Nguyen Huu Phuc, Nguyen Thi Thanh, and Their Family

A family transitions from rice to cows to provide for their children

 

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 Campaign beneficiaries thanks to the generous support of a longtime friend of the AEPD and AP partnership. As a result, the Campaign is on its way to supporting three beneficiaries 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 with their son, Nguyen Van Tam, and daughter, Nguyen Thi Nam. The couple had eight children, five of which are affected by Agent Orange exposure. Of these five, Tam, Nam, and Nguyen The Bay are the surviving three. Two of their siblings passed away “many years ago”. Nguyen The Bay 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 is 28 years old. She was born with cerebral palsy as a result of her family’s Agent Orange exposure. Nam receives 1.4M VND (~$60 USD) per month in Agent Orange compensation. She is completely dependent on her parents’ care-taking and spends most of her time on her bed near the kitchen.

The heat that day was unforgiving. Nam looked comfortable in the coolest area of the home with the fan blowing nearby. 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 gleefully as she watched this interaction.

Nguyen Van Tam is 25 years old. He was born with cerebral palsy as a result of his family’s Agent Orange exposure. Like Bay and Nam, Tam also receives 1.4M VND (~$60 USD) per month in Agent Orange compensation. He spends the majority of his days lying on his bed directly in front of the home’s double doors. The fan cools his skin. During our conversation, Mr. Phuc alternates between sitting on the floor with us and sitting beside Tam, holding his hand gently and caressing his hair. They have a really beautiful bond.

Mr. Phuc Received His Cow and Calf

Mr. Phuc, Mr. Hoc, and Mr. Tam (the cow salesman) pose for a photograph upon the cow and calf’s official purchase. 

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 1000 square meters of rice field. The couple used to raise pigs but found it to be too intensive and risky. When they are no longer able to tend to their rice field, they will live primarily from the cow-rearing income.

Visiting Mr. Phuc’s family was made even more special because we witnessed Mr. Phuc receiving his cow and calf from the cow salesman. Mr. Hoc facilitated the sale. The Agent Orange Campaign model requires that the Outreach Worker facilitate the exchange of the resource (in this case the cow and calf) and the money.

Mr. Tam, the cow salesman arrived within minutes and joined us. Mr. Hoc and Mr. Phuc reviewed the business plan and reestablished Mr. Phuc’s commitment to it. 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 cows 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.

A snap of the team. From left to right: Mr. Hoc (AEPD Outreach Worker), Mr. Phuc, Ms. Thanh, Mr. Tam (cow salesman), AEPD Staff (Ashley, Ngoc, Seanin, me, and Mr. Vinh).

  

Update by Mia Coward, August 2019

Mr. Phuc, Ms. Thanh, and the AEPD outreach worker 

As we drive further into the more mountainous area of Quang Binh province, we arrive at Nguyen Huu Phuc and Nguyen Thi Thanh’s home. Once we get out the car, dogs are barking pretty loud and we are all a little guarded as to not upset them. Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh tells the dogs to move away and we, in turn, are very grateful. I can see the cows in the front, eating and looking pretty healthy. We sit down and began to ask how the family has been since our last visit back in 2018. Mr. Nguyen Huu Phuc and his wife are a newer family and received their cow and calf in July of 2018. As many of the male veterans do when we arrive, Mr. Phuc is adjusting his uniform as we walk further into his yard. Mr. Phuc realized he was affected by Agent Orange in 1971-1972. He was on the battlefield near the border between Vietnam and Laos in the Jungle when saw the American plans spray the fields and then the trees around began to rapidly die because of the toxin. The air was polluted by the toxin and because he breathed the air and lived a long time in the area where the toxin was also in the water that many of the soldiers drank–he believes that is how he was exposed to Agent Orange.

Since our last visit the cow and calf are doing quite well. The female will give birth to a new baby calf in about 2 months–giving them a total of 3 cows. They are using the cows for fertilizer and for farming the land. Currently, Mr. Phuc tells us that he has no plans to sell any of the cows and will continue to try and breed them. He does not have to spend any extra money to take care of the cows because they eat off the land. Before he was given the cow and calf he had to borrow a cow from neighbors to plow his farm but now he is able to do that on his own. The family also has about 10 chickens but they are only for providing food for the household. The rice farming harvest was also just enough for food since there has been a drought. The crop from the harvest was very little and they could not sell any of it. The next harvest will be closer to the end of August and during that time the family relatives and neighbors will help, but shortly after things will go back to just Mr. Phuc and his wife. Mr. Phuc and his wife seem frail and tired but still show a sense of laughter and resilience during our conversation.

 

During our conversation, the Vice President of Communal People Committee for the local government comes and sits with us. He is responsible for the policies that affect vulnerable groups. He began to talk to them frequently during the rest of the conversation. Unlike when we first got there, Mr. Phuc does not talk as much and lets the man speak for him.

Mr. Phuc with his cows 

Mr. Phuc tells us that one of the most recent issues that they have had to deal with is the lack of clean water. The water well that sits nearly diagonal of where we are sitting is not producing enough water. The family does not have enough clean water and will soon have to dig deeper to have more water. To dig deeper the family must pay 25M VND and they are very concerned about how they will get this done. Their children that live in the house, Nguyen Thi Nam (29 yrs old) and Nguyen Vam Tan (26yrs old) solely depend on the care of their parents–especially their mother. Both were born with cerebral palsy as a result of the Agent Orange exposure, and their parents are worried that they are becoming too old to take care of them. If their children have diseases or colds they are unable to take them to the clinic and have to give them medicine at home. However, at the beginning of this year, Tan suffered a seizure and had to stay in the hospital for one week. Their medical bills were paid by health insurance and relatives and they were able to only have to pay for food. Sometimes a local doctor will visit the home to do check-up but it very hard for them to travel anywhere. Mr. Phuc health has not changed much since our last visit, however, his wife seems to be suffering from some pain in her stomach. As she speaks I notice that she is holding the top of her stomach. Their son Nguyen The Bay lives next to them but suffers from some mental disabilities and his wife takes care of their household. Although they live separately Mr. Phuc and his wife feel like they carry the burden of caring for everyone.

Mr. Phuc and his family are able to get government compensation for Agent Orange and a caregiver compensation. Each of their children receives about 1,514,000 VND per month, Mr. Phuc receives about 2M VND per month and his wife receives 540,000 VND per month for being a caregiver. Their income is enough to buy food, medication and other household supplies but does not help to cover digging deeper into the water well or anything else. Mr. Phuc is also very concerned about the loan that he got nearly five years ago for 50M VND. The loan was from the bank to help get some work done or their house. Mr. Phuc pays interest at a rate of 400,000 VND per month.

Mr. Phuc’s son Nguyen Van Tan

We ask Mr. Phuc if he would be interested in a loan to help around the household or working with a group to manage a loan for a certain business model. Since Mr. Phuc and his wife are older their ability to work is decreasing every year and they are not in a position to help manage a loan or get another for they fear they would be able to pay it off or contribute. Mr. Phuc also believes that for now the government compensation is sufficient for daily needs and expenses and there is not enough money to save.

This family’s main issue is their water supply and they are very concerned that not having a way to provide clean water will not be good for their family. Their children have to have clean water to protect their skin since they confined to their beds. Any money or donation they would get they will have to use it toward that water well. The local government will not be able to contribute to work that needs to be done since they recently helped build a house for his son on that same land. The Vice President at this time takes over the answer for Mr. Phuc and explains more about the water well issue and how since they live in a poorer commune there is only a certain amount of money that can be allocated each year for vulnerable families. If they are not able to pay for the water well they might have to get another loan to ensure they will have clean water for their family.