The following blog was written by Involvement Track VIET Fellow, Linh Pham. Tu Du Hospital is one of the biggest hospital located in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), serving both the general population and has a ward dedicated especially to victims of Agent Orange called Hoa Binh Peace Village. The hospital has a no camera policy for volunteers, the picture below is of artwork made by the orphans.
Five years ago, I was fortunate enough to have volunteered in Hoa Binh Peace Village, the wing of Tu Du Hospital dedicated to caring for children living with disabilities. So returning there this week with VIET Fellows I was awash in memories and emotions. Nostalgia, excitement, curiosity—it was all there as I slowly made my way up to the third floor.
VIET Fellows was there that day to meet with Dr. Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan, Chief of the Rehabilitation Department. Before Tuesday, I had never met Dr. Phuong–we were never introduced when I was a volunteer. Waiting for her, I noticed a beautiful glass replica of an elaborate apricot tree tucked in the corner of the room. As I was admiring the craftsmanship of the tree, Dr. Phuong walked in accompanied by a man in a wheelchair. She revealed later that the tree was made by one of the residents of Hoa Binh Village as part of a vocational program ran by the Peace Village.
According to Dr. Phuong, there are other Peace Villages located in Vietnam. Hoa Binh Village got its start with financial assistance from groups of concerned Japanese citizens who saw the affects of Agent Orange/Dioxin in some of the children of Tu Du Hospital. It was because of their support that Anh Viet, the man in the wheelchair and born a conjoined twin, was able to have the operation that physically separated him from his brother. That operation, one of the first of its kind in Vietnam and led by a Vietnamese surgeon, has since allowed Anh Viet to travel back to Japan more than a dozen times as a Peace Ambassador for the hospital. More important than that, because of the strong support Anh Viet received in the past from Hoa Binh Peace Village, he is now a husband and father to two, healthy young twins.
Hoa Binh Peace Village has 20 people on staff that works around the clock to care for 60 plus children. Some children are long-term residents while others travel back and forth between their families and the Village. All of the children are required to attend school. If school proves to be unsuitable, they are given the option of learning a trade like wooden art design or creating glass figures like the one I mentioned above.