Supporting Agent Orange Caregivers in Vietnam

Goals and Beneficiaries



This campaign supports families that have been poisoned by Agent Orange, the dioxin-laden defoliant that was sprayed during the Vietnam War. Quang Binh province, where this campaign is centered, has registered over 19,000 Agent Orange casualties.

Our campaign focuses on caregivers like Mai Thi Loi, pictured below. Two of Mai Thi Loi’s sons were so severely affected by Agent Orange that they are permanently chained up to prevent them from harming themselves and others.  Many caregivers, like Mai Thi Loi, are ageing widows and by easing the burden on them we support the entire family and community. As their profiles show, many are extraordinarily courageous.


Mai Thi Loi has received a cow from the campaign.  This has doubled her income.

The campaign has two parts. First, it provides economic support for a small number of vulnerable families. They were chosen by our Vietnamese partner, the Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD) on the basis of a 2014 survey in Quang Binh financed by an AP Board member.

Once a family is selected by AEPD we post the profile on these pages and seek funding for a cow or another form of sustainable investment that will produce an immediate return. AEPD will help the family prepare a business plan and follow up with regular visits.

Our second goal is to scale up AEPD’s innovative form of support for war victims. AEPD works through outreach workers who were themselves wounded in war. As their profiles suggest, they enjoy great respect in the villages and this makes them well placed to provide peer support to others with a war disability. They could be used on a wider scale in Quang Binh and elsewhere.

The campaign will also advocate around Agent Orange in Vietnam and internationally. In Vietnam there is wide agreement about the need to provide for Agent Orange survivors, but this runs up against a shortage of money. AEPD makes a strong case for increasing compensation for Agent Orange families – a case that is supported by other influential advocates like the Vietnamese Association of Agent Orange Victims (VAVA)

Internationally, AP will deploy Peace Fellows to AEPD, raise funds for families, and insist that Agent Orange be seen as a humanitarian, not an American problem. We also feel that anyone who overcomes a disability is a hero, and that Agent Orange caregivers are particularly inspiring. We hope you agree. (October 2016)



Tran Thi Thao, Ngo Gia Hue and their three daughters    

Tran Thi Tao feeds her daughter Ngo Thi Thanh Nhan, 24. Nhan is one of three daughters in this family who are afflicted by dwarfism as a result of Agent Orange. She has never spoken and – according to her parents – can do little except eat and sleep. Nhan cannot even use a toilet and her bowel movements are irregular. Her parents do what they can by pumping water into her rectum. They hope to take her to see a specialist to fix the problem, but understand that this would be very expensive. We are seeking $1,500 for this family. Donate by clicking on the button below.

 


Le Van Dung, Dang Thi Miet and their missing children   

Le Van Dung and his wife Dang Thi Miet have produced thirteen children and lost twelve of them to Agent Orange. One child lived to eight months and the couple hoped she would survive. But it was not to be. Their thirteenth child, Li Thi Ngoc Thuy, has severe symptoms and receives compensation from the government. One of her two daughters, Le Thi Phuong Thao, has problems with her eyesight which appears linked to Agent Orange. But the government does not give compensation for third generation victims. We are seeking $1,500 for this family. Donate here  or by clicking on the button below.

 

Donate

Le Thanh Duc, Ho Thi Hong and their three daughters  

AP was first introduced to Le Thanh Duc and his family in 2013. Mr Duc was exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Army and passed the poison to his three daughters. The couple suffered more heartbreak in 2014 when their youngest son, who was not affected by Agent Orange, was killed in a motor accident. Yet, when AP visited in 2015, Mr Duc was undaunted. Helped by AEPD, he had launched a small business and appeared on television as an advocate on disability. He seems to relish the spotlight! We have raised $1,500 for this family.

Read our report from the field to learn how your donations to this project are used.

Funded icon

Pham Thi Do and her family 

Pham Thi Do feeds her daughter Luyen. Luyen is one of five children in this family whose lives have been ruined by Agent Orange. She was born in 1992 with cerebral palsy and has been bed-ridden ever since. Her mother says that on stormy days, Luyen presses her nails into her hands so hard that they cut her palms. AEPD and AP has raised 35m Dong ($1,435) to help this family purchase a buffalo.

Read our report from the field to learn how your donations to this project are used.

Funded icon

Mai Thi Loi and her son Kien      

Mai Thi Loi has been struggling to cope since her husband died in 1989 and left her with a legacy of Agent Orange. Three of her sons have been affected. Nguyen Van Kien, 31, the oldest, is so disturbed that he flies into a rage and breaks up the house if left to his own devices. His desperate mother had no option but to chain him up an inner room. Mai Thi Loi is torn between love for her son and fear of what he might do. We have raised $1,500 for this family.

Read our news bulletin about Mai Thi Loi and learn how your donations to this project are used.

Funded icon

Background


Why caregivers?

The Association for the Empowerment of Persons with Disability (AEPD), AP’s partner in Vietnam, has worked with survivors of Agent Orange in Quang Binh Province for several years. Several AP Peace Fellows who have served at AEPD have also visited survivors and been inspired by their resilience. (Read their profiles on the AEPD partner page.)

In 2014, AEPD and AP surveyed 500 AO-affected families in Quang Binh province. This survey came to an important conclusion: while the needs of victims are great, the burden of Agent Orange falls most heavily on the caregivers who have to support damaged children while also struggling to provide for the whole family. Many are ageing widows.

In 2015, AEPD and AP decided to focus on the special needs of these caregivers. AEPD identified ten severely-affected families in Quang Binh and arranged for Peace Fellow Armando Gallardo and Iain Guest from AP to visit each family in the company of an AEPD Outreach Worker. Armando and Iain produced the profiles and photos on these pages, and we are now seeking funds for each family, as their profile is posted. AEPD has drawn up a modest budget based on the needs of caregivers.

Our 2016 Peace Fellow Ai Hoang will help AEPD to manage the program through to the end of 2016 – and Ai has already raised funds for the families through her own appeal. We will be reaching out to veteran’s associations and others in the weeks ahead and acknowledge supporters on these pages.

This approach differs from that of other AO programs which seek to clean up “hot spots” that were heavily sprayed, or to strengthen medical systems. We want people to identify with these families on a human level, and to invest in them.

By helping them, you will also strengthen AEPD’s support system – the outreach workers who were themselves wounded in war and now provide indispensable peer support to these damaged families (photo right). These remarkable people are featured later in these pages. Their unique model of peer support needs to be understood and made more widely available. We hope this campaign will help.


The challenge: Dioxin from Agent Orange has poisoned up to 3 million Vietnamese and placed a heavy burden on caregivers. Read the reports from the Aspen Institute.

           


Victims: Dioxin poisoning stole up on Toan in his mid-teens. Prevented from attending school by his illness, Toan is a talented craftsman who makes model buildings from chopsticks. Read his story here.

           


Peer Support: AEPD outreach workers like Nguyen Van Thuan (left) were wounded during the war. This helps them to better understand the needs of AO survivors.

Challenge



Between 1960 and 1972 US planes dropped 11.4 million gallons of dioxin-laden Agent Orange (AO) over the south of Vietnam and parts of Laos and Cambodia, at a level of concentration many times greater than that recommended for commercial use.

The dioxin entered the food chain, triggering a wide array of medical conditions and cancers in Vietnamese and American service-members and their families. The Vietnamese Red Cross has estimated that over 3 million Vietnamese are affected.

Agent Orange has long complicated relations between the governments of US and Vietnam. In 2007, advocates from Vietnam and the US laid the basis for a less recriminatory approach by establishing the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin. Presidents Obama and Truong Tan Sang built on this by developing a new “comprehensive partnership” in July 2013 that included a commitment to clean up heavily sprayed “hot spots,” including the former airports of Da Nang and Bien Hoa.

While any action was welcome, the AEPD in Vietnam, felt that this approach focused too much on the environment and too little on people. The policy also sidestepped the real problem: veterans who had been exposed to spraying in the hot spots had carried the poison back to their families across Vietnam. This crisis was nationwide.

Senator Patrick Leahy took the lead in pushing for a broader policy and in 2015 the Senate released $20 million to USAID to support several pilot programs in Vietnam. The funds were divided between southern provinces (Dong Nai, Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc, and Binh Dinh) and the central and northern provinces (Quang Nam, Hue and Thai Binh). In addition, USAID sought to make medical services more accessible to victims of Agent Orange.

While this expansion was welcome, it still focuses largely on provinces that were heavily sprayed. For example, Quang Binh (which was lightly sprayed – 3,800 gallons) was omitted, even though a 2013 survey by AEPD and the government found that 5,266 AO victims were living in the province.

The USAID approach also focuses mainly on the needs of victims. While the medical needs are great, AEPD argues that the burden falls on the entire family, particularly the caregivers. This emerged from a 2015 survey conducted by AEPD and AP. As veterans die off, the burden of caring for their severely affected children falls on ageing widows.

As AEPD and AP have dug deeper into the tragedy of AO, other problems have emerged. The Vietnamese government compensates AO victims, but the amounts are often inconsistent and insufficient. Furthermore, third generation victims (grandchildren) do not qualify. When they met in September 2015 to consider the results of the AEPD/AP survey in Quang Binh, several members of the survey team expressed the hope that these policy isues could be raised with the central government.


The AEPD Outreach Workers



In touch again: Le Quoc Huong (left) an Agent Orange victim, first met Luong Thanh Hoai (right), at an eye hospital in Hanoi in 1988. Today, Mr Hoai advises Luong’s family as an AEPD outreach worker.

AEPD’s Agent Orange campaign rests on the sturdy shoulders of outreach workers who have themselves recovered from the wounds of war and dedicated themselves to helping others. 

AP Fellows have got to know these remarkable individuals well through the years. In 2010, Peace Fellow Simon Klantschi wrote a glowing blog on Luong Thanh Hoai, who lost his left arm and right eye during the war against China in 1998. A man of rare determination and talent, Luong Thanh Hoai, won a silver medal in the javelin and discus at national games. He and Simon became close friends.

Five years later, Luong Thanh Hoai was back on the front lines, helping to identify Agent Orange families in the district of Le Thuy, which he covers for AEPD. In a strange twist, he also met an old acquaintance while introducing AP to the family of Mrs Duong Thi An, one of the caregivers profiled on these pages. Mrs An’s second son, Le Quoc Huong, appears to have lost his eyesight to Agent Orange. He began to encounter problems with his eyes around the age of ten and receives Agent Orange compensation from the government. After several operations, he is almost blind.


Veterans together: Le Thanh Duc, left, an Agent Orange victim, gets sage advice from Outreach Worker Nguyen Van Thuan

As fate would have it, Le Quoc Huong passed through the eye hospital in Hanoi in 1988, around the same time that Luong Thanh Hoai, the AEPD outreach worker, was brought in for an emergency eye operation after being wounded. They were then reunited when Mr Hoai started working in the district in 2013. This helps to calm the younger man. “After talking with me the son is more confident,” says Mr Hoai. ” He is not afraid to talk to strangers. Also we help to break down the barriers with their neighbors.”

We saw the same chemistry at work when Nguyen Van Thuan, another AEPD outreach worker, took us to meet AO families in Bo Trach district. Mr Thuan lost an arm and most of his second hand to unexploded ordnance (UXO) and had only recently begun to work with Agent Orange families. As a former veteran himself, he expressed admiration for the families: “To suffer from dioxin poisoning is a mark of courage. It means you fought bravely in the war,” he says.  One of his clients, Le Thanh Duc, who is struggling to care for three severely disabled daughters and a depressed wife, listened carefully as his fellow veteran gave him advice on how to sell his fish sauce. (photo)


Outreach Worker Loan Van Thai

Loan Van Thai, a third AEPD outreach worker who helps Agent Orange families, had a terrible war. He lost his right hand and suffered severe wounds in a leg after being shot at from the air. He then spent 6 years in a Hanoi hospital while doctors tried to save his leg, and emerged with one leg significantly shorter than the other.

A true survivor, Mr Thai feels that he is stronger because of his ordeal, and better able to provide peer support to the Agent Orange families.  “Some victims won’t talk to normal people,” he says. “There are special ways to communicate with people with disabilities. To encourage them I tell them my story, about the time I had to be brave. I can also help them to get special medical care.” When his own spirits start to flag, Mr Thai goes fishing.

Part business advisors and part personal counselors, these outreach workers serve as a bridge between the Agent Orange families and government services. We hope that this campaign will help to cover their costs, and enable AEPD to recruit more like them.


Results


November 1, 2016: Le Thanh Duc buys chickens! Le Than Duc is the third Agent Orange caregiver to receive funds through the AP appeal. He plans to raise three pigs and 80 chickens in his back yard, where he can also keep an eye on this three daughters. Chickens are in high demand and he could earn $1,400 a year if they all stay healthy. Mr Duc has received loans from AEPD in the past to produce fish sauce. But that business collapsed in April 2016 after a steel company poisoned the sea and killed fish. He is optimistic about his chickens.


September 29, 2016: Mai Thi Loi and her new buffalo. Mai Thi Loi’s struggle with Agent Orange has touched many friends of AP, who have given generously to an appeal by Peace Fellow Ai Hoang. AEPD and Mai Thi Loi have used the funds to purchase a buffalo, named Opportunity, seen here with Mai Thi Loi and her youngest son Hung. Mai Thi Loi rents the animal out for farm work and after a month she had already doubled her income. As Ai Hoang points out in this blog, this will ease Mai Thi Loi’s money worries. But it does not resolve her deeper worry – that her two other sons are chained up to restrain their rage.


September 1, 2016: The Xoan family gets a buffalo! The first of ten Agent Orange families supported by AEPD and AP receives a buffalo to help Mrs Pham Thi Do (left) and her husband Nguyen Van Xoan work their land and produce rice. The animal was bought with funds raised by Peace Fellow Ai Hoang. Outreach workers from the AEPD will advise the family on their investment. Read this report by Peace Fellow Ai Hoang, who raised funds for the family.


ai and le thanh ducsmall

June, 2016: AP raises $3,300 for Agent Orange caregivers. Peace Fellow Ai Hoang launches an appeal on Global Giving to raise funds for the ten Agent Orange caregivers identified by AP and AEPD in 2015. Ai will spend five months in Vietnam working at the AEPD. She is seen here with Le Thanh Duc, whose three daughters have been paralyzed by dioxin poisoning. Le Thanh Duc has suffered one disaster after another, but remains upbeat and optimistic. He is seen as hard working and responsible by AEPD – in short as a good investment.


IGwith#3small

September 2015: Agent Orange caregivers to get relief. AEPD and AP commit to supporting ten of the 500 affected families in Quang Binh province that were surveyed in 2014. A team from AP and AEPD visits the 10 families and hears how a grant would help them to produce more from their land and ease pressure on the primary caregivers. Each family draws up a budget, with help from AEPD. Left: Iain Guest from AP with Tran Thi Thao, one of the caregivers, and her daughter Ngo Thi Thanh Nhan.


seth and ha van phusmall

September 2014: The first needs assessment of Agent Orange caregivers. AP Board member Scott Allen funds a needs assessment of 500 AO-affected families in Quang Bing province. The assessment is done by a team from AEPD and the provincial government, with support from Peace Fellow Seth McIntyre, seen here with Han Van Phu, a veteran who passed on dioxin poisoning to his family. This report will form the basis for a research paper on AP caregivers in 2016 by AP and AEPD.


With Many Thanks To…

Scott and Kanako Allen, Paulo Dias, Willie Loza, Naresh Grover, Oliver Grover, Steven Grover, Linda Hoang, Linda Huynh, Andy Ng, Kelly Nguyen, Vivian Nguyen, Lynn Pham, Glenn Ruga, and Nguyen Tran


The family of Peace Fellow Ai Hoang organized a get-together for friends in New York on June 12, 2016, before Ai left to work at the AEPD in Vietnam. The gathering raised $800 for the family of Pham Thi Do, which has been seriously affected by Agent Orange and helped Ai to meet her fund-raising goal in just three weeks. Ai wrote about her family’s departure from Vietnam following the end of the war in this blog. Our thanks to Ai’s relatives and friends for their extraordinary generosity.


Resources



Fellow Blogs


Click here to see Ai’s photos.

Ai Hoang’s Blog (2016)

Fellow Ai Hoang launches AP’s fundraising for the ten families with two appeals on Global Giving. 

“As I finish my second week here of AEPD, I’m reminded once again that there are never any real winners in war. The losses are great on all sides and the consequences continue to affect generation and generation of innocents to come. So here I am, doing what I believe is best to assist with the healing process.”


See Armando’s photos by clicking here.

Armando Gallardo’s Blog (2015)

Fellow Armando Gallardo and Iain Guest from AP visit the ten affected families that are selected by AEPD, and produce detailed profiles. Two of the ten have been visited by past Fellows. Armando also produces footage for a video about Agent Orange, which is still in the making. 

“When Mr. Dung first told us his story, it sounded as something that was coming from one of the many documentaries done about Agent Orange; His wife, who also helped during the war by building roads, had 13 children and out of all of them only 1 made it alive. The rest of them didn’t make it more than 8 months.”


Look at Jefferson’s photos by clicking here.

Jefferson Seth McIntyre’s Blog (2014)

Fellow Seth McIntyre is hired by AP and AEPD to develop a questionnaire and organize a survey of 500 affected families. The costs of the survey are covered by Scott Allen, an AP Board member. Seth also produces several powerful profiles on veterans and their families which help to explain the compensation policy of the Vietnamese government. Seth’s superb photos of the veterans receive over 12,000 views. 

“Luan asks me if I want to take pictures of the purple, cauterized scar running the length of his chest and another from his ankle to his upper thigh, his constant reminder of the wages of life. But this didn’t matter, at least, not now it doesn’t.”


Click here to see Kelly’s photos.

Kelly Howell’s Blog (2013)

Kelly Howell is the first Fellow to study the devastating impact of dioxin poisoning, particularly on the second generation. Kelly also introduces AP to the family of Le Thanh Duc. 

“I met with several families who were affected by Agent Orange. Only in the last decade have people in the rural areas of Vietnam begun to hear about AO. Until then, they had no idea what was happening in some of the families there. Their stories were heart-rending yet hopeful, and I’d like you to meet some of the families that I met.”


Click here to see Jesse’s photos.

Jesse Cottrell’s Blog (2012)

Fellow Jesse Cottrell produces an excellent video on the three Phan siblings, who have built a thriving hairdressing business. Jesse’s video is tweeted by, among others, the actor Alec Baldwin. 

“On the plane, I was seated next to an elderly Vietnamese woman, who threw me curious glances. Her eyes peered merrily at me over the top of the mask, and upon landing, she gave me a hearty high five. I thought to myself that she likely had memories of the wars here. Here I am, I thought, an American in post-war Vietnam, what will people think of me? Her high-five said to me, hey, welcome!, and I’ve encountered that same sentiment again and again, here in the quaint city of Dong Hoi.”


See Simon’s photos by clicking here.

Simon Kläntschi’s Blog (2011)

Simon Klantschi, from Switzerland, is the first Fellow to meet with Agent Orange survivors. read his blog about the inspiring Mrs Hue, who sells beer and wants to be an opera singer.

“Nguyen Thi My Hue was born disabled. She has a serious congenital malformation, is humpbacked and has experienced an abnormal growth of her body. Today, at the age of thirty, she is only tall like a ten-year-old child. Hue is a victim of Agent Orange. Hue begins her story with: ‘I was born unlucky,’ but her eyes are bright and she smiles.”


AP Quilts


The squares for this quilt were embroidered onto chiffon and silk cloth in 2012 by two Vietnamese women who overcame devastating injuries to become skilled craftswomen. They worked under the auspices of AEPD, an AP partner based in Quang Binh province, Vietnam.