In the coming weeks, I’ll feature some of the special places we visited while in Vietnam, and share with you some never-before seen pictures from our ace filmmakers at Istrico Productions.
But today we’re close to the last day of the calendar year in the U.S. It’s a time for reflection. And many of us have been reflecting on our visit to the Peace Village. Based in the Tu Do Hospital in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, the Peace Village is a rehab center for child victims of Agent Orange. Throughout our trip we’d heard details about the effects of the herbicide used by the U.S. during the war. We’d been briefed on its long term impact by the head of the Mine Action Visitor Center in Dong Ha. So we were prepared to see some pretty horrible things. What we didn’t expect was to see such joy.
We saw it first in the nurses who served the patients. Their charges are children born with severe birth defects. The nurses treated them like any other child. They touched them, tended to them, taught them, talked to them, fed them, all with smiles. Mike Burkett noticed right away how much they cared. Coming to the hospital was a bit of déjà vu for Mike. He and his wife Deanna adopted a daughter, Jazgul, from Kyrgyzstan a few years ago. Jazgul had lived in an orphanage for the first part of her life, and the difference between that place and the Peace Village was stark. “In Vietnam, the doctors and workers showed genuine love and affection for the kids,” Mike said.
Susan Mitchell-Mattera looked at things as a nurse, because she's been practicing that calling since 1985. Susan has attended hundreds of births and deaths, but nothing shook her like being at the Peace Village. “I thought that in 30 years of nursing, I had seen it all. But the Peace Village children and staff changed all that in a heartbeat. The effects of the war and Agent Orange exposure became real and bigger than my broken heart of losing my dad as a little girl. I don’t have children, but all I wanted to do was hold and love those precious children. “
Oh, those kids. They smiled, some shyly, but they all approached us as they could. Some reached out to touch us and said hello. One boy maneuvered his chair over to us and yelled “hi!” He laughed and smiled, and then started to sing a song. We clapped when he was done and he giggled. Then Patty Young Loew bent down and started to sing to him. He watched her, enthralled, as her voice filled the hall, and then clapped and laughed wildly when she finished.
We made a group donation to the Peace Village to honor their work and to help it continue. And we left with yet another experience of Vietnam that continues to make us reflect in so many ways today.