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Volunteers can help in Vietnam villages

While I enjoyed Bill Flynn’s coverage of Vietnam in The News’ travel section, his claim that the country is “far removed from war” is untrue and misses an opportunity to inform readers of an important way we can get involved while visiting that beautiful country.

Vietnam is home to an estimated 1 million first-, second- and third-generation victims of Agent Orange, the defoliant dropped on its jungles by the American military throughout the war. Today, thousands of Vietnamese children live with profound disability owing to this deadly defoliant, which has been associated with a wide range of diseases, including spina bifida, Hodgkin’s disease, blood and skin disorders and many cancers. In the city of Da Nang alone, more than 5,000 residents are living with the ravaging effects of Agent Orange; of these, an estimated 1,400 are children.

During a recent trip to Vietnam, my girlfriend, Samantha, and I volunteered at Hanoi’s Friendship Village, a school, clinic and home to 120 children living with moderate to severe disability owing to Agent Orange. The village also hosts veterans – from both sides of the war – for one-month wellness retreats. We spent the days working in the garden and helping kids in classes ranging from hygiene to cooking, and some of our nights were spent watching the kids play soccer under the lights while the veterans, these former enemies, sat on nearby benches talking. It was then that I saw the magic of the village, what its founder, American veteran George Mizo, had in mind when he envisioned a center for healing that would also serve as an international symbol of hope and reconciliation.

They go by many names, these friendship villages located throughout Vietnam, all of them serving those caught in the legacy of war. And they are as beautiful as any beach or post-colonial French cafe.

Joseph Little

Niagara Falls