Agent Orange still affecting lives
Forty years after the end of the Vietnam War (April 30, 2015), Vietnamese people are still experiencing the direct and genetic effects of Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide the U.S. military used during the war. Tran Thi Nghia, who was part of a local army during the war, cannot do the physical labour of the fields because of Agent Orange’s effect on her health. However, she is able to take care of a cow, which MCC gave to her through a cow bank program coordinated by its partner, Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA). (MCC Photo by Hana Renee Clemens)
How a cow bank works
Between 2015 and 2017, MCC and VAVA are giving one cow each to 60 families who have a family member affected by Agent Orange. Once the cow has a calf, the cow’s owner gives the calf to another family living with the effects of Agent Orange as payment of the original loan. After that, the owner can decide to sell the cow for profit, use the cow as collateral to take out a loan, breed it again and sell the offspring or start a small herd of cattle. This project is designed to increase the family’s financial reserves, so they can pay for medical care, housing and education. (MCC Photo by Hana Renee Clemens)
Mom is sole supporter
Le Thi Xeran Thri, 39, will use the cow she received from VAVA to provide for her 15-year-old son Le Truy Hien, who is a victim of Agent Orange. Her husband, Hien’s father, fought in the south against the Viet Cong, and was exposed to Agent Orange. When his child was born with deformities, Hien’s father abandoned the family. In the past year, Xeran Thri’s mother died and her brother, who helped to support them, was murdered. The cow is especially important to her now that she is the sole supporter of their family. (MCC Photo by Hana Renee Clemens)
Increased risk of birth defects
Do Thi Tim’s son, Nguyen Khac Phuoc, has a cleft palate. Her two older daughters, not pictured, have skin cancer. When Tim and her husband were teens in their village, the wetlands in the nearby paddy fields were repeatedly sprayed with Agent Orange to clear the foliage. Although a direct link between a specific person’s birth defect and Agent Orange is not scientifically identifiable, the overall evidence shows, according to the International Journal of Epidemiology, that “Agent Orange is associated with a statistically significant increase in risk of birth defects.” (MCC Photo by Hana Renee Clemens)
Computer training too
Cows are not the only opportunity MCC and VAVA provide to people affected by Agent Orange. Huynh Thi Kim Lien, seated, has difficulty walking because her leg is affected by myasthenia, an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder thought to be related to Agent Orange. After her family helped her get a secondary education, MCC paid for her to attend computer training. She now works as administrative assistant at VAVA’s daytime care facility for people affected by Agent Orange.
“I am very happy to have this opportunity because now I can take care of myself so that my family doesn’t have to worry for my future any more. In addition, I can contribute to helping others who have been affected by Agent Orange and are facing a lot of difficulties in their life, like me.” Pictured with Lien is one of MCC Vietnam's project managers, Le Dac Phuc. (MCC Photo by Vuong Quoc Chien)
Physical therapy in the plans
Starting in 2015, MCC and VAVA plan to offer a physical therapy program for people suffering the effects of Agent Orange, such as Nguyen Phuong Hau, 12, (in the wheelchair). He is not able to speak or walk and requires special medicine to control seizures he has presumably because of his father’s exposure to Agent Orange. When Hau’s father, Nguyen Van Chi, was young, he sometimes played with containers of herbicides, which were left in the forest. He knew they were used to clear vegetation, but he did not know they could be harmful to humans. As current beneficiaries of a cow, they will use the money they earn to provide for their basic needs. (MCC Photo by Le Dac Phuc)
From war to love
Phan Van Do is advisor to MCC and a VAVA volunteer who helped to start the cow bank project. He suffered many personal losses during the Vietnam War: “My mother died after giving birth to me in a tunnel leading to a bomb shelter in 1952. In the next 17 years, my father was executed, and my grandfather was tortured to death. My brother was killed in a U.S. and South Vietnamese offensive. Eventually my house was burned and the rest of my family was killed.
“I was moved into a concentration camp, and then I went to the city of Quang Ngai. During that time, I don’t know how, but I received a scholarship from MCC to attend high school in 1969-1971. Former MCC worker Max Ediger was my English teacher in 1971.
“My history is connected to war, killing, hatred and love. I want to commit myself to helping. I do volunteer work with victims of Agent Orange, the poorest families. In my opinion, once we decide to help people, we should not differentiate between veterans from the north or veterans from the south or civilians. The criterion is to serve humanity first.” (MCC Photo by Ruth Keidel Clemens)