Everyone wants to have a healthy child. I feel pain, I feel sorry, when I see children with deformities caused by Agent Orange.
I became part of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) through a very good friend, Ho Quy Cay. I met him in the military in 1971.
He and his wife had six children; three died soon after birth. One has mental disabilities; the other two are not healthy. Cay died last year from cancer. His wife also is affected by Agent Orange and is weak, but she needs to earn a living to take care of their child who is disabled.
In 2005, when the government had the idea to establish VAVA to help the victims of Agent Orange, Cay and I worked together to set up the Quang Ngai chapter.
He motivated me to do this kind of work. Because of him I have said no to people who asked me to work for other groups who have higher salaries. I want to contribute my strength and my heart to the victims.
I was exposed to Agent Orange when I was a soldier in the North Vietnamese army working in the area around the Mekong River Delta. I was not directly exposed when it dropped, but I drank the water and ate food where it happened. I was in places that had recently been sprayed and walked through a lot of forest and jungle.
I have two children and four grandchildren. They are all healthy and so far do not suffer any effects from Agent Orange, but that’s not the case for many families.
Quang Ngai, a province of 1.3 million people, has about 25,000 families affected by disabilities, most associated with Agent Orange. More than 1,000 of the children affected by Agent Orange have birth defects severe enough they can’t care for themselves. Our main responsibility is to take care of these children.
When I ask people to support VAVA, I tell them we have a responsibility to take care of those affected by Agent Orange.
I understand that I cannot do things to clean up the land and the environment, but I can do work with the people affected by Agent Orange. We can do it.
We make sure we have equality for people affected by Agent Orange whether their parents lived in or fought for the south or the north. We work hard to raise funds and support affected people who are poor, are homeless, have diseases or need surgery.
All human beings have the right to live, to work and to take care of themselves.”
All human beings have the right to live, to work and to take care of themselves. They have rights to integrate with society. They have a right to go to the doctor for surgery.
If parents send their children to VAVA’s daytime care center, they can work in the field, go to the market, run a business. That will contribute to the income in the family. Therapy for the children with disabilities also is very important.
VAVA is providing families with cows (through the MCC-supported cow bank program). Even though the investment of the cows is very small, it has a lot of meaning. The final results will become very big. It has a lot of labor in it. When a family has a calf, they will transfer it to another family and that family will give to another family.
The most difficult part for parents who have a disabled child is that the pain goes with you for the rest of your life. That was the pain of my friend, Cay, but his is just one of many families.
I get joy from this job too. I remember we had one young man, Le Tuan Kiet, who needs to use a wheelchair. VAVA helped him to buy a photocopier and he opened a copier service, where he hired three employees with disabilities. Between the small profit from the business and from tutoring, he was able to study and earn three university degrees.
Now, although the shop is closed, he earns enough money from tutoring to support his brother, whose disability is so severe he can only lie down. Kiet pays his sister’s tuition and supports his grandparents.
His success is my happiness, and his victory is my success. VAVA only had a very small investment. The success comes from his will and effort.
Phan Thanh Long, who retired from the Vietnamese military in 2001, is president of Quang Ngai Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA). MCC supports VAVA’s daytime care center and a cow bank project in Quang Ngai Province. Many of the VAVA leaders dedicated to reaching out to those affected by Agent Orange are retired military personnel.