Friday, March 11, 2005

Day 5: March 11, 2005

Our morning was spent doing interviews with the Voice ofVietnam Radio and VTV Television. It was an opportunity for our team to begin to articulate our feelings about what we had seen over the last days to the world. The children have certainly made in impact on all of our lives. The reality is my government, the United States government, committed chemical warfare that has affected innocent children. These children were never our enemies, yet they suffer like they are guilty of some crime or act. As Americans we were able to tell the Vietnamese people that we are joining the fight for justice.
News, though, of the case filed by the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin against Dow Chemical, Monsanto Chemical, Pharmacia Corp. (and others) reached us. As we started the first interview with the Voice of Vietnam Radio, we learned Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern New York Federal Court dismissed the case. For a few moments, the team sat in silence, shocked of the news. At the moment, a surge of emotions flooded each person. Anger, shock, surprise, frustration are a few emotions felt that morning. How could my government, a government that says it stands for justice, turn a blind eye to injustice?
These feelings did not leave us paralyzed for long. After the initial shock had worn off, we rebounded with a message of hope. In each interview, team members shared heartfelt messages about how sad it was to see what the United States government had done to the Vietnamese people. But also intertwined was the optimism we have for the court case and justice. Members talked about the complexities of the American court system and that this dismissal was not the end of the case. Appeal to a higher court would be the next step. The Vietnamese people needed to be patient and in time justice would be served (unfortunately time is not on the side of some victims). We are hopeful and we wanted to share that with Vietnam. Victims of Agent Orange, their families and friends needed to know this was not the end of the case, nor would we allow this to be the end. We stand with them, the people of Viet Nam.
By Matt Laferty

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Vietnam Thursday March 10

I cannot believe it is already Thursday night in Vietnam, only two more days until we get back to America. We have done so many things here. We visited the Friendship village, the Peace village, and Hoa Phuong Village from Monday to Wednesday. This morning we visited Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. It is so touching to learn about his humble life. He was a man with a vision to free his country from any oppression. It took him a whole life to do it. But he was successful. Later we visited the Temple of Literature- the oldest university in Vietnam. It was built in the 11th century. I kept teasing my American friends on how old things are here in Vietnam, compared to things in the U.S. We enjoyed the traditional music show at Van Mieu. After the show, Chaplain and Eric decided to buy "dan bau" - one string instrument, an instrument that is present only in Vietnam. Others also bought a bunch of CDs, and other souvenirs.

We had lunch at KOTO, Know One Teach One, a non profit organization helping street children. KOTO teach them how to cook, and to run a restaurant. KOTO features a wide variety of cuisines. The food was good and the staff was excellent. We were in a hurry for a press conference and they were very quick in getting food ready.

Yes, we did have a press conference today. We really sparked interest among the people and the press here. Not olny did we do a press conference with Tien Phong online today, our team has been invited by the national radio station "Voice of Vietnam" to do an interview tomorrow. Tien Phong, or Pioneer Newspaper is the leading and a respected newspaper in Vietnam. We were given a warm welcome and divided into small groups. Each group had a computer and we were so busy answering questions pouring from all over the places. Our team loved it. We were given an opportunity to share our thoughts with hundreds of readers from across the country as well as Vietnamese overseas. I know most of the readers for this blog can't read Vietnamese but here are some links Tien Phong Online has about us

Tomorrow we will visit the Hanoi University of Education for further discussion about Agent Orange and just to learn about the student life here in general.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

We are having fun yet?

Little 4 year old Trang at Hoa Phuong Orphanage

Day 3: March 9, 2005

Goodbye Hanoi, we are going to Hai Phong today to visit Hoa Phuong Orphanage. Hai Phong is a city by the coast which is about 3 hours away from Hanoi. I could only get in touch with the director on Monday and yesterday I was still faxing her and the provincial government the needed documents for our trip. I am so glad we were able to go today. My team seemed to enjoy the road trip – beautiful rice fields and water buffalo J. Today we also said goodbye to our lunch box. We were going to have lunch with the children there, and can I just say it was not simple lunch, it was like a feast? The food looked and tasted very yummy and the whole time there was loud music in the background. After lunch, we started off singing contest. Our team just learnt the Ho Chi Minh song last night and did not miss the opportunity to show it off. The children at the orphanage were no less talented. They sang both Vietnamese and English songs. Just as everybody seems to run out of songs, the floor cleared and we joined hands (and legs) in many dances. Chaplain excused himself from the dancing and held in his laps the two adorable girls. One was Trang, who later followed Kevin around. We only learnt from Ms. Ha, the director that barely two months ago, Trang was still on the streets and begged for her life. Something stuck in my throat even now when I think about it. The girl is so cute, and so adorable that you think she could only enjoy the best of life. But she endured such things that I am sure all of my team has never had to face in our entire lives. It explained why she tended to keep it to herself. Right after given the bottle of bubble, she barely played with it and insisted on putting it away. Only when I asked her for a picture, she took it out and blowed for me. Look at her in the picture, doesn’t your heart ache to think about what she has to go through? For me, the time there was more like a classroom visit than an orphanage because the children were very cheerful and some of the older ones were very stylish as well. Does it matter if they are orphans? They enjoy lives as much as I do and they might even appreciate what they have more than I do. They look out for each other just as one big family. I believe and hope that whatever reason that lands them in an orphan will not stop them from becoming the people they are meant to be.

We stopped for a brief visit to the beach on the way back to Hanoi. Some enjoyed searching for shells, crabs. Some just enjoyed the smell of the sea. It was a nice way to close an evening.

By Thanh

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Flower for the women on March 8 - -International Women's Day

Day 2: March 8, 2005

Another full day (even more full?)

We woke up early (too why? No, we were up and moving by six) and had breakfast at Thanh’s house, where we were given another favorite food (which my taste buds remember, but I can’t recall the name) (Thanh: it is called banh cuon, or steamed rice rolls) and MANGO.

Today’s trip was to the Friendship village, on the outskirts of Hanoi, an international institution established y an American Vietnam vet to help children with Agent Orange. We watched a video explaining the mission of the Friendship and had a reception with the V.P. where we also gave our donations, gifts and left a little piece of OWU, a flag and pen.

Our group was then led on a tour of the village. We visited the children in their rooms, classrooms and work rooms – where they learn crafts and skills that could help them find jobs. Some of the kids were more severe, Down syndrome, growth difficulties and there were more kids there than at the Peace village. We bought some crafts the kids made for their stitching class. The crafts produced were incredibly quality.

After the tour we met with Suel Jones, and American vet livin in Hanoi and a fundraiser for the Vietnamese children fund. Besides three months during the summer when he returns to the States (Alaska) to fundraise, he spends all his time and energy with Agent Orange relief in Vietnam. Suel gave us valuable wisdom and insight into the problems and hypocrisy of the US failure to acknowledge war crimes, the use of chemical warfare in the Vietnam War. To us, Suel was an important piece to the puzzle of U.S. involvement in Vietnam now. Suel preached (actually I don’t think he’d like to be called a preacher) of how we need to take back responsibility for what our government has done, by doing something – anything. Taking what we have learnt here is a key to discovering more of what we can do as a collective country and how we can affect the lives of those suffering with Agent Orange.

One of the most striking things about the visit was the universality of youth and love. These children had problems and pains but you could hardly tell – they played and sang and touched just like any child would. Their deformities and defects however served for many of us as scars our nation has left on Vietnam. These children are third generation Agent Orange victims and a fourth is about to come.

After this emotional visit, we went back to our Hanoi pad and split up to take in more Vietnamese culture before dinner at Thanh’s. Most went shopping. Two of the bravest (Eric and Kevin) set out on the busy Hanoi streets in cyclos (bicycles with seats for passenger) and were thrown into the hustle of this expansive city.

Hanoi is unlike any place I’ve ever seen - traffic flowing and fearless without rules so much as nerve and skill. The city is open and people wre always moving out – shop doors open – and motorbikes are EVERYWHERE! The people of Hanoi work very hard – and yet seem cheerful – I’ve seen a lot of smiles. The drivers, like our hired driver Nam – have a godly street smart and an ice cool demeanors.

That might we had feast – the biggest yet at Thanh’s house. Matt did not finish his meal at all – what a dork. Anyway, we had a surprise after dinner (and a bit of singing) – a reporter from a Hanoi paper came and interviewed us. They found out about us from the Professor (who we were told very impressed with what we were doing) for a story on the New York court case against the chemical companies. It was so important to our mission to get our voice out to the Vietnamese that we as Americans care. Thus, we will take part in an online chat run by the paper.

After dinner, we have been given the best treat we could imagine – a trip to the massage parlor. We indulged in quality rubs – compliments of Thanh’s aunt. Along with back rubs, some of us were asked for marriage and complimented on our good looks. A note for all of you at home - looking good – no matter where you are- never takes a day off.

In reflection, we struggled to find the answers we are looking for, but the group is energized to discover how we feel about this amazing experience A resonating theme we see is the commonalities between our people and the need to spread our new knowledge as effectively as possible. Suel helped motivate us to really make a difference and go the extra mile to help the cause at home. The trial is approaching and we have found it is obviously important to the Vietnamese and newspaper. Tonight we devoted ourselves to keeping with the cause of Agent Orange till it is finished - to do everything we can. “We are all just people”

By Eric Magnus

Monday, March 07, 2005

Jenny and Jess at the Peace Village

Performing a little duet

Vietnam Day 1 Thoughts (Monday 03/07)

Flight was good and we reached here dafely. We are not too badly jet lagged, but our body clocks are still a little messed up. I will be posting thoughts from our journal entry by Melanie Hill and myself here.

Our Day 1 thoughts"

Quote from today: "I have learned two lessons in my life: First, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings."
-Elie Wiesel-

Melanie says...
Today was a mix of, laughter, sadness, fearfulness, empowerment, humbleness, and the list goes on. We met
with the Vice President of the Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA). He was a gentle man, soft spoken, but pasionate about his life and his cause. I found his talk inspiring, yet frustrating. The U.S. chemical companies has
given compensation to Vietnam Veterans with Agent Orange disabilities, although not verbally admitting the harmful affects this defoliant has on life. However, no recognition or compensation has been given to the Vietnamese Government on the same issue. In fact our government denies the use of chemical warfare and any farmful affects Agent Orange has on human life! THis makes me want to yell, scream, anthing to outlet my frustration...may anger. I have hope though, hope that we can make a difference, that we can change lives!! I truly believe that people will care. Thanh asked last night if people would care if they knew the truth. My answer to her is...some will and some won't. My hope is that most will! What do we do after we leave here? What can we do to make a chage...make a difference? We go back and educate. Ignorance is anger, hate, and
revenge, but knwledge is love, healing, and future. I honestly believe that even if we can change one person's views, educate one person, that that will make a difference. We MUST spread the word, spread the knowledge we have gained. We are now members of the world, and we now have a duty, an obligation to participate in this cause more than ever! So I ask you as members of my team, as my friends, as members of the world, and as members of the human species to go back and make a change!
-Melanie Hill-

Its getting late - we have to leave for the Friendship village. We will post the iternary for the whole day (i.e. what we did on day 1) soon!!!

Kumar and Eric trying to play the string game

Meet with Prof Nguyen Trong Nhan

Saturday, March 05, 2005

One last post before departure

It is now 2:30 in the morning of Saturday Mar5 ..only 4 hours before we leave for the airport. I just got done with some last minute stuff. It still does not feel like I am leaving soon though. But I am. The day I have been waiting for is finally here. Thank you eveyone for their hard work to bring us to this point. I am really looking forward to spending the next week with every one of you. Have a safe flight ...and I will try my best to continue posting when we are in Vietnam. Stay tuned for more information..:))