Profile by Peace Fellow Marcela De Campos, July 2018
We visited Mr. Phuc’s family on July 4, 2018. They are the ninth Agent Orange family to benefit from the AEPD/AP campaign. I am pleased to report that we are on the way to supprting three families this year!
Meet Mr. Nguyen Huu Phuc’s Family
Mr. Nguyen Huu Phuc and his wife, Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh, live in the Tuyen Hoa district of the Quang Binh province. The couple had eight children. Five were affected by Agent Orange. Two died some time ago. Of the three surviving siblings, Tam (son) and Nam (daughter) live with their parents. the third sibling, Nguyen The Bay (son) has mental disabilities but is able to live in his own home nearby. He receives 1.4M VND (~$60 USD) per month in Agent Orange compensation.
Nguyen Thi Nam, 28, was born with cerebral palsy. Her parents receive 1.4M VND ($60) for her in compensation. She is completely dependent on her parents and spends most of the time on her bed near the kitchen. When we visited, the heat was unforgiving. Sitting under a fan, Nam looked comfortable in the coolest area of the home. I greeted her as I approached and she responded with a smile, tracking the camera as I leaned in to take her portrait. Ms. Thanh smiled as she watched this interaction.
Nam’s brother Nguyen Van Tam, 25, was born with cerebral palsy and also receives 1.4M VND ($60) a month in compensation. He spends most days lying on his bed in front of the home’s double doors. During our conversation, his father alternates between sitting on the floor with us and sitting beside Tam, holding his hand gently and caressing his hair.
Mr. Phuc Received His Cow and Calf
In consultation with Mr. Hoc, an AEPD Outreach Worker, Mr. Phuc elected to rear a cow and calf. Mr. Phuc explained that he and his wife are aging and their health is declining. They will use the female cow to produce fertilizer and calves for sale to supplement the income they earn from their 1,000 square meters of rice field. The couple used to raise pigs but found it too intensive and risky. When they can no longer manage their rice field, they will live on the income from their cow.
Visiting Mr. Phuc’s family was particulary special because we witnessed Mr. Phuc receiving his cow and calf from the cow salesman. Mr. Hoc, an Outreach Worker fro AEPD, facilitated the sale as required by our model. After Mr. Tam, the cow salesman, arrived Mr. Hoc and Mr. Phuc reviewed the business plan and confirmed Mr. Phuc’s agreement. Mr. Hoc pulled out money from his backpack and counted it in front of all of us (cow salesman included). He then handed it over to the cow salesman and asked him to count it, again out loud. Mr. Hoc took a video of this exchange as proof of payment. The cow salesman nodded in agreement and looked over to Mr. Phuc.
We all got up, put on our shoes, and headed to the small garden in front of Mr. Phuc’s home. Holding the cow’s rope, Mr. Hoc said a few words, shook hands with the salesman, and proudly handed over the rope to Mr. Phuc. In that moment, the cow and calf were officially purchased and the business plan had launched.
Update by Mia Coward, August 2019
As we drive further into the more mountainous area of Quang Binh province, we arrive at the home of Nguyen Huu Phuc and his wife Nguyen Thanh received their cow and calf in July 2018.
As soon as we get down from the car, dogs begin to bark and we are all careful not to upset them. Ms.Thanh tells the dogs to move away and we are very grateful! I can see the cow and calf purchased by AP in the yard.
Like many of the male veterans we meet, Mr. Phuc is adjusting his uniform when we enter his yard. He tells us that he was exposed to Agent Orange in 1971-1972, when he was in the jungle near the border between Vietnam and Laos. American plans began to spray the fields and Mr Phuc thinks that the trees began to die almost at once. The air and water was also polluted. Like other soldiers he remained in the area for some time.
The cow and calf are doing quite well, and the cow will give birth in about 2 months. Mr Phuc uses the cows for fertilizer and has no plans to sell them. Before he was given the cow and calf he had to borrow a cow from neighbors for plowing. The family also has about 10 chickens and grow rice which provide food for the household, although the harvest was smaller than usual because of drought (which meant there was no surplus to sell). The next harvest will be in August and neighbors will help, but after that it will fall on Mr Phuc and his wife. They seem frail and tired but laugh a lot during our visit.
During our conversation, we are joined by the vice-president of the local people’s Communal Committee. He is responsible for vulnerable groups and talks to the couple a lot. Mr Phuc does not have much to say in response.
The two children that live in the house, Nguyen Thi Nam, 29, and Nguyen Vam Tan, 26, depend entirely o their parents, particularly their mother. Both were born with cerebral palsy and their parents worry about getting too old to care for them properly. As it is, they find it difficult to take their children to the nearby clinic when they have a cough or cold.
Earlier this year Tan suffered a seizure and had to stay in the hospital for a week. The medical bills were paid by health insurance and relatives, which meant that Mr Phuc only had to pay for food. Sometimes a local doctor will visit the home to do a check-up.
Mr. Phuc’s health has not changed much since our last visit but his wife seems to be suffering from some pain and holds her stomach as we talk. In addition to their own household, Ms Thanh also looks after their third son, Nguyen The Bay, who lives next door but suffers from mental illness. Mr. Phuc and his wife carry the burden for the entire family.
Mr. Phuc and his family receive government compensation. As Agent Orange victims, each child receives about 1,514,000 VND per month. Mr. Phuc receives about 2M VND per month and his wife receives 540,000 VND as caregivers. This is enough to buy food, medication and other household supplies but does not cover other household costs.
Mr. Phuc also worries about repaying a 50M VND loan that he received from a bank nearly 5 years ago. The loan carries an interest rate of 400,000 VND a month. We ask if he would be interested in another loan, or in joining a savings group. His frank answer is no. As he and his wife grow older, their ability to work – and repay loans – shrinks. Right now, Mr Phuc does not receive enough to save or contribute to a savings loan.
One of Mr Phuc’s main concerns is clean water. The has a well, but it is not yielding enough water and Mr Phuc will have to dig deeper at a cost of 25M VND. He is worried about the cost. The children need clean water to protect their skin while they are confined to their beds. The Vice-President explains that the local government will not be able to help, because they recently paid to build a house for Mr Phuc’s third son, Bay: “There is only a certain amount of money that can be allocated each year for vulnerable families.” It could yet be that Mr Phuc is forced to take out another loan to pay for clean water, putting more pressure on the family.