The Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD) is based in Dong Hoi, the capital of Quang Binh province in central Vietnam. The province has a population of 853,000. AEPD’s works in two districts, Dong Hoi and Bo Trach.
AEPD’s mission is to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities (PWDs) through economic and social empowerment and access to health care. The Association was set up in 2003 as the Vietnam member of the Landmine Survivors Network, which shared the 1997 Nobel Peace prize for its contribution to the global campaign to ban landmines. In 2010 LSN-Vietnam broadened its mission and changed its name, in recognition of the fact that landmines are only one cause of disability. Vietnam has a population of 88.5 million people. By some estimates as many as 15.3% may be affected by a disability.
Poetry, Pride and Agent Orange: The Phan siblings – two brothers and a sister – are among 3 million Vietnamese thought to have been exposed to dioxin poisoning caused by the defoliant Agent Orange. Peace Fellow Jesse Cottrell tells their story in this inspiring video.
AP has sent Peace Fellows to AEPD since 2008 and is helping AEPD to design a long-term program on Agent Orange (video left). AEPD and AP surveyed 500 victims of Agent Orange in Quang Binh in 2014 and identified their needs. The partners will now seek funding to provide services.
Climate change is another issue that could benefit from AP’s international advocacy. AEPD is one of the few advocacy groups to argue that climate change will have a dire impact on people with disability, and agencies like the World Bank need to know about this. Meanwhile, AP and AEPD have produced an advocacy quilt that describes the threat from climate change. AP uses the quilt in promoting AEPD’s unique and important program.
Peer support: AEPD outreach worker Hoang Van Luu (left) with Tan van Son.
Vietnam has a population of more than 88.5 million people and is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Estimates vary as to the number of Vietnamese with a disability. In 2009, the government’s General Population Survey put the figure at 6.7 million – about 7.6% of the population.
But the World Health Organization came up with a much higher percentage (15.3%), using a more expansive definition of disability. According to WHO, the rate of disability among women (16.58%) is also higher than among men (13.69%). Government estimates put the number of PWDs in Quang Binh province at 40,000 (4.7% of the population). This is most likely an underestimate.
Remnants of War: 2010 Peace Fellow Simon Klantschi watched while a team from the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) defused this unexploded 250 kilo bomb near his hotel in Dong Hoi City.
War is not the only cause of disability in Vietnam, of course. Like other countries, Vietnam is affected by natural disasters, traffic accidents, injuries at work, and illness. But Vietnam was also the scene of a long and deadly war. By 1975 some 800,000 tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) lay scattered across a fifth of the country. A 2007 study by the government (MOLISA) found that 104,701 Vietnamese had been seriously injured by UXO since 1975.
The Government has worked hard to remove UXO with the support of organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, but less than 12% of the affected areas had been cleared by 2006. A recent assessment found that Quang Binh was one of the two most contaminated provinces because of its proximity to the former Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Ho Chi Minh Trail. All of the communities in Quang Binh are thought to be contaminated.
Most UXO is now hidden by forest or soil, making it particularly lethal. Children are curious and pick up small bombs, thinking them to be toys. Farmers uncover or rebury UXO while tilling the land. As Gretchen Murphy, (2009 Peace Fellow) explained in a blog, this prevents villagers from farming, building houses, digging fish ponds, or collecting food and fuel in the forest – years after the ordnance was dropped or placed.
AEPD’s response has been to campaign actively for Vietnam to adhere to the international cluster bomb convention, which provides for survivors and calls for clearance. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, about one third of all casualties caused by UXO in Vietnam are from cluster bombs. This was discussed in a 2009 blog by Gretchen Murphy. Much remains to be done, in Vietnam and also internationally.
During the war, US planes sprayed more than 18 million gallons of dioxin-laden Agent Orange (AO) and other herbicides over South Vietnam. While dioxin pollution in Vietnam is most concentrated around former US air bases in the south, known as “hot spots,” it also found its way into the food chain through fish and duck and was carried home by fighters from the rest of the country after the war ended. The poisoning then passed genetically to their children and their grandchildren.
In one of her last blogs from Vietnam, Peace Fellow Kelly Howell described meeting a veteran soldier, Le Thanh, who picked up a leaking canister of Agent Orange in the waning months of the war. He has suffered from progressively bad headaches ever since, but the real casualties are his three daughters, all of whom developed paralyzing illnesses at the age of ten (box). The family has been treated to what Kelly described as “polite ostracization” and excluded from village society.
Cases like these have critical implications for the fight against dioxin-cased disability. First, they expand the clean-up challenge far beyond the former “hot spots” to wherever survivors live. Quang Binh province is a good example.
Agent of Death
Le Thanh Duc was one of many Vietnamese soldiers from the north to be directly exposed to Agent Orange while serving in South Vietnam during the war. His two daughters, Le Thi No and Le Thi Lanh, shown here, were born in 1988 without symptoms but began to suffer from paralysis around the age of ten. They have been getting steadily worse ever since. Mr Duc, who suffers from the occasional headache, told Peace Fellow Kelly Howell that he bears no ill will. But many Agent Orange families suffer guilt and isolation. AEPD is considering a loan to Mr Duc and his wife.
A joint Vietnamese-American task force reports that only about 40,000 gallons were sprayed on Quang Binh during the war – compared to the millions of gallons dropped on the south. But many soldiers from Quang Binh, like Le Thanh, fought in the south. As a result the number of those affected by dioxin poisoning in Quang Binh is considerably higher than many provinces in the south even though it received a small amount of Agent Orange.
The Quang Binh Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (DOLISA) in Quang Binh has estimated that 10,000 of the 45,000 PWDs in the province may be suffering from dioxin poisoning – roughly the same number who have survived landmine accidents. This appears to have been born out in a rough 2013 study of 10,000 PWDS by AEPD, which found a much higher percentage of dioxin sufferers than expected. These studies, while quite vague, all suggest that any clean-up should focus first and foremost on the medical needs of survivors rather than cleaning up land. But this is at odds with the current thinking of the US government, which has pledged $15 million to cleaning up Agent Orange in Vietnam.
The precise medical impact of Agent Orange also causes controversy. The Vietnamese authorities estimate that three million Vietnamese are affected, and that they include at least 150,000 children with congenital malformations and birth defects like the family of Le Thanh. But up to now, this has been rejected by the US, which does not want to admit liability or open the way to a massive clean-up bill. In addition, the test for detecting dioxin poisoning runs to almost $1,000 per person, and is too expensive to use widely in Vietnam.
But this, too, may now be changing. The US government has adopted an expansive approach to Agent Orange claims by US service members who served in Vietnam. Claims are accepted from anyone who served in Vietnam and suffers from any one of around 20 illnesses. Many veterans who served in Vietnam would like to see same criteria applied in providing medical support to Vietnam. AEPD has asked AP to develop a long-term program on Agent Orange that will likely start with a detailed study.
Climate Change and Disability: This square was embroidered onto silk for the Vietnam Disability Quilt by Cao Thi Minh, who lost the use of her lower limbs after a bombing during the Vietnam War. Cao’s square shows a person with disability carrying the family dog during a storm, and warns of the likely impact of climate change on persons with disability. For quilt photos and profiles, click here.
According to the World Bank, Vietnam is one of 12 countries that are high risk from climate change and rising sea levels. Within Vietnam, the central provinces with a long coastline are particularly vulnerable. In 2009, Typhoon Ketsana flooded 104 of the 159 communes in Quang Binh, destroying or damaging 22,000 houses and thousands of hectares of food crops. The following year Quang Binh again bore the brunt of heavy storms which killed 45 villagers, submerged 100,000 homes and swept away crops, dealing a crippling blow to the province’s economy.
AEPD has started to study the impact on people with disability, whose immobility will probably make them vulnerable to climate change. Ryan McGovern, who served as the 2011 Peace Fellow at AEPD, wrote one blog (Year of Disasters) explaining why PWDs and the elderly will be at greater risk that able-bodied people. In 2012, AEPD started a program with Caritas Switzerland, Challenge to Change (CtC) and the Vietnamese authorities to design a disaster management plan that includes emergency training and assistance for PWDs.
AP feels that this important work needs to be publicized, and could hold important lessons for other nations that face a similar challenge. AEPD agrees. In 2012, two AEPD members produced delicate embroidered tiles (squares) that described the impact of climate change on PWDs. These were assembled into the Vietnamese Disability Quilt, which is one of the most popular in AP’s collection. Its story is told on this inner page.
The burden of disability falls unevenly. For example, over 90% of the PWDs in Quang Binh live in rural areas. Yet it is here in the countryside that UXO and landmines reside – although bombs occasionally turn up in cities as well – and where Agent Orange enters the food chain. The socio-economic opportunities and infrastructure are also more limited in rural areas than towns. With a per capita income of $15 a month, Quang Binh is one of Vietnam’s poorest provinces, and PWDs are among the poorest of the poor. Many are illiterate. Only a quarter of the province’s PWDs are earning a living and most of these are self-employed. Seventy per cent depend on their families, relatives and social sponsoring. Overall, the rate of poverty among PWDs is double the overall poverty rate in Vietnam.
It is also important not to exploit the powerful images, as was done by the short-lived and ill-fated Miss Landmine Beauty pageant which was roundly criticized by 2011 Peace Fellow Ryan McGovern. Ryan’s own blogs and photos, like that of other Peace Fellows, show PWDs taking pride in their achievements, but in a dignified and often delightful manner.
Peer Support: Nguyen Van Thuan lost his left hand during the war in 1978, but taught himself to ride a motor bike and went on to become one of AEPD’s longest-serving outreach workers. He is always ready with a joke. Read Gretchen Murphy’s profile.
AEPD’s aim is to ensure that people with disability receive the support they need to live a full life and fulfill their capabilities. Disability is not a bar to a productive life. Someone with disability may have special skills and a resiliency that makes them effective and even competitive in certain types of employment.
AEPD works through “outreach workers” who have themselves overcome disability and are thus well placed to help others who face similar challenges. AEPD also works with entire families, who bear the brunt of caring for a member with disability and may even face social exclusion as a result.
AEPD’s own evolution from a landmine campaign makes the organization inclined to support survivors of war. Still, it does not discriminate against those affected by accident, disease or birth defects. The group uses a rights-based approach to advocacy, as explained in this blog and video by Peace Fellow Gretchen Murphy. Perhaps this was to be expected of an offshoot from the Landmine Survivors Network, which was noted for its advocacy.
Luong Thanh Hoai, Outreach Worker: As well as being an outreach worker for the AEPD since 2006, Mr Hoai won two silver medals at the 2007 Vietnamese Paragames, for throwing the javelin and discus. Read the blog by 2010 Peace Fellow Simon Klantschi.
AEPD puts its philosophy into practice through five staff members and seven outreach workers, most of whom have a disability. Outreach workers assess the needs of beneficiaries, offer psychological and social support, and refer PWDs to important services.
AEPD outreach workers have befriended and inspired AP Peace Fellows through the years, and the Fellows have responded with affectionate profiles. They include Gretchen Murphy’s profile of Mr. Thuan, and Simon Klantschi’s profile of Luong Thanh Hoai (left), who won a silver medal in the 2008 Para games for his javelin throwing.
These and other outreach workers have subscribed completely to AEPD’s philosophy. They are involved with almost all of AEPD’s activities: research, micro-loans, animal husbandry, advocacy and rehabilitation. But perhaps their most important role is to provide reassurance. Outreach workers are living proof that PWDs are whole people, full of confidence, and just as deserving as the next person.
People with a severe disability need medical help, and AEPD outreach workers know where a PWD can be fitted with a prosthesis, referred to health providers, buy medicine, get counseling, or receive training.
While the needs are great, these services are often insufficient. In Vietnam, every commune has its own government-run health post, but many are short of staff and resources and it is not uncommon for one doctor and a team of nurses to service thousands of people. As a result, many villagers travel long distances to a district or provincial hospital, where they are charged user fees.
AEPD has helped the provincial authorities to open a rehabilitation center in Dong Hoi and supports several health clinics. In 2013, AEPD provided tools and equipment for two health clinics. These will provide free health care and a regular check-up for about 60 PWDs.
Families with a disability are subject to social ostracization, which is no less painful and demeaning for the fact that it is often “polite.” AEPD works hard to combat this by organizing meetings where PWDS can mingle and meet other villagers. This helps both sides to understand each other better and underscores the contribution that PWDs can make to society. AEPD tries to ensure that women and girls are involved at these meetings – there is a gender dimension to disability.
Singing Through Agent Orange
Nguyen Thi My Hue was also born with a severe deformity caused by Agent Orange. She was introduced to AEPD when Mr Thuan, an AEPD outreach worker, signed her up for business training. Ms Hue wanted to sell beer so AEPD gave her the funds for a fridge. In between selling beer, Hue also finds time to indulge her true passion – singing. As Peace Fellow Simon Klantschi noted in a blog, it took courage for Hue to go on stage. But courage is one thing that Ms Hue has plenty of – like many Agent Orange victims.
AEPD has also set up 34 self-help groups where PWDs come together and exchange ideas on health, sports, social life, and business ventures. Some of these survivors become outreach workers and advocates – for victim assistance and even for the UN Convention on disability rights (which Vietnam has signed but not ratified).
Bonsai master: Can Hoa’s profession – forestry – requires little mobility but lots of skill. After he turned untamed forest into a plantation, AEPD selected Mr Hoa to train 200 others in forestry. His biggest passion is Bonsai trees. Read the 2011 profile by Peace Fellow Ryan McGovern.
Economic activity helps PWDs to come into their own and discover their own special talents. This emerges in several profiles by Peace Fellows, who make the point that disability is no bar to succeeding at professions like carpentry or beekeeping, which do not require much mobility. Given their innate resiliency, PWDs may even have the edge over able-bodied competitors.
In one blog, Simon Klantschi captured the sparkling optimism of Ngyuen Thi My Hue, a victim of Agent Orange who is passionate about her singing (box above). 2011 Peace Fellow Ryan McGovern was equally impressed by Mr Phong, the “King Beekeeper” of Bo Trach and Mr Hoa, who produces Bonzai trees which also win prizes.
Few AP videos are as powerful as Jesse Cottrell’s profile of the Phan siblings, who were stricken by Agent Orange and almost lost their lives in 2012 floods. In 2012, Peace Fellow Jesse Cottrell profiled Dao Thi Thuyen, who lost a leg to a bomb in 1968 and received a biogas system from AEPD. This allows her to convert the waste from her pigs into fuel, and saves her from fetching firewood.
The message that emerges clearly from these profiles is inspiring. Not only is disability not a barrier to economic empowerment – it may even be a spur to greater efforts. Work is key because it provides an income, builds self-esteem, and breaks down social barriers. AEPD has directly helped over 600 survivors to earn a living since 2003, by finding them jobs and providing training in useful occupations (animal husbandry, bee-keeping, incense-making, carpentry, fish sauce and honey production).
In 2013, AEPD helped ten self-help groups to find jobs for around 70 PWDs. This involved forming management boards and training board members. AEPD has also provided start-up loans for microcredit, and helped the beneficiaries to open up a line of credit with lending institutions. Experience shows that the more PWDs are involved in decision-making, the more likely they will be to make a sustained investment.
|Phong, King Beekeeper: After losing his arm during the war, Phong was forced to leave farming and turned to beekeeping. It turned out to be an inspired move. AEPD loaned him money to buy three hives, which he turned into 30 hives and a monthly income of $500. When Peace Fellow Ryan McGovern met Phong in 2012, he was teaching about bees to other AEPD beneficiaries and sharing his views on Colony Collapse Disorder.|
AEPD has partnered with Challenge to Change (CtC) to educate PWDs about the likely threat from climate change and encourage PWDs to prepare for floods and storms. In 2012, AEPD designed a pilot disaster management plan that includes emergency training and assistance for PWDs. The program also seeks to strengthen the capacity of local authorities to provide relief and rehabilitation to victims in rural Quang Binh.
2012 Peace Fellow Jesse Cottrell captured the mood of AEPD trainings in one of his blogs. Jesse also helped two AEPD members to produce embroidered tiles for the Vietnam Disability Quilt, which warns of the impact of climate change in PWDs. AEPD has acquired considerable expertise about climate change. This could be of use to organizations like the World Bank that are exploring the social impact of climate change and planning preventative strategies.
Statistics are the foundation for successful advocacy. AEPD has produced important research and distributed material (on landmines, UXOs and the loss of limbs) to 900 PWDs through the 34 self-help groups. The organization also understands that more research is needed – for example, on the number of Agent Orange victims.
AEPD is first and foremost an advocate, and it has led the campaign to secure Vietnam’s adherence to three major international treaties: the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Vietnam has ratified the mine-ban treaty and signed, but not yet ratified, the UN Convention on disability rights. It has yet to sign or ratify the cluster-bomb convention.
Hog Wild on Biogas: Dao Thi Thuyen, a soldier in the North Vietnam Army, thought her life was over when she lost a leg in the war. Today she runs a successful hog farm and turns the pig waste into fuel, with help from a small biogas plant donated from AEPD. Read the blog by 2012 Peace Fellow Jesse Cottrell.
As a result, AEPD is currently most engaged on cluster munitions. The draft convention devotes an entire article to victim assistance. While this undoubtedly imposes a greater obligation on governments than other disarmament treaties, there are particularly compelling reasons why Vietnam should ratify the convention and take a lead in promoting it internationally.
One reason is that Vietnam has never used, produced, or stockpiled cluster bombs – yet it is one of the countries most heavily affected by cluster munitions. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, about one third of all casualties caused by UXO in Vietnam are from cluster bombs. As noted above, Peace Fellow Gretchen Murphy blogged about the lingering impact of UXO. Much still needs to be done, and the convention would help.
AEPD has also organized a workshop on cluster munitions with the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ho Chi Minh City and worked with the Provincial People’s Aid Coordination Committee to organize the first-ever national workshop on Victim Assistance and International Cooperation in Vietnam (July, 2009).
Although AEPD does not discriminate between disabilities, the organization has long understood that victims of Agent Orange deserve special support. AP agrees. Between 2010 and 2014 several Peace Fellows put a human face on the tragedy through their blogs, photos and video. Simon Klantschi wrote our first AO profile – of the inspiring singer Nguyen Thi My Hue – in 2010 followed by Jesse Cottrell (2012), Kelly Howell (2013), and Seth McIntyre (2014) and Armando Gallardo (2015). Their profiles are carried on this page.
AEPD and AP stepped up their work on Agent Orange in 2015 when Seth McIntyre helped AEPD to survey 500 AO-affected families in Quang Binh. This produced a needs assessment that underscored the immense pressure on care-givers, particularly women. Based on this, AP asked AEPD to identify around ten caregivers with special needs and in August 2015 Peace Fellow, Armando Gallardo, and Iain Guest from AP met with the ten women in Quang Binh province. Their profiles will shortly be posted on these pages and used as the basis for a fundraising appeal. Click on a name to bring up the full profile.
Nguyen Thi My Hue was born with what seemed to be a terrible deformity: she could not walk. For years she could only crawl and when she met with Simon Klantschi in 2010, at the age of 30, she was still humpbacked and the size of a 10-year-old (her own description). She considered ending her own life. But Nguyen has risen above the physical challenges and shown that Agent Orange victims can thrive, with determination and the right kind of support. AEPD has helped her to open a small business and indulge her passion for singing. She told Simon: “Since having the fridge and store, I have been attracting more and more clients and my mood and spirit changed a lot. I am happy and feeling healthier than ever before.”
Phan Van Gianh (foreground) with his sister Phan Thi Gianh and his older brother Phan Van Banh. The Phan siblings are among the best-known survivors of Agent 0range in the province of Quang Binh. Their father was invalided out of the army and died in 1984. Their mother, Nguyen Thi Bich, 85, lives with her children. Peace Fellow Jesse Cottrell made a video about the Phan siblings in 2012. The following year, Peace Fellow Kelly Howell profiled Phan Van Gianh, who has built a successful business as a hairdresser. Armando Gallardo and Iain Guest from AP visited the siblings again in 2015. AEPD has helped the siblings to strengthen their house against climate change. “I have to try harder than normal people,” says Phan Van Gianh. AEPD has helped the Phan siblings strengthen their house against storms that are getting worse because of climate change.
Ho Van Meo served in the army from 1975 to 1981 in areas known to be Agent Orange “hotspots.” He remembers crates of AO being left behind at Da Nang Airport. Ho Van Meo and his wife now care for four children with neuropathic disorders. Their first child passed away at the age of 25 because the family lacked the funds to take him to hospital. In rural areas of Quang Binh, there is often only one district health clinic serving more than 10,000 people.
Nguyen Thi Chuong and her husband Nguyen Viet Banh both served in the Youth Union – the youth branch of the Vietnamese Communist party – during the war and were most likely exposed to Agent Orange while working in Quang Tri province. Their first child died due to birth defects, and their second has heart and spine deformities. Their third child, Bong, is 35 years old and under four feet tall. But she is also very intelligent and AEPD has helped Bong to join a self-help group and take classes in economics, writing, and business management. AEPD has also loaned money to the family to start a pig-raising business.
Tra Tanh’s parents were both exposed to Agent Orange during the war and Tra Tanh (above center) has suffered from a hunchback deformity and constant pain for much of his life. He stopped school at the age of 12 and is unable to have children. In spite of this, he has become a successful farmer, with support from AEPD, which gave Tra a micro-loan to raise pigs, fish, and ducks. Tra receives rehabilitation services at a local health clinic and enjoys attending the local AEPD self-help (peer support) group: “I don’t feel weird anymore. The head of the group often visits us and gives us encouragement, which motivates us. I feel supported and I enjoy supporting others in the group. It is a wonderful experience.”
Nguyen Than Luan, seen here with his wife Vy, served as a communications officer during the war. After being exposed to Agent Orange he suffered from heart disease and stomach ulcers and underwent surgery to remove most of his stomach. He was forced to sell the mortgage on his home to pay for the cost of the surgery. Luan’s wife was also exposed to Agent Orange and their two sons were born deaf. Although one son excelled at a local school for persons with disabilities, the other is also mute and has life-threatening ischemic heart disease.
Le Ba Thuan worked as a political advocate for the military during the war. After being exposed to Agent Orange he developed ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, stomachaches, joint pain, constant headaches, and skin rashes. Of his seven children, one died of nose cancer, another died several hours after birth, and another died during miscarriage. Two of the surviving children, including Le Thi Hang, seen in the photo, have degenerative muscle diseases.
Ho Thi Thiu and her husband both fought in the war and both were exposed to Agent Orange. Ho Thi Thiu built and maintained roads for military vehicles. Her husband, Hong Thuy Long, was one of the original trailblazers of the Ho Chi Minh trail. Both were exposed to Agent Orange. Three of their daughters have severe cognitive disabilities and epilepsy. Their commune does not have resources for special education classes.
Pham Van Dung (left) was severely wounded and also exposed to Agent Orange while serving as a sea captain during the war. His son Pham Van Dung(right) was born with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, and cried out in alarm when he saw Seth McIntyre, the author of this profile. In spite of this war wounds, Pham has cared for his son his whole life and now also looks after his ageing wife and granddaughter Dung (center). He is comforted by the fact that Agent Orange spared his granddaughter, who is healthy and excels at school.
Like Going Home: Chi Vu fled Vietnam in 1975 with her parents. She returned in 2009 as a Peace Fellow at AEPD.
AP’s relationship with AEPD started in 2008, when the organization was still a member of the Landmine Survivors Network. Six Peace Fellows have served at AEPD in the years since.
For Chi Vu, who was the first Fellow to be deployed in 2008, it was like a return home. Chi Vu’s family escaped from Vietnam in 1975, and Chi Vu spent two years in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines.
|2013: Kelly Howell
2012: Jesse Cottrell
2011: Ryan McGovern
2010: Simon Kläntschi
2009: Gretchen Murphy
2008: Chi Vu
Gretchen Murphy, from American University, who followed Chi Vu in 2009, helped LSNV (as it was then) to develop campaigns around the three international conventions during her fellowship. Gretchen also produced strong profiles and blogs. Simon Klantschi from Switzerland, helped LSNV make the transition to AEPD during his 2010 fellowship. Simon also helped to draft a new Charter, create the new logo, and develop AEPD’s website and other promotional material. His photos continue to be much in demand.
From one Vet to Another: Ryan McGovern (2011) served with the US Army in Iraq. Against his expectations, he was met with understanding and friendship from veterans in Vietnam.
Ryan McGovern (2011) had an unusual background. Ryan was a veteran of the war in Iraq, where he developed an interest in explosive remnants of war from his experience in the north – a region devastated by landmines and UXO. As Ryan wrote in his blogs, he hoped to put his experience to use at the AEPD. He also expected that the Vietnamese would be resentful at his past, but it was not the case. Many were former soldiers themselves and when he told them he had been in the army many responded with “That’s great, I was too.”
Jesse Cottrell (2012), from Columbia University, profiled AEPD’s stakeholders, rewrote the English content for the AEPD website, and made a short but powerful video on three victims of Agent Orange (The Siblings Phan). The video was widely tweeted by, among others, the actor Alec Baldwin. Jesse also oversaw the making of squares for the Vietnam Disability Quilt.
Kelly Howell (2013), a skilled and experienced researcher, also focused on Agent Orange and wrote a paper on victim assistance which will be used by AP and AEPD in developing a long-term program. Kelly also profiled several affected five families and produced content for a new AEPD partner page. Like the others before her, Kelly rounded off her fellowship on an affectionate note, determined to remain in touch with her Vietnamese hosts and friends.
Simon Klantschi (2010) the only Swiss national to serve as a Peace Fellow, became fast friends with Nguyen Thi My Hue, who sells beer and sings at concerts.
Jesse Cottrell (2012) learns a new skill. Jesse produced videos and also help[ed two craftswomen to produce squares for the Vietnam Disability Quilt.
Read about the Vietnam Disability Quilt by clicking on the image below.
Association for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (AEPD)
48 Lý Thường Kiệt, Đồng Hới
Quảng Bình, Vietnam
Phone: +84 (0)52 3843 184
Fax: +84 (0)52 3843 186