Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Agent Orange...Our Common Enemy

Another deeply meaningful day today along our Journey of the Heart....a day so rich that words and blogspots can not describe.....a day of warmth, welcome, forgiveness and gratitude.

Our task was to deliver to VAVA ( Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange), the generous donations from Bruce's buddies in the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry, as well as some of his own hard earned sailing income.

After much tea and ceremony and paper work at the VAVA office we hopped on the backs of motorbikes to go with Phuong our lovely young contact at the association and Mr. Tinh another VAVA employee. Back in the saddle and whizzing through the country side, Elaine felt very secure behind Phuong on her specially adapted three wheel vehicle. Phoung had polio as a young child and is mobility impaired. Bruce trusted life and limb to Mr. Tinh, a former Viet Cong soldier, whose mangled jaw tells the story of his meeting a 105 milimeter artillery fragment head on.

The families to whom we presented the funds were so dear and thrilled that "forgeiners" would come to their small and simple homes. We met a couple in their late seventies, he a soldier for 50 years and suffering from diabetes, his wife suffering a difficult skin condition. His Army uniform, bedecked with medals, hangs proudly in a clear plastic bag over his bed. This couple lives together in a single 10X15 foot room, with a vile latrine down the hall, in a Vietanamese Red Cross home.  During his long military service, he fought the French, the Americans and the South Vietnamese Army. He described being "rained on" in the jungle of Kontum Province with Agent Orange. He openly blamed his infertility and his wife's lesions on the dioxon. He was effusive in his greetings and gratitude, repeatedly shaking both our hands, slapping our backs and presenting the praying hands peace sign. We do not know if he has been awarded a pension for his long service in the military, but because they have no children they are reliant on the Red Cross for their small quarters. Amazingly, they have a small patio garden where Ba grows medicinal plants to treat her skin.

We met another couple in their sixties with their severely disabled daughter, their only child. Both the father and mother had served as Viet Cong soldiers in the mountains to the west of Hoi An.   Only the father suffers symptoms from AO exposure but their daughter is profoundly disabled. Her twisted limbs and retardation are exacerbated by brain tumors one recently removed in a hospital in Da Nang, the surgery paid for by VAVA. 

We visited only four families out of the 1,000 known sufferers from Dioxin in the Hoi An area. But the funds that we delivered will assist 20 Agent Orange families for several months in their daily struggle against grinding poverty, debilitating illnesses and harsh living conditions. Bruce is proud of the handful of US veterans who "stood to" to help alleviate the lingering suffering from "our" war.
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Roho Cushion for Mr. Binh

Our dear friend, Mr. Binh has been in a wheelchair since a medical accident at the age of 16. He is the creator and director of Reaching Out, a Fair Trade social business, which trains and employs  persons of disability and retails their exquisite crafts. There are approaching 50 people on staff now at the store and workshop and legions of suppliers of fine crafts throughout Vietnam.We have been volunteers at the shop for three years.

This past year, excrutiating pain in Binh's coccycx and ischial tuberosities has kept him on his bed and away from the shop a good deal of the time. Dan Speiss, my physiotherapist on Salt Spring and his friend Sam Hannah of Motion Experts in Victoria helped us find this very special cushion, which we hope will provide some relief and improve Binh's mobility enabling him to once again provide the leadership so essential to the continued success of the enterprise and supporting independent living for so many other abled people.

When Binh first sat on this air filled apparatus, the smile said it all!!! The best Christmas present for us so far just seeing that grin.

Thanks Andrea and Marty for making this possible.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Celebrating Small Lives in Nha Trang

It seems appropriate that, as much of the world prepares to celebrate the birth of Christ, we were able today to celebrate the birth of the 14 babies in the care of Mr. Phuc and his family. Mr. Phuc, a devoit Catholic opened his home about four years ago to unwed mothers and their babies.

Pregnancy out of wedlock brings shame to young woman in Vietnam, her family and village, so these terrified young girls flee to the city and endeavour to abort by herbal medicione or very risky back alley surgeries. Mr. Phuc's mission is to save these lives, both of the baby and the mother. He provides housing for the pregnant women, safe deliveries and safe harbour until such time as the mother can support the baby. Sometimes the mother simply returns to her village and leaves her baby with Mr. Phuc.

Mr. Phuc and his large, ever changing family have moved to a much bigger house than the one we visited three years ago. The children play, eat and sleep in spacious, clean rooms. Some of the mothers are care givers, as are Mr. Phuc's neices.

What amazed us was that all fourteen children were peaceful...only a small whimper as I leaned over one toddler. Pretty scarey I guess to see a huge white grandmother grinning!!!

Daughter Eliza, who was with us on the trip three years ago, inspired this visit with a donation.....a sweet start to the humanitarian work of our Journey of the Heart.
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Ho Ho from Ho Chi Minh City

We ventured out last night to join the festivities in this frantic metropolis. The city core is aglow with lights and decorations and it seems that all 8 million citizens were out on the streets to party.

Our hotel, The Continental, an old dowager built in1880, is located near the main streets of the financial district, the Opera House and all the upscale shops, Louis Vuitton,  etc. The avenues are alight overhead, shops and businesses all seem to be competing for the "most garish"award. Most decorations are plastic and all the " snow" and "icicles" are Styrofoam.

Street vendors were sellng everything from crepes to whirly gigs with lights and annoying noises. Many of the kids were dresed up in some kind of Santa outfit and everyone wanted his or her picture taken beside Santa ...including us!!!

The excitement actually started to accelerate a couple of days ago, as Vietnam was building its medal count at the Ocean Games. They stood second to Thailand, with both men's and women's soccer yet to be finalized. We saw bits of the women's game against Thailand and the men's against Malaysia....simply because we couldn't get away from the TV screens! One entertained about forty people, on the sidewalk outside a closed dress shop, the extention cord snaking under the locked door  An amusing site was a TV crew sitting outside their truck on little red stools, watching a small monitor on the sidewalk! In the restaurant where we had dinner in our hotel, billed as "Italian" ( another bizarre story) the wait staff of seven people for our table, the only one occupied, kept running to the bar next door everytime they heard a shout from the drinking fans.

The final score was Malaysia 1 Vietnam 0, but still the distinctive red flags with gold star were held aloft  on motorbikes and hundreds wore their flag colored t-shirts in solidaity. Along with the Santa costumes, lights and decorations the lucky color red ignited the crowd. A great party!


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