Vietnam Time

1/31/2018 11:13:32 PM

American young students and the journey to eradicate “ghosts of war” in Vietnam

(VNF) -  “The war has ended, however the war legacy still threatens the life of the people today,” said Britta Galanis, team leader of the project “Ghost of wars: Post-Conflict Recovery in Vietnam”, consisting of students from the American University (Washington, D.C.).

GOW project members visit Mine Action Visitors Center in Dong Ha, Quang Tri (source:  Mine Action Visitors Center)

Young generation of the US learn about the truth of the Vietnam war

In January 2018, the Mine Action Visitors Center (Dong Ha City, Quang Tri province) received a special group of guests: seven American students, who were born in the 1990s.

Their trip to Vietnam was conducted on purpose, as part of a group project titled “Ghost of wars: Post-Conflict Recovery in Vietnam” (GOW). You might think it is an assignment required to complete as part of a module at school, but it is absolutely not. These students just followed what they think is true.

The seven students, coming from different cities, learning different majors, were pursuing the same endeavour: gain insights of the Vietnam war from an unbiased angle and contribute to reducing the harmful impacts of Agent Orange (AO), unexploded ordnance (UXO) - the ghosts been haunting generations of Vietnamese.

Apart from Henry Duong, a 22-year-old Vietnamese American, none of the team members has any relation with Vietnam, or the war which ended over four decades ago.

“When people ask me why I go to Vietnam it’s because of reasons like this: Over 40 years later, people are still dying from a war they had no part in,” said Kate Hughes, one of the team leaders.

Meanwhile, according to Emma Walker, a student who majors in Sociology and Economics, the Vietnam war is the topic that is often overlooked by schools in America. “Growing up in the United State, the war in Vietnam has greatly impacted our popular culture, political actions, and world outlook. However, too often, the war is viewed as a blip in history, ignoring the continued struggles for post-conflict recovery. From this experience, I hope to gain the ability to be an advocate and speak articulately- with purpose on this issue,” she emphasized.

Henry Duong, student in Public Relations, had participated in the project since its debut in 2015. To him, the two trips were “ a life changing experience”, which sparked the passion for learning more about post-conflict issues and encourage him to put dedicate more to the postwar relief efforts in Vietnam.

The team introduces to fellow students on GOW (source: GOW)

The 2-week trip (December 28, 2017 – January 13, 2018) was filled with visits to war relics and war legacy site, such as the War Remnant Museum, Cu Chi Tunnel, Peace Village (Tu Du hospital) (HCM.City) and meeting with veterans from both sides, as well as the Vietnam – USA Society, a people-to-people association in Hanoi.

Since UXO is one of the two postwar issues the team focused on, they spent great deal of time talking to officials of Project Renew, a non-governmental organization working to reduce and eventually eliminate the number of deaths and injuries caused by unexploded bombs and mines leftover from the war in Quang Tri province.

In addition to discussion on UXO, the visit to Mine Action Visitors Center (run by Project Renew) helped the team truly see the 'ghosts of war' in the nowadays Vietnam, which are lethal ordnances such as bomb, mines leftover, and the fatal accidents, injuries and damages caused by them four decades after the war.

 “Though we're far apart, you’re always in my heart”

Being obsessed with the “ghosts of war”, in over the last 2 years, from the other side of the globe, the team has been working relentlessly to support Vietnam, in their own ways.

Apart from organizing various activities such as panel discussion, presentation, fundraising, the team has written letters to the Congress, requesting more attention for the issues of AO/Dioxin and UXO in Vietnam.

Their most remarkable achievement was the publication of an article titled “Teaching kids in Vietnam to avoid a deadly everyday legacy of war” on the US National Public Radio (NPR) in May 2016

Via a friend of the team who was interning in NPR, the story about Project Renew reached senior journalist Michael Sullivan, and had inspired him to write the article.

Teaching kids in Vietnam to avoid a deadly everyday legacy of war” was later re-posted in other website such as Quizlet, Reddit, etc.

Printscreen picture of the article published on NPR 

In addition to depicting how education on UXO threats was conducted in Quang Tri, the article included the thoughts and ideas of veterans like Chuck Searcy on the war, and their dedication to the post war relief work in Vietnam.

Through participating in the 3rd season of GOW, the team has found more inspiration, not only from American people like Chuck, but also from the Vietnamese people. Ho Van Lai, an officer of Project Renew was one among them. At the age of 10, Lai became a victim of UXO. The accident massively injured his four limbs and eyes. Nevertheless, instead of feeling sorry for himself, Lai decided to move one. He is now an active member of Project Renew, who worked hard to educate young children on the risks of UXO in Quang Tri.

 “Vietnamese people are the biggest source of inspiration we found here. Instead of waiting for others to help, they joined hand with the other to settle the postwar issues,” said Emma Walker.

With the new inspiration, the team is planning to use their knowledge and understanding gained in Vietnam to speak to politicians, lawmakers, people from the Congress and government on the postwar issues, to gather the attention they deserve.

At the same time, they will work on expanding the member network of the project, to make it more influencial in US./.                                                                                      

  ( Phi Yen )
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