The heat. It’s one ever-enduring fact of Viet Nam. You’ll just have to deal with it. The stifling heat will jar you into another reality. That’s how I feel every time I land here and walk from the climate-controlled airplane cabin to the murky humidity that is life in Viet Nam. It’s almost as if I crossed over into a Stephen King-ish reality where nothing is the same, but everything is really familiar. The heat is familiar to all, even those who have never been here know about the heat through the stories of others. Yet, what is obvious and universal about the climate reveals little about the culture and all the people that are somehow connected to it. The heat is just an introduction. For those seldom-told stories, you have to dig deeper to understand the complexity of the settings, you have to dig deeper to understand the humanity of the characters. It is our hope to be a part of the stories, understand them, retell them, and in doing so add another chapter to our own.
By “our” I am referring to the VIET Fellows program, and in particular the fourteen new fellows that this program was designed around. The class of 2011 will consists of four Involvement fellows (long term) and ten Engagement fellows (short term). In the weeks to come, their work and experiences in Viet Nam will highlight our blogs with thoughts, pictures, and videos. In what I like to call our “service for leaders” mantra, we plan to provide the fellows with a) the opportunity to develop a fuller understanding of all the history, issues, and work that Vietnamese people with disabilities face on a daily basis by contributing to the mission of different NGOs; a large part of this work will irrevocably be tied to the continuing accumulation of victims from Agent Orange and dioxin b) the opportunity to immerse and learn about the culture of the country c) the forums to connect with our communities back home to share their stories.
The program will be challenging and emotional, but enriching nonetheless, to our fellows’ growth. They come from across the country, with a multitude of interests, academic backgrounds, and talents. In them and many other first and second generation Vietnamese Americans, there exists a compelling need to understand themselves, the family, and the country and culture that perhaps binds it all together. It is our belief at VIET Fellows that this need to understand the past opens up doors to how we’ll shape our futures. On the doorsteps of this grand adventure, our fellows stop to reflect. Watch and listen to snippets of our stories here.