Ai Hoang

Ai Hoang was born in Vietnam and raised in Southern California. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013 with a BA in Sociology. After working for two years as a Supplemental Education Services Tutor and a Development Associate for the Boys & Girls Clubs, Ai returned to graduate school to pursue a Masters of Public Health degree from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. As a student in the Population & Health Department, she is specially interested in working to empower underserved families globally. Upon returning from her fellowship, Ai reflects that "I'm very grateful for the opportunity that AEPD and the families affected by Agent Orange have afforded me this past year. They welcomed me into their home with open arms and shared amazing stories. They helped me understand the issue of Agent Orange on such a personal level and made this experience all the more memorable."



Visiting Six Agent Orange Families

19 Jul

Last Wednesday, I headed out on the road with Mr. Hoai, an AEPD outreach worker, and a staff member to visit the ten families AP & AEPD are working with this year. I was ready to get started after hearing so much about them all. We headed first to Le Thuy District, located an hour away from Dong Hoi City.

We visited…

Mrs. Duong Thi An, youngest daughter Hoa and son Huong. Their older brother, Hai, is also affected by Agent Orange. He was away when we came.

Mrs. Duong Thi An, daughter Hoa and son Huong. Their older brother, Hai, is also affected by Agent Orange. He was away when we came.

Huong was actually the first member of the family I met. He came with us on our drive to his home that morning, having just visited Mr. Hoai in Dong Hoi City. The story of chance meeting between Mr. Hoai and Huong is quite remarkable. They met 25 years ago at a hospital in Danang where Huong was going through his first eye surgery at the age of ten. Mr. Hoai was there recovering from his eye injury after serving in the Vietnamese Navy. Mr. Hoai recalled the story with great details, describing to me how he used to comfort the little child in his wing who was going through a similar procedure as him.

They would meet again in 2013 when Mr. Hoai accompanied some visitors to see Huong’s family, “I immediately recognized him,” Mr. Hoai exclaimed ecstatically, “I asked him right away if he was the child from the hospital in Danang all those years ago. It turned out he was!” It’s the special connections such as these that make the outreach workers an invaluable part to AEPD’s work. I could tell instantly that Huong was very much comforted by the presence of Mr. Hoai and highly respected him.

When we spoke with the family matriarch Mrs. Duong, she told us that their needs have stayed consistent from last year. They’re seeking support to purchase a buffalo and help pay for Huong’s second eye surgery. His remaining eye is only working at about 10% at the moment. I asked if there was anything else to be done for him and Mrs. Duong calmly responded, “I’ve told the doctors that I would like to donate an eye to my son. I’m old; he could use it more than me, but they said it wasn’t possible.”

It’s amazing how selfless and incredible mothers can be. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the kindest this past week. By the time we left, I was fully recognizing how valuable AEPD’s team of outreach workers is to their operation and why AP & AEPD are focusing their campaign on caregivers.

 

Mrs. Le Thi Thuy & Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tho. They have three children affected by AO (Men & Nhan are pictured here, left to right).

Mrs. Le Thi Thuy & Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tho. They have three children affected by AO (Men & Nhan are pictured here, left to right).

At the second location, I met Mrs. Le Thi Thuy & Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tho. The couple has three children affected by Agent Orange. Their visit was actually one of the toughest for me to understand, because the family was proposing lots of different business ideas. Mr. Hoai was quick to help me reevaluate the situation, explaining why certain ideas such as a sugar cane juice shop or grocery store weren’t feasible given their location. After a long discussion under his guidance, raising a buffalo seems to make the most sense for their situation.

 

Phan Van Danh, their mother, Phan Thi  … & Phan Thi Bi (not pictured here)

Phan Van Danh, their mother, Phan Thanh Gian & Phan Thi Bi (not pictured here)

The Phan siblings are amazing in their own right. Mr. Hoai explained to me that despite not having gone to school, they’re some of the best planners and doers he has seen. The siblings take care of their aging mother, raise chickens, geese, pigeons and Mr. Danh also works as a hairdresser.

They’ve done well but truth of the matter is, they still represent the fact that persons with disabilities are more negatively impacted by changes in the climate and/or the economy compared to the average person. The two brothers explained to us that each year, come July, their house will flood up to about 1m (3.3 ft). One meter of water would reach past all of their heads. During this time, they’re forced to sell off their chickens at a loss because they can’t take care of them. Now, with the price of chickens falling, it no longer makes sense to expand their chicken business. They are seeking support to increase their pigeon raising business in the back yard.

 

Mr. Le Tien Dung & Mrs. Dang Thi Miec

Mr. Le Tien Dung & Mrs. Dang Thi Miec

Over the course of their life, Mr. Dung and Mrs. Miec have had thirteen children, but only one of them ever survived. Their youngest daughter and sole survivor is Le Thi Ngoc Thuy. Thuy has a young daughter who’s about eight years old, her name is Thao. Both mother and child are affected by Agent Orange.

When we visited the family with a second outreach worker Mr. Luan, Thuy and Thao had gone to Hanoi to get her eyes examined. The young child’s eyesight is a source of concern for the family as it’s worsening and she will need eye surgery soon. Despite not having much, Mr. Dung and Mrs. Miec have taken in Mr. Dung’s nephew, who is wheelchair-bound and is believed to also have been affected by Agent Orange. This family is one of many in which not one or two, but three full generations have to deal with the devastating consequences of the poisonous dioxin. Click here to read their full profile.

The family is seeking support to purchase a buffalo and a sugar cane juice machine to start earning more of an income. Any additional amount fundraised will go towards helping them cover medical costs.

 

Mrs. Nguyen Dieu Hong & son Nguyen Thanh Hung

Mrs. Nguyen Dieu Hong & son Nguyen Thanh Hung

Here, I once again witnessed the trust that community members place in each outreach worker. We came to see Mrs. Hong and her son, Hung, an AO victim. His father left the family since he was quite little and Mrs. Hong has been raising her two children by herself ever since. During our time with the family, Mrs. Hong seemed quieter and more reserved. It wasn’t until we left that she pulled Mr. Luan to ask him if she could propose the idea of raising piglets. He assured me that he would help them figure out a business plan and assess the feasibility of their idea.

 

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Chu & daughter Loan

Mrs. Nguyen Thi Chu & daughter Loan

On our last stop, we visited Mrs. Nguyen Thi Chu’s home and found her working the garden. Mrs. Chu is older than some of the other moms we’ve met during our visit and she has three children affected by Agent Orange. She now relies on government support to cover living expenses. The family is currently going through quite a rough time as one of Mrs. Chu’s child is extremely sick. They’re expecting him to pass soon. We didn’t stay long since it didn’t feel quite right to intrude on the family during this time period. Mr. Luan will return to work with the family on their business plan at an appropriate date to help with the construction of a smaller room for Mrs. Chu and Loan to live in. Their current house is falling apart.

I wrapped up the day after six visits with a heavy heart, but I was slowly getting the hang of each visit and figuring out what questions must be asked in order to understand each family’s needs. Since some of the outreach workers were away on business, I was going to be visiting the last four families the next day without their company. More updates to come on my second day very soon…

 

Posted By Ai Hoang

Posted Jul 19th, 2016

6 Comments

  • Allegra Brandon

    July 21, 2016

     

    Hi Ai- these profiles are wonderful. The story of Mr. Hoai and Huong’s reconciliation is incredible! I love seeing how although the issue of AO is the common denominator for all of these victims, their problems vary, and with AEPD you are evaluating each issue as its own to find the best and unique solution. It impresses me how all things are considered, from location to dropping chicken prices, which is a true sign of development done right. This makes me very happy to read. The victims are clearly in great hands!

  • Rachael Hughen

    July 21, 2016

     

    It is cool to see these victims advocating for themselves by developing business ideas from raising piglets to buffaloes to starting a grocery store. Hopefully AEPD and AP can help them continue to strive for goals like these to improve their own lives; keep us updated if any of these new project ideas are feasible and start to get launched!

  • iain guest

    July 23, 2016

     

    Hello Ai. I am so pleased that you’ve been able to visit these families, which I also met last year. It deepens our sense of commitment to these families, and to AEPD’s outreach workers, who help them. And of course you’ve done wonderfully well to raise funds for them in just one month. Really look forward to seeing more profiles, and also following them as they use our funds to help take the pressure off these remarkable caregivers and their children. They are very lucky to have you in their corner!

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