This article is the fourth of a five-part series on Agent Orange. If you missed the first three parts of this series you can read them at:
What message do the members of Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) have for Americans? "In the past, the war made us angry and we had to fight. We didn't understand much about America and the American people then. Now we understand more and we want to cooperate with you so all people can experience peace. When you bring this peace crane to us we have a new idea for peace. Like this small bird, we must fly forward into a time of cooperation and friendship and not go backwards to relive things that will destroy our friendship. Tell your friends in America that it would be good if they would write their names on the birds they fold. Then we can say we have a friend in America with this name."
Despite all of the difficulties most of the victims of Agent Orange seem to always have a positive outlook on life. As we traveled around Quang Ngai with our friends from VAVA there was always friendly chatter and laughter. They do not show any anger, only a desire to help those villagers who are suffering the most. Their hope is reflected in their final words to me. "We hope that Obama will help the world see that America really wants to help the disadvantaged, like the victims of Agent Orange. For this to happen, we need to meet more and to hear each other's stories. Now you and we are friends and we hope you will bring these stories to other people in America."
Can hope survive amidst so much pain? I asked Mr. Dao Duc Hung, deputy chairperson of VAVA Quang Ngai, this question as we sat in the small VAVA office in Quang Ngai. A large map on one wall showed colored markings where deadly herbicides had been sprayed during the war. Almost the entire area of South Viet Nam is colored by these markings. Another wall is covered with photos of the victims of Agent Orange. Many are just young children, the third generation to suffer. It takes courage to look at the photos. The sad eyes of people whose future has been taken away from them by a war which happened long before they were born stare back, begging for understanding and compassion. For some even the slightest movement is impossible as their bones are so deformed that their limbs have become useless. As I looked at the photos I felt an anger rising up inside me that human beings seem to put so much energy and resources into producing these deadly poisons and then close their eyes and hearts when called upon to help take responsibility. Really, can there be any hope when billions are spent on weapons to destroy and movements for healing and peace struggle to do their work with only a pittance to cover the costs?
"For the future I have hope for many things," said Mr. Hung. "One is that this issue will go back to the courts in the United States to raise awareness in America of the suffering of these Agent Orange victims. We need the American government and the companies to recognize the pain of the people here and help us care for them."
This is a hand of friendship being stretched across the ocean with the hopes that we will grasp it in true humility and offer ourselves as partners in healing. A handshake requires two hands: One offered and one accepting. Sometimes both hands are offering and accepting at the same time. Victims of Agent Orange are offering their hand of friendship and we are invited to accept it. One small way is to write U.S. President Barack Obama, urging him to act on behalf of these many victims. It may seem like a very small gesture in comparison to the gravity of the issue, but remember that the small origami cranes folded by members of the Turpin Mennonite Church have taken a small but important step forward in the healing process. If people can meet other people, even if it's just through the small symbol of a peace crane, they can make a human connection that governments tend to blur and too often erase with their rhetoric and political posturing. Together, if we maintain our hope, we can build a better, safer and more peaceful world.
To contact President Obama: <http://www.whitehouse.gov/CONTACT/>