International Agent Orange Day 2012

In commemoration of International Agent Orange Day, we want to share this article, authored by by Jeanne Mirer and Marjorie Cohen and posted on the website of the Viet Nam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign. If you miss the chance to participate with 51 seconds of silence followed by 51 seconds of action on August 10, 2012, don’t worry. These are simple actions that can be taken anytime. The main point is to help raise awareness in the USA about the ongoing legacy of dioxin left behind in Viet Nam and to do whatever we can to address the problem. Offering support to the Viet Nam Friendship Village is one avenue, and we hope you will do that, but there are many other projects out there working on this issue, and by supporting each other we increase our overall effectiveness in bringing relief to the Vietnamese people who continued to be affected by Agent Orange all these years after the American war.

Call for International Agent Orange Day 2012 US

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.

2011 Holiday Greetings

Today is Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, marking the return of the light as days begin lengthening again. I hope this message finds its readers relaxing in a comfortable shelter, with access to yummy and nutritious food, in good spirits, possibly also being nourished by the love of friends and family.

Sewing student sweeps floorOur U.S. Committee (VFVP-USA) just sent our quarterly contribution ($5,000 this time) to the Vietnam Friendship Village for operating expenses. We thank our supporters for making this possible. We are glad to know our dollars will help provide additional comfort, nutritious meals, and whatever special services may be needed to enhance the future for the individuals who come to the Friendship Village for assistance, whether it is medicine, corrective surgery, physical therapy or vocational training.

ONE EXAMPLE IN PHOTO ABOVE: A malformed rib cage, curved spine and poly-arthritis make walking difficult but 21-year-old Bui Thi Hoa perseveres. Her dream is to become an excellent tailor.

A few weeks from now, children will be preparing to go home to their loved ones to celebrate Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), which falls on January 23rd in 2012. By then we will have received many returns from our 2011 Appeal Letter, and will be well on our way to raising our next bundle of support for the village. Your participation is welcome! (Choose “Be a Financial Supporter” under “Get Involved” at right.)

—Becky Luening

“Talk VietNam” interviews Dan Rocovits

Dan, Moon and SunnyThe man in this beautiful family portrait is Dan Rocovits, here with his wife, Moon and their baby, Sunny. Dan is an American who has lived in Asia for most of his adult life. He is a remarkably kind and caring man, and has provided assistance on numerous occasions to me and others involved with VFVP-USA when we have traveled to Hanoi for international meetings.

Dan’s brother David Rocovits is an active board member of Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA. The two brothers have always loved international travel, and in 1996 Dan moved to Viet Nam to lend a hand with the country’s development efforts, and founded a nonprofit organization called World Village Foundation. Dan is also a founding board member of Vietnam Hosteling International and has served as its secretary for four years. Dan’s wife Moon, a professional graphic artist, is general manager of Vietnam HI Travel and, along with Dan and other staff, coordinates Hostelling International travel experiences for international visitors to Viet Nam.

Dan’s brother David Rocovits, who serves on VFVP-USA’s board of directors, is one of the most dedicated fundraisers we have here in the US, and his efforts are one of the reasons our small group of volunteers has been able to sustain a decent level of support for the Friendship Village despite economic challenges. David travels to Hanoi frequently to visit his brother’s family, and the village, and usually returns with a new batch of excellent photos.

The reason for this post is that Dan was recently featured on the Vietnamese television show, “Talk VietNam.” The interview was divided into four video segments and uploaded to YouTube. In the third segment, in which Dan discusses his brother’s involvement with the Vietnam Friendship Village, there is a great clip of Dan visiting the village. (If you would like to learn more about this extraordinary human being by watching the entire interview, just search for “Dan Rocovits” on YouTube.)

—Becky Luening

Conference Delegates Visit Van Canh

On August 9, 2011, the day before International Agent Orange Day, delegates of the 2nd International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin paid a visit to the Friendship Village where a program was organized to discuss the lingering effects of AO in Viet Nam.

Vietnam Television International was there, and produced this segment documenting the meeting: AO Delegates Visit Van Canh Friendship Village. It features a clip of Director Dang Vu Dung and a few of the international attendees, including several second-generation victims of AO. There is a performance by the children, and I was happy to glimpse a few familiar faces from my past visits to the village. The message of the conference is that the toxic chemicals sprayed in Viet Nam during the American war continue to have devastating effects on families even today, and there continues to be a strong international movement to secure justice and care for the victims.

The Viet Nam Friendship Village in Van Canh, near Hanoi, is one of approximately forty facilities that provide services for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Our village is supported by the Vietnamese government, in cooperation with a community of international friends.

Agent Orange Day is August 10

It was on August 10, 1961, fifty years ago, that the US military first sprayed Agent Orange in Viet Nam, the defoliant containing the toxic chemical dioxin. In an ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the lingering effects of this poison legacy, people around the world are getting together on the tenth of August to mark this fiftieth anniversary on what has been dubbed Agent Orange Day.

Our International Committee President, Rosemarie Höhn-Mizo will be attending the Agent Orange Day ceremony in Viet Nam hosted by VAVA (Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin), and we have learned from our Japanese partner Ahara Sigemitu that in his country they are preparing for their first ever 8.10 Vietnam Dioxin Day event. We are sending statements to be presented at both of those events.

In the US, organizers with the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign have a success to celebrate. The legislation they have been working on for four years has been introduced into three Congressional committees by Representative Bob Filner (D-CA). Titled H.R. 2634, Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2011, this bill will help Agent Orange–affected Vietnamese, children of US veterans, and Vietnamese-Americans.

To learn more about Agent Orange Day, check out the Make Agent Orange History blog, Stand Together on Agent Orange Day.

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.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới! (Happy New Year)

Today is Tết – the Vietnamese New Year. It is a three-day celebration associated with luck and new beginnings – a time to pay debts, mend broken relationships and renew friendships.

In anticipation of Tết, the Friendship Village prepared a special New Year gift bag for each child and veteran to take home with them when they go to be with their families during the holiday. These gifts were made possible thanks to the contributions of organizations and caring individuals like you, at home and abroad. On the occasion of the Vietnamese New Year, the Vietnam Friendship Village sends everyone wishes for very good health, happiness and prosperity!

We invite you to learn more about Tết and join the celebration by helping to build awareness of the continuing impact of Agent Orange via the Make Agent Orange History campaign, of which we are a partner. Thank you for your support!

Thank You, Austrian Friends!

On November 12, 2010, the Austrian Embassy in Vietnam hosted a Viennese Charity Ball in the Grand Ballroom of the Melia Hotel in Hanoi complete with a live orchestra from Vienna which played lots of beautiful Johann Strauss tunes. The ball was Austria’s contribution to the 1,000-year birthday of Thang Long (Hanoi) and a “first” in the city and in Vietnam. The Embassy  created a special website for the occasion.

The International Committee of the Vietnam Friendship Village (of which VFVP-USA is a member) was very excited to receive the news in early October that the Austrian Ambassador had chosen Vietnam Friendship Village Van Canh as beneficiary of the charity. In addition, delegates who attended our international meeting were treated to a fabulous dinner at the home of the ambassador on October 29.

Dinner attendees

International Committee members from Germany, Japan, France, Canada, USA and Vietnam attended the dinner hosted by Austrian Ambassador Dr. & Mrs. Heindl

We just received word that the ball raised a total of 38,485 Euro, which is equivalent to $52,406! Thank you, Austrian friends! Wouldn’t it be great if the American Embassy followed suit?!

The photo gallery below contains two pictures showing dancers getting fitted several weeks before the event and two of couples lined up on the ballroom floor on the night of the ball.