Archive for March, 2011

Back From Vietnam With Stories of Hope and Resilience


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[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.]

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Reverend James Forbes makes new friends at the Friendship Village, a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities.

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.


Washington Post Highlights Continuing Impact of Agent Orange


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Two children at the Friendship Village.

Washington Post travel writer Kristin Henderson visited Vietnam and found “mystic mountain ranges,” “steep islands” and “turquoise water” – all within one of Vietnam’s most spectacular natural attractions, Ha Long Bay. She also witnessed the friendliness and ambition of the Vietnamese people – characteristics that no doubt help make Vietnam one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

A far cry from the war-torn images that Henderson had grown accustomed to during her adolescence, Vietnam today is a different place. But it is not all as idyllic as Henderson’s description of Ha Long Bay. In her story, Henderson recounts her visit to the Friendship Village – a home and care facility for more than 150 disabled people, mostly children, who suffer from conditions associated with Agent Orange. Here she finds that, for some, the war is far from over.

“It should have been a depressing place,” Henderson writes. “And yet, in a sewing studio, as a young woman with stumps instead of hands deftly laid out fabric and marked it with a pattern, her quiet satisfaction was infectious. She’d learned how to do that here, and with skills like that, she could live her own life.”

The Friendship Village does fantastic work but the unfortunate reality is it can only meet a small percentage of the need. Read “Spring travel: Old war wounds give way to a new Vietnam” on


Children of Vietnam Raises $30,000 at Fundraiser in North Carolina


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Children of Vietnam Executive Director Nancy Letteri and several student volunteers at the “Little Red Envelope” fundraiser.

Children of Vietnam raised more than $30,000 at the “Little Red Envelope Fundraiser” in Greensboro, North Carolina. Named after the red envelopes that Vietnamese children are traditionally given during Tet, the event featured traditional Vietnamese decorations, food and music.

Children of Vietnam Executive Director Nancy Letteri gave special recognition to their high school and college volunteers. “We had a lot of help from the Vietnamese Students Association, high schools and colleges,” Letteri said. “They donated their time, helped us with the decorations and music– they were really amazing.”

What’s even more amazing is how far $30,000 will go in Vietnam. According to Letteri, “It will give support to approximately 100+ children who need multiple services. I can’t emphasize enough that we are talking about multiple services per child. We’re going to look at each of the children and develop a wraparound comprehensive plan to improve their health and quality of life. This means that if a family doesn’t have a toilet, we will give them a toilet. It might also mean scholarships or vocational training. It might even mean a micro loan to the parent to help better support their children in the future or start a business.”


Agent Orange Advocates Convene at Commonwealth Club of California


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Bob Edgar hugs a young disabled boy in Vietnam.

It was a sunny, spring-like February day in San Francisco. Bob Edgar (former congressman and religious leader) led a crowd assembled at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in an energetic chant. “We are,” Edgar preached. “We are,” the crowd responded. “The leaders,” Edgar continued. “The leaders,” the crowd repeated. “We have been waiting for.”

From there, Edgar led a discussion that was authentic, inspiring and included a healthy dose of humor. Edgar spoke of his own history as an anti-war activist, a religious leader and a politician before returning to his present concern for the continuing impact of Agent Orange in Vietnam. “All you need to do is see the children, and the grandchildren, of the Vietnamese who were exposed to the defoliant – to hold them in your arms,” Edgar said. “We spent three days just crying,” he explained, referring to the 2010 Common Cause Interfaith Delegation to Vietnam.

After Bob Edgar, Charles Bailey, a Ford Foundation grantmaker who has dedicated more than a decade of his life to helping the people of Vietnam, spoke in detail about the current situation and the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group’s Plan of Action. He spoke to Vietnam’s resilience and the people’s willingness to forgive. “Vietnam is a remarkable country I think we all know this,” Bailey said. “But I think we sometimes forget that the people of Vietnam endured 130 years of conflict over the last 152.”

The event was moderated by Jon Funabiki of the Vietnam Reporting Project.


On the Road with Charles Bailey: Ho Chi Minh City




[Editor’s note: This guest post by Charles Bailey of the Ford Foundation was written Monday, March 7th. Due to the time difference, these updates will not be published in real time.]

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Susan Berresford, convener of the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group, Madam Ninh, President of Founding Committee of Tri Viet University Project, and former Congresswomen Pat Schroeder.

After an exciting weekend of arrivals, the Common Cause Delegation on Agent Orange in Vietnam was kicked into gear today with a packed schedule of events and meetings.

We began by meeting with Dr. Le Ke Son, Deputy Director-General of the Vietnam Environmental Administration. The delegation then witnessed the impact first-hand at the Center for Children with Disabilities in District 12 and closed the day with a productive and stylish dinner at an early 20th century mansion in downtown Ho Chi Minh City.

Much was learned throughout, but the dinner was especially memorable because of the dynamic group in attendance:


On the Road with Charles Bailey: Updates from Vietnam


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Starting Monday, we will publish a limited mini-series of guest blog entries that provide daily stories from the 2011 Common Cause Delegation on Agent Orange in Vietnam. Written by the Ford Foundation’s Charles Bailey and others, these updates will bring to life what it’s like for an Agent Orange champion on the road in Vietnam.


Bob is Back: 2011 Common Cause Delegation to Vietnam


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Bob Edgar with disabled children at Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City

Last year Bob Edgar, former congressman and current president of Common Cause, led a delegation of faith leaders to Vietnam to learn about the continuing impact of Agent Orange.

This year, Bob is back. Between March 5th and March 11th, Edgar will lead a new delegation of leaders from a broad spectrum of disciplines including philanthropy, business, environmentalism, disabilities, public health, politics and religion. The hope is that each of these leaders will bring new perspectives on how to best address Agent Orange and will join the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group in calling for a shared investment of 300 million dollars over 10 years to implement the Plan of Action.

The delegation arrives in Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow and will travel to Hanoi and Da Nang during their week in Vietnam. They will visit hotspots, hospitals, universities and schools and they will meet with a range of people from advocates and scientists to members of the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group and government officials.

The 2011 Delegates:


Agent Orange Effects Linger in Vietnam


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Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Hamlin Wade, a junior political science major at Wake Forest University. Hamlin attended a panel discussion to learn about Vietnam and Agent Orange. This opinion piece also appears in the Wake Forest University student newspaper.

The Vietnam War is a sore spot in the memories of many American citizens. From 1955 to 1975, the United States found itself entrenched in a war of unrecognizable proportions. Due to the tactical disadvantages faced by American soldiers, action had to be taken to level the playing field, ultimately crippling the guerrilla warfare tactics held by members of the Vietnamese military.

The solution? Agent Orange, an herbicidal chemical extensively used to eradicate jungle flora throughout the Vietnamese countryside. Often used at levels upwards of 50 times the recommended usage, Agent Orange decimated fields and jungles alike.

However, unexpected consequences accompanied the use of this chemical, resulting in adverse health conditions contracted by both the Vietnamese people and the American soldiers responsible for its distribution.

Some 35 years later, the effects of this chemical are still evident in Vietnam, as children are born with birth defects and families are ripped apart at the seams. The war may be over, but the conversation cannot end.

Unfortunately, it seems that the focus of the consequences of Agent Orange has been politicized. Many claim that Agent Orange has had little effect on the people of Vietnam, that it is simply a propaganda campaign by the Vietnamese government to garner international sympathy and financial support for the cleanup of their countryside. Yet, the facts remain.

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Dannia Southerland talks about Children of Vietnam's Hope System of Care.

There still exist some 28 hot spots of Agent Orange, commonly concentrated around former U.S. airport bases where the chemical was loaded into planes.

Furthermore, these hot spots still affect the local communities, as the dioxin produced by Agent Orange attaches itself to fish consumed by the nearby citizens.

Agent Orange can affect individuals in a variety of ways, most commonly in the form of birth deformations and defects. Some Vietnamese children are born without eyes and noses. Others are born without the ability to walk or function in a normal societal setting. Some 150,000 children in Vietnam can attribute disabilities to Agent Orange.

Agent Orange can destroy the livelihood of a family, as they are forced to concentrate solely on the care of those unable to attend to the most simplistic of tasks.

Thankfully, organizations such as the Ford Foundation, locally based non-profit Children of Vietnam and others have acknowledged the continuing effects of Agent Orange in the communities of Vietnam. Even the United States government has pledged some $34 million to help clean up hot spots across Vietnam.

However, a handful of non-profit organizations cannot completely eliminate the hardships brought on by the actions of the United States over three decades ago. If there is to be a future Vietnam that is not riddled by the effects of Agent Orange, global action is required.

It is important to leave any misconceived notions at the door. This is not a propagandist campaign by a bitter government. This is not a ploy for monetary donations. There is a powerful and prevalent problem in Vietnam thanks to Agent Orange. It is important that the world understands the effects of this harmful chemical and unites behind the people of Vietnam. It is possible to eliminate the problems associated with Agent Orange; however, it is only possible if the global community pays attention and takes action.

The story in Vietnam is not unique. War has a long history of destroying buildings in the present and destroying families over the course of time. From the atomic bombs dropped in World War II to the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, war has unintended and unpredictable consequences.

Even in today’s conflict in Iraq, United States forces are employing the use of white phosphorus bombs, another chemically reactant bomb with unknown side effects. Yet no matter how bleak the future may look, all hope is not lost.

The Vietnamese people are a resilient culture and they will fight to overcome whatever obstacles they may face. Families are uniting together in order to overcome the effects of Agent Orange.

Vietnam is a country of great hope with a bright future. If the world is willing to pay attention, the past can finally be eliminated and Vietnam can begin to move forward in the 21st century. No matter how dark and ominous the past may be, it is never too late to overcome history.