A Small & Not All Sad Story About Agent Orange
This will be my last post on Agent Orange for a while. I’m taking this week away from the village to reassess and to figure out where I want the project to go from here. I’ll return hopefully on Saturday to say hello and to take a few shots before leaving for Lao Cai on Sunday evening. When I get back I’ll find time to print out some of the images for the children.
The photographs above are of a young 14-year-old boy named Nguyen Van Toan, who has lived in the Friendship Village for the past five years. He suffers from severe physical and mental defects, and will need some form of care for the rest of his life. He is wheelchair bound for all but one to two hours of each day, when he attends physical therapy sessions with resident doctors. He is at the Friendship Village because his family, rice farmers from Bac Ninh in northern Vietnam, are too poor and old to care for him. So these days Toan sees them maybe once a year, during Tet, if they can afford to make the trip. Otherwise he has no contact with his parents or three siblings; the village is his home, the children there his new family.
For Toan, the doctors tell me, it’s his legs that give him the most trouble. He has difficulty controlling his movements, but the physical therapy he receives each day aims to eventually give him more control over his limbs, to teach him how to relax his muscles and achieve certain, smaller goals. Like holding a crayon, or bringing food to his mouth. It’s a painful process, but everyday it gets a little easier. Everyday it takes him a little less time to adjust to the pain.
Success is measured differently here. Toan will never recover, but over the years the doctors have seen a marked improvement in his attitude and with his mental capabilities. When he first arrived, he wouldn’t talk or move on his own. Now, the doctor says, he is learning to use a spoon for his rice and even knows the words to some children’s songs. Though these small victories may be as good as it gets for Toan, in the Friendship Village, they are still small rays of light in an otherwise dark life.