In February 2008 we were in Hanoi for TET (New Years) and ran into the director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Association. We received an introduction to the Da Nang Association for Victims of Agent Orange (DAVA) after asking about volunteer opportunities.
They are, for a lack of a better term, a day care center for children. Thousands of children have been born with birth defects since the country was blanketed with the defoliate Agent Orange, used during the Vietnam war (known as the American war in Vietnam), contaminating the drinking water.
Over the past several years DAVA has opened 3 centers to help alleviate the 24 hour care these children require thus, allowing their families time to work.
Last fall we fulfilled a promise to fundraise for DAVA and with the generous help of our family and friends raised $5,000. Initially, the money was going to be wired to Vietnam but the decision for a personal delivery quickly evolved.
With an extended invitation to all the donors – which Stephen and Kim took us up on (their first time ever leaving the USA) we headed to DAVA’s newest countryside center.
Of the 150 children served by DAVA – center #3 houses 60. These kids were virtually lifeless when they started going – some did not sit up or communicate. After a one year effort they now; dance, sing, sew, make incense, arts/crafts and manage a garden. The best dancers are deaf/mute and have learned to dance to the rhythm of the music by sign language and following a routine – break dancing is their favorite!
The children’s parents insists the center is conducting magic. After a 12 hour day they now return home to help the parents around the house – a miraculous transformation.
A joyous receiving line and several performances later we all danced Gangnam Style. It was a huge celebration. The kids were beaming from ear to ear. There was a distinct dance crew while the rest of the children stayed in their seats to watch, swaying with the music and when the swaying wasn’t enough they popped out of their seats to dance.
Kim and Stephen handed out bracelets that Kim made! Bill, of course, had to pretend he was one of the children. He sat at a desk, crouched down and put up his hand to receive a bracelet. Not sure who thought that was the funniest – Kim or the kids.
We learned that children in Vietnam make the peace sign when their photo is being taken for one of two reasons. First it is their sign of Victory and the number two in Vietnamese sounds like the word hi in English.
We got right down to the kids level and played, played, played. Toured the sewing room where the older kids were sewing clothing to wear and sell – the art table where they were making nylon and wire flower arrangements and the incense building room where they were bagging the incense they made earlier in the day.
Sad to be pulled away – it was time to leave – the center had closed 30 minutes earlier.
That night we entertained the director, her twin 14 year old daughters, 3 staff members and our interpreter for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Danang River which is owned and run by a girl from the Netherlands. They were so kind in giving us heartfelt gifts, all 10 pounds of them!! We laughed and exchanged “Country” tales.
The Vietnamese gather on the sidewalks in the evening to escape the heat. While weaving through a small field of gathers on the way back to the hotel a 73 year old woman (we later learned) looked up at Bill and said “Hi”. It turns out that she and her husband fled to America after 1975 because he had been an officer in the South Vietnamese army. After he died she return to Vietnam and was just anxious to speak English.
The donation will help everyday operational costs and build a new room for the center. Look out friends we’ll be after your wallets again. Perhaps you’ll join us next time.