Vietnam: Day Four
Members of our interfaith delegation to Vietnam visited families in the urban area around DaNang yesterday, and the small group of which I was a part (Bob Edgar of Common Cause, Jim Winkler of the Methodist Board of Church and Society and myself) met Ly and her family at home. Ly is about eight years old, and her parents showed us proudly the certificate she had just received for excellent work in school.
Yet Ly – like her parents – is thin in the extreme; she could easily have been a “poster child” for poverty and malnourishment. Her mental ability is something of a miracle because she has an enlarged skull and large eyes that are very wide set. Her chest cavity is collapsed in ways that make it difficult for her to breathe. She is scheduled to go to the hospital in two days to get an assessment for possible surgery that would enlarge her chest cavity and improve her breathing. Her parents are clearly concerned.
Ly is almost certainly a child deformed by war, a young girl whose whole life is forever shaped by the legacy of Agent Orange and dioxin sprayed by the US military for more than 10 years during the Vietnam conflict. There is no scientific way to say this definitely in individual cases, but the correlations between high instances of birth defects and the areas sprayed by the defoliant Agent Orange are overwhelming.
Ly is currently visited at home by people from a group of non-profits who assess needs and often train parents and grandparents to provide physical therapy at home for their physically challenged offspring. Such services are wonderful, but limited by funding.
Ly and the children we have met in disability centers in both Ho Chi Minh City and DaNang, cry out against war with their very bodies, as their twisted limbs reach out for hugs and love. It is as if they are asking, “Why am I like this?” “Will my life have meaning?”
Their lives do have meaning. Their /physical/ challenges tell us in deeply human terms that we are /morally/ challenged by the reality and the legacy of modern warfare. Thank you, Ly.