Mr. Luong Thanh Hoai is the first outreach worker to accompany me on my visits to the ten families affected by Agent Orange from Quang Binh. He’s a tall and put-together man, with a confident walk and an easy smile. Mr. Hoai has been working with AEPD (formerly known as LSN-V) for ten years now.
Mr. Hoai was born in Quang Binh province to a wealthier family as one of six siblings. Growing up, Mr. Hoai always did well in school. He was on his way to follow in the footsteps of his accomplished father, a judge at criminal court., until his final year of high school. Right before his university entrance exam, Mr. Hoai found out that the school administrators had made a grave mistake and he was given the wrong information all along. Instead of Da Nang, Mr. Hoai was supposed in Saigon for the exam! Unfortunately, it was too late for him to make the trip down South and he ended up missing his test that morning. This simple mistake would change the course of Mr. Hoai’s life forever.
Since he could no longer enter university, Mr. Hoai’s father decided that he should enter the army instead. Mr. Hoai enlisted in 1986. Two years later, during the Truong Sa Sea Battle, he was badly injured due to a missile attack. Mr. Hoai spent the next three months recovering from his injuries and the loss of his right eye in various hospitals throughout the country. During his time in Da Nang Hospital, Mr. Hoai would meet a young child going through a similar surgery named Huong. As fate would have it, Mr. Hoai and Huong would be reunited once again twenty-five years later through his work at AEPD.
As an Agent Orange victim, this brave young boy was going his first eye removal surgery at barely ten years old. Huong was born a healthy baby, but his eyesight began deteriorating when he got to third grade. His family had spent much of their income, selling off assets, to get Huong medical attention and treatment. Nevertheless, there wasn’t much doctors could do for the young boy. Huong is one of three siblings affected by the dioxin. Mr. Hoai recalls their encounter, “I used to comfort this little kid in my hospital wing all those years ago. He was going through the same procedure that I was. I knew immediately when I came back to visit his family with AEPD that he was the small child from Da Nang all those years ago!” After their chanced meeting all those years ago, Mr. Hoai and Huong parted ways. They would meet again when Mr. Hoai visited Huong’s home as part of his work in 2015. Special connections such as these make outreach workers such a special part of the community.
Today, Huong is now slowly losing vision in his last remaining eye as well. Despite his struggles, the young man credits Mr. Hoai with helping him through some tough times after their reunion. Huong says, “In the beginning when I first met him, he got me to join the local self-help club. I started singing, playing the guitar. That really helped me get over my loneliness and sadness. Now I can’t sing anymore, because of a recent face reconstruction surgery, but I still keep in touch with Mr. Hoai.” Mr. Hoai continues to check in on the family of Huong as AEPD and AP work to fundraise for families affected by Agent Orange. Outreach workers have powerful relationships with the people whom they serve, making them a crucial component of the peer support model.
As for Mr. Hoai, after he left the Da Nang hospital to return home, he found that many of his friends and family members were in disbelief of what had happened. In addition to his lost eye, Mr. Hoai also had scars running down his face and on his chest. They couldn’t recognize him and when they did, they were filled with sadness for the young man. In the beginning, Mr. Hoai did too, he felt self-pity and went through a period of depression. These are all common feelings that many PWDs report experiencing. A large number would stay sad and hide away from society in order to protect themselves. Mr. Hoai credits his family and friends for helping him to recover. Through their support, he grew mentally and physically stronger. He was ready to overcome life obstacles and start living. Mr. Hoai’s personal journey to self-discovery is another testament to how important it is for PWDs to stay connected to their community, friends and family. AEPD continues to push PWDs to achieve social inclusion because they understand the benefits that could come out of having a strong support network to help PWDs grow and develop as individuals.
Mr. Hoai slowly got back on his feet and began building a life for himself. In 1993, he married a local woman from the province. They have two daughters. Mr. Hoai has been an outreach worker with LSN-V (which became AEPD) for ten years now. In 2007, Mr. Hoai entered the 2007 Vietnamese National ParaGames and took home two silver medals, one in discus and one in javelin. Similarly to his fellow outreach workers, Mr. Hoai’s life story is full of obstacles and struggles, but he has succeeded in coming out on top, earning a well-deserved place at AEPD as a champion for fellow PWDs in Quang Binh province.
Posted By Ai Hoang
Posted Oct 9th, 2016