[Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from a blog post written by David Devlin-Foltz, Director, Advocacy Planning and Evaluation Program at the Aspen Institute . David participated in the recent 2011 Common Cause Delegation on Agent Orange in Vietnam.]
The Aspen Institute serves as the US host of the bi-national US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin. The Dialogue Group developed a 10-year Plan of Action laying out practical steps to addressing the tragic legacy of wartime defoliant use. Since the plan’s release last year, we have been exploring how to engage more philanthropies, businesses, NGOs and governmental agencies as partners in offering enduring solutions to the human and environmental damage linked to Agent Orange.
We know what those solutions are: isolate and decontaminate the dioxin “hot spots;” rehabilitate damaged croplands; and most important, offer cost-effective screening and care and opportunities for dignified lives to those living with disabilities. I am finding my way back into this time zone after a ten-day trip to Vietnam with an impressive delegation of Americans eager to learn more and do their part to address this legacy.
Our delegation included three former Members of Congress with more than 50 years of experience in the House among them. Our two prominent religious leaders have spent a similar period in the pulpit. Even those that our delegation leader, Bob Edgar, identified as bringing “young eyes” to the issue had decades of experience as advocates and policy advisors to governors and Senators and foundations.
Our Vietnamese hosts had equally impressive credentials. But this wasn’t about credentials. This visit was about meeting people at the center of Vietnam’s response to Agent Orange and dioxin and to the broader challenges of people with disabilities.
The resilience of the Vietnamese and their insistence on looking forward is amazing. They have patiently awaited a moment when the US government is willing to work alongside them. That moment seems to have arrived. American officials at our consulate in Ho Chi Minh City and the embassy in Hanoi briefed us on plans to “burn the dirt” contaminated with dioxin at the Da Nang “hot spot,” following up on the the Secretary of State’s announcement that USAID will invest $34 million to complete this task. And USAID is considering the next phase of its support for rehabilitation services for people with disabilities that can serve as models for other parts of Vietnam.
Photos from the delegation are below and you can view the full post on the Aspen Institute’s blog.