Written by Yaiza Morales
According to History, the U.S. War in Vietnam started in 1959 and ended in 1975, but more than fifty years later, its horrifying effects physically permeate in the daily lives of millions of Vietnamese people. This is due to the 80 million liters of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals that were sprayed by the U.S. military in Southern Vietnam from 1961 to 1971. What exactly is Agent Orange? It is an herbicide that contains extremely high levels of Dioxin, which is the most dangerous chemical known to man. This silent killer accumulates in the fat tissue of the body, where it slowly begins to sneak into all of its systems. Hence, the reason it is linked to such a variety of chronic diseases, cancers, deformities, and birth defects. Millions of Vietnamese were directly exposed and have died because of Agent Orange. Today, millions of victims continue to suffer, and a vast percentage includes second and third generations. It is not only war veterans who have been affected by the atrocities of Agent Orange, but their innocent children and grandchildren continue to relive the pain of this chemical ghost.
The chemical companies Monsanto and Dow are responsible for the creation of this deathly poison. Monsanto, notorious for their GMO seeds, which are currently posing the destruction of our planet’s agricultural industry, was the main supplier of this Dioxin. To this date, these multi-million dollar monsters have not taken responsibility for the irreparable damage they have caused. Sadly, the United States has not budged in the attempt for redemption either.
While conducting my research, I was shocked to find out that the U.S.A. first experimented with Agent Orange in my own country, Puerto Rico! Even though these test trials proved that the effects of this herbicide were detrimental to all life, the U.S. followed through with its plot to destroy all natural habitats in Southern Vietnam. Wanting to deplete the country’s forests in order to find their enemies in hiding, more than 3 million hectares of forest life was heavily devastated. The water and food supply were contaminated as well, causing the most colossal catastrophe to humans and nature ever produced by mankind.
The Vietnamese people have been a united front amidst the immeasurable agony caused by this chemical war. In 1965, an excessive population of disabled and deformed children was discovered in South Vietnam. By 2003, the amount of victims became such a predicament that the Vietnamese Government mobilized the entire country, and called out to all of its citizens for support. The people responded, and together with foreign entities, organizations around the country have joined hands in this pursuit. We were fortunate enough to visit VAVA (Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam), a charitable and humanitarian organization that focuses on the care, representation, and interests of the Vietnamese Agent Orange victims. Veterans, scientists, and doctors collaborated to develop VAVA in response to the Government’s urgent plea for help. We met and interviewed one of its founders and a Vietnamese war veteran, Mr. Nguyen Minh Y. Mr. Minh’s exuberance for this cause was inspirational! As a victim himself, he shared his vast knowledge on the effects of Agent Orange and the wonderful work VAVA has been doing around the country to aid the sufferers. This organization works to research, educate, represent, and support Agent Orange victims, as well as their families. They are responsible for the creation of 25 centers that cater to victims’ medical needs, with 30 more on the way! They provide emergency support, scholarships, rehabilitation centers, and vocational training, among other services. Creating a network of support with other organizations, VAVA is fighting to seek justice for the innocent victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam and around the world!
Among the centers that VAVA works with, is The Vietnam Friendship Village. Imagine a place referred to as, “a living symbol of peace and friendship.” This is a loving home, where children who are victims of Agent Orange can receive high quality services, such as: education, medical care, vocational training, and physical therapy. Here they are equipped with valuable life skills and independence, which allows them to reintegrate into their communities, as productive members of the workforce. Located in the Ha Tay Province near Hanoi, The Vietnam Friendship Village currently houses 120 children of veterans, who present a variety of disabilities and deformities caused by Agent Orange/Dioxin. This extraordinary place, also educates veterans and helps them improve their health through medical treatment. Founded in 1998 by an American war veteran named George Mizo, the Village was created to heal the emotional wounds produced by the tragedies of the American War in Vietnam. Together with war veterans from Germany and France, Mizo established this center in order to create peace. It was their special way of showing sympathy and concern for the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
Upon our arrival at The Vietnam Friendship Village, we were welcomed by the Ms. Ha Nguyen, who would be our translator and excellent host for the day. Happy children greeted us with beaming smiles and big hugs! If we were impressed by the Village’s natural surroundings and facilities, our fascination multiplied when we were invited inside the bright and colorful classrooms that were equipped with diverse educational equipment fit to address the individual needs of each child. We visited vibrant art classes, where children were finger-painting with volunteers and a sewing workshop, where students were making all sorts of clothing articles out of jean fabric. Talented students worked meticulously in embroidery class, where they made lovely masterpieces with just a needle and thread. Flower decoration, computer skills, and card making were also part of the curriculum. It was wonderful to see these children express themselves with such vitality and creativity! Most of all, it was the happiness that radiated from the children, what enchanted us the most during our visit. The Vietnam Friendship Village is a wonderful place, where Agent Orange victims are more than cared for…they are truly loved.
Thanks to a kindhearted donation from OCP friends, the Carreras Family, we were able to provide The Friendship Village with a box filled with a variety of medical equipment that included: asthma nebulizer machines, electric thermometers, surgical scissors, gauze pads, nylon for covering wounds, stethoscopes, bandages and more! All of these supplies will be used daily to treat the children and veterans residing in the Village. We were thrilled to contribute to this amazing organization, and they were extremely grateful!
Searching for insight on this chemical nightmare, I spoke to war veterans, volunteers, doctors, teachers, and students in Vietnam. They all expressed their disappointment in regards to the lack of help and support from the United States. Their biggest hope is for JUSTICE to be served. They also want to expose the horrific consequences produced by chemical warfare, in order to prevent this from ever happening again. Mr. Dong (Director of The Vietnam Friendship Village) expressed, “The United States of America should take responsibility for assisting the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam and around the world. They must fix what they have done.” A lot of money goes into helping the victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam every year, but not one cent is from the United States Government.
As citizens of the world, we can no longer ignore the calamities and the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Vietnam. Although this situation seems undefeatable, you can make a difference in the lives of these victims today! By spreading the word on this noble cause, volunteering, visiting centers like The Friendship Village, or donating much needed funds, you can make a change! As Mr. Minh Y told me during our interview, “The victims of Agent Orange need funds desperately, but they also need emotional support, love, and attention. Just show them you care.”