Gretchen Murphy

Gretchen Murphy (Survivor Corps in Vietnam): Gretchen has considerable experience of volunteering with human rights prior to her fellowship. Her jobs included working with Amnesty International’s International Justice and Accountability Program, and served at International Service for Peace (SIPAZ) in Chiapas, Mexico where she researched the impact of international organizations on indigenous nonviolence movements. Gretchen also interned at International Crisis Group in Washington DC. Where she focused on the role of new media in advocacy and the role of media in creating change. At the time of her fellowship, Gretchen was pursuing her Masters degree at American University’s School of International Service. After her fellowship, Gretchen wrote: “I witnessed some of the most genuine forgiveness I have ever seen. Although I did run across the occasional angry person (often rightfully so) ALL of the survivors I met were nothing but generous and welcoming to me. It was incredibly humbling.”

The Next-Generation Advocate

14 Jul
Phan Van Tu making fishhooks

Phan Van Tu at work making fishhooks

When the bombs stopped falling on Vietnam some thirty plus years ago, Phan Van Tu wasn’t even a twinkle in his parents’ eyes.  In 1986, when Vietnam initiated its historic Doi Moi transition, Tu still had not been born.  Phan Van Tu was born in what Vietnamese people call “the peace time”–post-war, post-extreme poverty, post-conflict–in October 1989.  Perhaps only coincidental, it is hard not to find the timing significant.  The fall of 1989 was a time of transition throughout the world, no less in Vietnam than elsewhere; a time when there was hope for increased cooperation and peace.

Tu was born to poor farmers in the Bo Trach district of Quang Binh Province.  Living conditions were difficult for his family so as he got older, Tu helped his parents out by collecting shellfish after school.  Then one afternoon when he was thirteen, Tu picked up a bombie* while catching shrimp.  By his account, one minute he was in the water and the next he woke up in a hospital, having lost his left arm below the elbow and the lower half of his left leg.  Tu also had severe injuries to his intestine that required extensive surgery and a two month stay in the hospital.  As his body healed, Tu was able to return home, yet his recollection of that time is not entirely celebratory: “I did not go out of my house because I was so anxious about what people thought about my limb loss. I was scared of their stares and glances, their words and even their sympathy.”  All this in 2003; in peacetime?



Now, at 20, Tu seems both exactly his age and much older. He’s a kid with a punkish haircut who wears a jean jacket and an easy smirk, but he’s also a wizened adult, having chosen survivorship over victimhood.  Despite the obstacles, Tu finished secondary school after his accident.  And in 2005 he was connected with a survivors’ business group that produces fishhooks through LSN-V.  He has been working there ever since, happy to have a useful job and help out his family.  But his ambitions do not stop there.  In the future Tu hopes to open up a small grocery store so he can earn more money and gain greater independence.

Tu has high hopes for the rest of us as well: “Everyday, the explosion of bombies can be heard somewhere, followed by painful cries. [They] rob people of all ages of their lives and leave survivors with serious injuries and disabilities.  It is especially painful for the youth today.  I hope that in the future countries will support each other instead of making war in order to rid the world of bombies and create peace.”

Tu’s hopes echo the promises of the era in which he was born–and with young people like him around they seem all the more attainable.

*Vietnamese term for bomblets from cluster munitions

Making Fishhooks

Making Fishhooks

Tu with LSN-V's Outreach Worker Nghia

Tu with LSN-V's Outreach Worker Nghia

Posted By Gretchen Murphy

Posted Jul 14th, 2009

1 Comment

  • Paul

    November 2, 2010


    It is sad that war has its toll even decades after its end.I hope the warring parties will be responsible enough to retrieve those unexploded bombs. They can spend so much in war they should spend even a little in Vietnam. They only need a handful of metal detectors and trained personnel to do it.

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