Friendship Village

OK, I'm going to stop obsessing about the traffic now! Anyway I'm leaving Hanoi tonight for a small village in the highlands.

I had one of the most heartbreaking and also heartwarming experiences ever at Friendship Village, a home for severely mentally and physically impaired children on the outskirts of Ha Noi. They are thought to be suffering from agent orange, that is, they were born with defects caused by their parents exposure to this chemical. It was painful to see their deformed bodies. But it quickly became a heartwarming experience as some of the children, the more social ones, looked up from their work and greeted me effusively. The others, almost all of them, would respond to a touch or a few words of praise. I visited several classrooms, staffed mostly by volunteers. The most affected were laboriously drawing small circles or coloring in books; some were learning simple math; others were making beautiful embroidered tapestries. I bought several, not just as a gesture, but because they really were beautiful.

It certainly gave me a different perspective. Here are some of the most damaged people I have ever seen, full of warmth and pride in what they are doing. The village is a wonderful place. It was started by an American VN War veteran, and is now supported by various organizations. It's goal is to help the children become self-sufficient. Of course not all of them will achieve this. In addition to the Vietnamese, there are children from other countries, including one American, and a few adults, and there is international support. If you're interested, there is a website:

Also living there for two months was a group of war veterans, both men & women. They are not disabled, I think they are there for R&R. I spent some time visiting with them. Again I was greeted with great warmth and enthusiasm. Why they would respond this way to some guy from America I cannot guess. I felt so good afterwards that I wanted to give them a small gift. I had in mind some beer, but didn't think that would go over so well with the staff, so I went to the corner store and bought some cookies and treats. They were well received and we spent some more time together enjoying them.

This visit has been the highlight of the trip so far. I would like to become involved with the village in the future. Maybe I will volunteer for a while.