We started out our day with a super breakfast (pho, made-to-order eggs, fruits, homemade yogurt, and other hot items) and got ourselves geared up for our four meetings (!).
The first was with VAVA (Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange) where we learned all about the efforts of this organization in regards to not only the people affected by dioxin, but also in regards to plans for continued cleanup, education about afflictions, how dioxin contaminated land and water, and much more. The talk was fascinating and the students asked insightful questions!
Next we drove to the Friendship Village, a place where Vietnam vets go for one month at a time to receive services aligned with their suffering from the Vietnam War (called by the Vietnamese the “American War”). The vets share the space with children affected by Agent Orange who also receive services on site. We got an introduction to this place where we would be working for two days.
After lunch, we met Chuck Searcy, a Vietnam vet who has spent much of his adult life in Vietnam trying to make it safer for civilians. He is head of Project RENEW (Restoring the Environment and Neutralizing the Effects of the War), which finds and disarms land mines in Vietnam. His life story was captivating, as he told us about how he was drafted and how his perspective on the war changed as he served in 1966-68, how it affected his life and how he returned to Vietnam to give back to the place where he had had a part in a terrible mistake. Again, the students asked pointed, thoughtful questions and we were very proud of them!
Meeting #4 was an introduction to the VUSA (Vietnam-USA Society), the group which brought us here. They are the major force behind all cultural exchanges which take place in Vietnam or in other countries with Vietnamese nationals.
It was actually tiring for us to sit in four meetings in a row, although these meetings were really informative. After dinner in a Korean Barbecue restaurant where the students ate a record-winning amount of meat…., we went back to our hotel. Students packed their bags for tomorrow when they would meet their host families in the afternoon. Great day, indeed!