Archive for September, 2011

Why I care about Agent Orange: Exploring the Impact through Dance


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[Editor's Note: Natalia Duong is a Vietnamese-American dancer, choreographer and recent graduate of Stanford University. What follows is her story of why she cares about Agent Orange, as expressed through Project Agent Orange, an effort to raise awareness of the impact of Agent Orange through dance and movement. Project Agent Orange is based in New York City and has performed across New York and New Jersey. The world premiere of a new evening length work will take place in May 2012 in New York. Email Natalia at This post is part of the limited series "Why I care about Agent Orange."]

I never crawled when I was learning how to locomote: I sat, I waddled and I danced. From birth, I relied on a kinesthetic awareness to communicate. At age three, I changed the landscape of my surroundings by carving my way through the kitchen in tap shoes. From then on, I developed a keen interest in using movement to engage communities, across borders and generations, particularly when the limits of linguistics were present.

As a first generation Vietnamese American, I grew up with stories of war woven into the air of my household. These stories were the ones that would eventually shape my body’s architecture. These stories would skew the lens through which I saw all war.

After visiting a peace village in Vietnam in 2007 and using song and movement to connect with the members of the community, my curiosity about Agent Orange bloomed. I was simultaneously inspired by the brave stories of individuals living with disabilities and greatly disheartened by the inertia towards making the environmental and social changes needed to support a growing community of people who are affected by Agent Orange. The movement towards healing a community hadn’t yet begun.

Consequently, I began Project Agent Orange in 2011. It is a movement collective that investigates the lingering effects of Agent Orange through the use of movement and dance. Together, we use our performances to bring awareness to the lingering effects of the herbicide while educating a broad range of audiences — from art enthusiasts to social activists — about the environmental and humanitarian concerns associated with chemical warfare. The artistic format of the work provides a forum to discuss the complicated questions with people who might not otherwise know about Agent Orange. Our goal is to connect with people on a somatic level so that individuals not only know about the effects of Agent Orange, but also empathize with the issues at play.

As a choreographer, I am interested in using movement to examine how war is inherited through the body. As dioxin has become concentrated in the groundwater and bloodlines of communities, the number of people being affected by the chemical is increasing rather than decreasing. Children are literally — physically — inheriting a war they never lived; living with an injury they never incurred. Project Agent Orange tells a story about the physical embodiment of the proliferation of war. As such, it is a story that is best told through movement, as it is through the bodies of survivors that trauma due to chemical warfare continues to thrive.  Agent Orange is a microcosmic example of a human’s ability to alter life for years beyond any one person’s lifetime.

Natalia speaks to her interest in solving the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Natalia and Project Agent Orange perform a preview of their new evening length work.

New Film Puts a Human Face on the Continuing Impact of Agent Orange


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“Other children know how to read but they can’t,” says a young, teary-eyed Vietnamese girl about her two brothers who have been affected by Agent Orange. “They would have to be normal to attend school.”

This is just one of many poignant moments in “The Leaves Keep Falling,” a short film by Vietnam Reporting Project fellow Ed Kashi, with photos from Vietnam Reporting Project fellow Catherine Karnow.

It is a film that puts a human face on the long-term impact of Agent Orange, revealing a nightmare and an opportunity to help. Heart-wrenching and heart-warming, the film helps viewers understand that this is a humanitarian concern that we can do something about.

The Leaves Keep Falling from Vietnam Reporting Project on Vimeo.


Why I care about Agent Orange: A Young American Perspective on Modern Vietnam




[Editor's Note: This post is the first in a limited series of blog posts called "Why I care about Agent Orange." It was written by Greg Ligon, your editor. I hope you will join me and share your story of why you care about Agent Orange as well.]

When I tell people I studied abroad in Vietnam, the first question is often ‘what made you choose Vietnam?’ My answer: I went because it is different. Like none of my other options, Vietnam offered the chance to do something completely outside my own experience.

Against the backdrop of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, Vietnam today is a rapidly shifting landscape. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and the reason is apparent on any street corner in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. The fisherman selling in the local market, the young child with a backpack bigger than his body, the twenty-something practicing her English on an unsuspecting tourist, it seems everyone in Vietnam has a purpose. But beneath the commotion, there remains a tragic legacy of the war fought almost half a century ago.

Make Agent Orange History_CatherineKarnow_Agent Orange_Dioxin1

Beneath the commotion there lies a tragic legacy of the war in Vietnam. Photo credit: Catherine Karnow, July 2010.

It’s hard to process the impact of Agent Orange. It can be so devastating. To see children with missing limbs and severely deformed bodies is, to put it mildly, challenging. To meet children whose health problems will likely prevent them from reaching adulthood, well, it certainly puts ones problems into perspective!

The good news is these illnesses and disabilities are not intractable. Several charitable organizations are making a difference every day. They fund corrective surgeries, physical therapy, wheelchairs, prosthetic devices, vocational training and other services that save and improve lives. However, the unfortunate reality is that all current efforts combined address only 10% of the need, and dioxin, the toxic contaminant in Agent Orange, continues to poison the land and the people of Vietnam.

For many young Americans like me, Vietnam is a bit of an abstraction. We know there was a war there. We know it was long, controversial and cost millions of lives. But what struck me about Vietnam is how little resemblance it bears to the war-torn country depicted in films and history books. In a country where the median age is 27.8 years old, Vietnam today is vibrant, forward-looking and ambitious.

The Vietnamese have endured 130 years of conflict over the past 152 – and honestly, walking around Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, I might never have known. Millions of young Vietnamese are working tirelessly to reinvent their country. I think they deserve that chance.


Why I care about Agent Orange


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Many people care about the lasting impact of Agent Orange for a variety of reasons. From those personally affected to those who believe it is the responsibility of all good people to take action in the face of tragedy. “Why I Care About Agent Orange” is an opportunity for each of us to share our own story of why we believe it is time to end the lasting legacy of Agent Orange. Stories can be written, videotaped, photographed or a combination of the above. However you express yourself, send it to for publication on this blog.


U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group Releases First Year Report on Plan of Action


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Make Agent Orange History_dioxin_Vietnam_12_DG members brief PM Dzung 4

Members of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group brief Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

The U.S.-Vietnam-Dialogue Group recently released their “First Year Report” detailing progress made to address the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam since the Plan of Action was published last year.

The report highlights important milestones and accomplishments such as $20 million committed to solving the legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam, investigative reports by CBS5 News and The Cleveland Plain Dealer and increased cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Of note, the Dialogue Group writes:

“The U.S. Congress appropriated an additional $15.5 million which with other U.S. government funds will cover the costs of the project to completely clean up the dioxin at the Da Nang airport. Clean-up of the other two major dioxin hotspots can now be expected and the public health risk they represent can be brought to an end. This is good news and worth celebrating.”

Read the full report »