Exploring Agent Orange #2

Vietnam Friendship Village

Vietnam Friendship Village

Vietnam Friendship Village

Vietnam Friendship Village

Vietnam Friendship Village

I’m working on an initial edit of my work from the Friendship Village now and will hopefully have something I’m happy with by the weekend’s end. My concern mostly being with how I want to portray the residents there. How to show all of the conflicting existences. How to tell a story that builds on what has already been said while offering something different, something with a more precise insight than “look at all this suffering”.

I went back yesterday morning but only took a few pictures. I spent most of my time just talking with the children. The empty bed in one of the photographs above belongs to Dung, a 20-year-old girl who has lived in the village for eight years now. Dung is extremely bright but has severe physical disabilities and something of a speech impediment. Her family lives 30km away in Ha Tay Province and she sees them around once a year, usually during Tet (lunar New Year). Dung’s mother and father and her three siblings all work in the family’s rice fields. They grow vegetables (water spinach and pumpkin stems) and make conical hats for extra income when it isn’t rice harvest season. The money that the Friendship Village provides for Dung to live far exceeds what her family makes on their farmlands. Her mother and father cannot afford to care for her in the countryside. So she lives at the orphanage, where she studies embroidery and English.

The dioxins in the Agent Orange compound have affected second and third generations of Vietnamese children in different ways. Some are completely lucid and arguably smarter than yours truly, while others suffer from severe autism, irreparable brain damage and other (sometimes much more terrible) mental and physical problems. Dung’s disability comes in the form of a kind of spastic diplegia, or cerebral palsy. She is one of the lucky ones.

Before I left yesterday she told me that she doesn’t like to have her picture taken, but she agreed to let me photograph her bed, which is one of three in the corner of a downstairs room in one of six orphanages on the premises. A 10×5-foot space with a metal bed, posters, an English-Vietnamese dictionary and a large pink teddy bear that she has called home for the past eight years.

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