Tuesday, November 20, 2012


A Battle Unending: The Vietnam War and Agent Orange

Nguyen Nguc Phuong is 33 years of age and a confident, articulate public speaker – comfortable on a podium in front of an audience. He is resourceful and self-motivated, as seen in his decision to leave school at 16 and relocate to Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, to learn to be a mechanic and an electrician.
Nguyen later returned to his hometown of Danang, one of Vietnam's touristy cities, and opened his own repair shop. However, after seeing the impact of Agent Orange – a defoliant sprayed by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to destroy the crops and jungle upon which the Viet Cong relied for food and cover – he decided he wanted to volunteer his time to help the children born mentally or physically handicapped due to the herbicide's tragic and grotesque effects.
“I wanted to become a teacher to do something for them,” he says, pointing out to over 40 children and teenagers at the Danang Peace Village – a center run by the Danang Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin to care for children and teenagers affected by Agent Orange.
But Nguyen's story is not typical of a thirty-something bored with a day-job and seeking a socially-responsible career break.
Nguyen Nguc Phuong's father fought in central and southern Vietnam for 10 years up to the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, and sometime, somewhere along the way, came in contact with some of the 76 million liters of Agent Orange that was sprayed on the Vietnamese countryside up.
As a result, Nguyen is only 95 centimeters (a little over 3 feet) tall and weighs in at a meager 20 kilograms (approximately 44 pounds). “My sister is the same size like me” he says. “When I was born I weighed only 800 grams and was less than 20cm long.”
I was very angry because I did not know when I was younger why I was left like this. I wanted, I still want, to be a normal person but I know I am not in a good condition,” says Nguyen. “The salary is very little here but I don’t care, I know the center doesn't have much money,” he says. “But I want to help the other kids who are worse off than I am and help them have a better future.”
Some of Nguyen’s colleagues share similar stories. Now 24, Hoang Kim Nguyen lifts a blouse sleeve to show blotchy, discolored arms. “I don't know why I have this,” she says, “but my mother worked at Danang airport during the war so I guess it is from Agent Orange.”
Nguyen Thi Hein, Hoang's boss and manager of the center, says that she was quite aggressive as a teenager, but has mellowed into one of the center's best teachers, despite a careful, often inaudible way of speaking. “I was bullied, teased, when I was younger,” Hoang says. “Not because of my arms, but because of this,” she adds, lifting off a jawline length wig to reveal a few patchy tufts of hair instead of the straight brown or black sheen a Vietnamese woman her age should have.
She has come a long way, she feels, but a traumatic adolescence has scarred her mentally. “It was difficult for me to go outside when I was a teenager, and I am still shy in many ways,” she concedes. “But I got my diploma and I am happy to be here at the center,” where she teaches art, embroidery and sewing.
Asked if she is angry – like Nguyen – at the impact it seems Agent Orange has had on her life, Hoang pauses for a couple of seconds before replying that “I know American people were affected too, soldiers in the war and their children next in the U.S.”
For parents of affected children, the center provides invaluable support. Pang Thu Dan Thanh has two children, one son in kindergarten who seems perfectly healthy, she says. Beside her sits Nguyen Hu Thao Vi, 16, who best-buddy-style rests a hand on her mother's shoulder midway through the interview.
The teenager was born with Down Syndrome, another apparent result of the spraying of Agent Orange.
My husband was not a Viet Cong, but he did work in the areas where spraying took place,” says mother Pang Thu Dan Thanh.
Raising Nguyen Hu Thao Vi has been difficult, her mother concedes. “She could not even sit up by herself until she was four years of age and now at 16 she still cannot speak much other than a few simple words.”
A few miles away from the center, Danang's glossy new international airport sits around four hundred yards from the site of the old Danang airbase, where American troops mixed-up and stored the toxic jungle spray. The codename Agent Orange came from the yellowy amber sheen seen on foliage along the Ho Chi Minh trail after a dousing by U.S. aircraft and riverboats.
The site of the old airbase has dioxin contamination up to 350 times higher than the trigger levels at which international recommendations for action should kick in. Given rare access to the U.S. $43 million dollar clean-up, I was told by one of the U.S. government subcontractors on the job that the clean-up will take 54 months to complete, pointing to an adjacent concrete slab covering one of the areas where the liquid was mixed and returning aircraft hosed down.
The contractor – standing in the driving coastal rain and barely-audible over the din of the blue Vietnam Airlines jet taxiing a stone’s throw away on the new Danang airport runaway – asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to discuss sensitive material, but said that the contaminated soil would be excavated to a temporary mound 8 meters high by 70 meters wide by 100 meters long, and in turn baked to over 600 degrees Fahrenheit, a procedure intended to break down the dioxin into carbon dioxide, water and chloride.
The Danang clean-up is a joint project of the Vietnamese Defense Ministry and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that began in August of this year, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that her government would assist with the clean-up during a visit to Hanoi in the summer of 2010, amid tensions between Vietnam and China over the South China Sea, known as the East Sea in Vietnam, in turn prompting closer ties between the U.S. and Vietnam.
Chuck Searcy came back to Vietnam 17 years ago, 3 years before the U.S. and Vietnam normalized relations. He eventually stayed on in the one-time enemy terrain to work for the Veterans Memorial Fund, which cleans up unexploded ordnances from the war in central Vietnam. Speaking in Hanoi over a morning coffee, not far from the old Hanoi Hilton where Republican Senator John McCain was detained for five years as a prisoner of war, he recalls in sonorous Morgan Freeman-like tones that “when Agent Orange was used in Vietnam we were told it was harmless, that it was just a pesticide, and we believed that.”
For decades the U.S. government disputed the link between Agent Orange and birth defects in Vietnamese children, but that opposition appears to have relented, the Vietnam War veteran tells me.
Now things are changing, he says, acknowledging that “the U.S. government finally is doing the right thing, maybe not enough, but at least it is helping American veterans. We ought to be doing the same thing in cooperation with the Vietnamese people. That is late in the day, but is finally starting now too.”
Washington’s “Asia Pivot” will be in full focus this week, as newly-reelected President Obama visits Southeast Asia, with stops in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. While in Cambodia Obama will participate in the East Asia Summit, where he will meet leaders from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Australia as well as his Southeast Asian counterparts.
For its part, the Vietnamese government provides a monthly stipend of about U.S. $17 to more than 200,000 Vietnamese who are believed to be affected by the toxic herbicides. Although the program costs the Vietnamese government around U.S. $40 million annually, the stipend isn’t much for those receiving it, and  doesn't go far.
“We would not be able to manage having him at home,” says Nguyen Thu Thon, mother of Nguyen Viet Hai, age 24, who stays at the center. “We cannot afford to hire care for him and we need to work ourselves to make ends meet, and he cannot be left alone by himself.
Currently based in southeast Asia, Simon Roughneen has written for Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, South China Morning Post, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, Sunday Business Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated to Global Radio News and has reported on RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, Voice of America, al-Jazeera.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



Dear friends,
I set up this website with the only aim to raise international awareness of the terrible consequences of agent orange in Vietnam. Therefore, I will not work as a mediator to transfer your money. But some friends did ask me about how to help, so I will show you some methods of contribution:

1. The best method that I whole-heartedly recommend to you is to visit the families of the victims, talk with them and hug them if you can, and offer them your gift (can be money, wheelchairs, a buffalo, medicine, food, clothes, blankets, or books, stationery for the children...). You can feel their happiness right away, and you will be sure that your gift is helpful to them. Your gift may be modest in value, but it is very significant if you can come and talk with them, show them your love and compassion! 

I have found thousands of victims and their addresses here 

In Vietnamese, we say "your gift worths one coin, but your travelling worths a bullion" to appreciate the endeavor of the gift bearer.

In case you need help or guide to the location, I may be able to connect you to a  volunteer, depend on the availability of the volunteer that I know.
2. Donate to the official Vietnam Association for Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange
11/41 Linh Lang, Cong Vi, Ba Đinh, Ha Noi

3. Donate to Fund for Victims of Agent Orange or Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Association - Vietnamese RedCross
82 Nguyen Du - Ha Noi

4. Donate to http://danangquangnamfund.org/homeThey state in their commitment that:"100% of your donations go directly towards those most in need."

Monday, July 25, 2011


Pains - By Ngũ Cung (The Pentatonic) Band

This Video Clip of Ngu Cung (The Pentatonic), a Vietnamese Rockband, is a rock ballad about the Pains of Agent Orange that Vietnamese victims are suffering... some scenes are shot in Friendship Village....

Monday, May 30, 2011


Justice has been done for American veteran. When will it be done for Vietnamese victims?


Vietnamese people struggle with agent orange

Monday, May 16, 2011


US photographer raises money for Agent Orange victim -


A photo exhibition showcasing the painful life of a Vietnamese child suffering from disabilities caused by Agent Orange took place at 28 Tong Duy Tan in Hanoi on Sunday. (from tuoitre.com.vn)

Titled “Nu’s pain,” the exhibition featured 20 black and white photos about the life of Nu—an autistic child with hearing and visual impairments—taken over four years by American photographer Justin Mott.

Agent Orange is a defoliant that was sprayed extensively in Vietnam and Cambodia by U.S. forces during the war with America. The dioxins, which experts say are still in the soil of heavily sprayed areas, are suspected of effecting millions of Vietnamese and causing hundreds of thousands of birth defects.

Money from auctioning photos and ticket sales will be used for Nu’s physiotherapy treatment and medical care at the dioxin victims support center, Friendship Village.

Nu cannot hear, speak or see, and is autistic. Agent Orange is thought to have caused the mental illness of Nu's father, and she now lives with her grandparents.

Mott met Nu in 2007. He was born in Rhode Island, and now lives in Hanoi and is working throughout Southeast Asia. In 2008, his work on Agent Orange orphans won the annual photo contest from the America-based PDN magazine and he was awarded the Morty Forscher Fellowship for humanistic photography from the Parson’s school of Design in New York City.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011



By Justin Mott
I met Nu 3 years ago while I was researching a story about 3rd generation Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. With the help of my dear friend Mrs. Thuy from Trung Vuong school I visited the Friendship Village 30 minutes outside of central Hanoi. I was greeted by a bunch of joyous children tugging at my hand and proudly firing off all the English words they knew at me.
After the novelty of a foreign visitor wore off the children went back to playing soccer, skipping rope, and joking around on the playground. I wandered inside one of the large plain buildings labeled simply T5. The building was dark inside and as I closed the door the laughter of the children faded and I was drawn to a soft consistent humming.
Underneath a staircase, alone in the darkness, a little girl sat with her head buried in her chest, humming a tune over and over again, unaware that I was there. That was the first time I saw the girl named Nu who was to become an important part of my life.
I found out she was autistic, blind, mostly deaf, and mute. Seeing this child in complete isolation left me empty. I knew that moment I wanted to tell Nu’s story and I was certain doing so would somehow ease her suffering.
I’ve been documenting Nu’s life for 5 years on and off. Last year her time at the Friendship Village came to an end and she had to go back to live with her grandparents.
Her grandparents are extremely poor and elderly and they aren’t able to take care of her properly. They have reached out for help and want her to go back to live in the Friendship village where she can received physical therapy, medical treatment, and more intimate care.
With the help of Mrs. Thuy and Truong Vuong School, we are trying to fund Nu to return to her life at the Friendship Village. And for that we need your help.

Please join us at Southgate restaurant on Sunday May 15th at 4pm for a photography exhibition of Nu’s story along with an auction of my personal work photographing SE Asia for numerous international publications throughout SE Asia for over 6 years.
All proceeds from the event will go towards funding a better life for Nu at the Friendship Village.

Here is a direct link to Nu's story:
Please RSVP to me by email justinmott@mottvisuals.com so I can gauge how many people are coming and thanks so much for your help.

For those of you not in Hanoi and who can't attend don't worry you're not off the hook :). I'm going to sell a small number of editioned prints that will be available to be purchased directly online.

Thanks again,


From Tuan

This is another photo of Nu that I took 6 years ago.

Thursday, July 05, 2007



Agent Orange, name given to the most effective chemical herbicide, or plant killer, sprayed by United States armed forces in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1959-1975). It was created from an equal combination of 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. It was called Agent Orange because of the color of the barrel in which it was shipped. Agent Orange contained extremely toxic byproducts known as dioxins. Exposure to dioxins has been associated with severe birth defects and certain rare cancers in humans.

More than 19 million gallons of herbicides were sprayed in South Vietnam between 1961 and 1970. About 12 percent of South Vietnam was stripped of foliage, and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers and innumerable Vietnamese were exposed to dioxins. Toxins that leaked into croplands and rivers around the sprayed areas also had long-term effects on the food supply of the country as a whole.

Around 3 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, many of whom died while many others learned of the consequences only once they had children.

Most of these victims are living in difficulties with serious illnesses. Many families have four or five disabled children. Much worse, there are families in which all the children were born with deformities. These children are suffering from polio and mental retardation (27 percent); visual and hearing impairment (27 percent), immobility (19 percent) and other deformities. The number of disabled children who cannot take care of themselves accounts for 40.8 percent of the total.

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