $1,000 or more. Inflation continues to drive up the cost of food and other basic supplies around the world, including Viet Nam, so every dollar is appreciated.

If you have not yet given, I invite you to do so. Become part of our international community…come sit at our table. Make a donation to the Friendship Village today.

Whether it is time, labor or funds we donate to this project, we are all volunteers, but once in a while our contribution to the Friendship Village is rewarded. I felt like the recipient of a gift when I picked up this email message on Christmas Eve from our friend Long, who works in the computer classroom at VFV [edited slightly for readability]:

Dear Becky,

The kids and I  like to thank the international committee for your assistance and the pleasure you have brought to our lives. For us who were unlucky enough to be born with a disability, it helps to know there are people out there who understand and care about us. The gift you give us is not just a meal, but the great gift of the spirit, of sharing.

You are like the Santa Claus of the Vietnam Friendship Village.

I hope you will convey to your heartfelt charity my cordial words and wishes for good health as you continue your work in the new year.

Happy MerryChristMas from Long in computer classroom at the VietNam Friendship Village

Group photo in computer classroom

Members of the International Committee pose for a picture with computer class instructors and students. (Long is first person on left in front row.)

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.