Agent Orange and herbicide, used to kill forests and crops in the Vietnam War for strategic purposes, continue to affect not only those who were originally exposed but also children born today because some areas where Agent Orange was stored and used remain toxic “hot spots” in the environment.
The Hope System of Care seeks to assess the affected child’s needs and meet them with services such as handicapped accessible housing, vocational training, surgery and counseling, as well as integrating the child into society.
“The project will help provide medicine and housing to impoverished children, who are the future of Vietnam. If we offer them opportunities now, they will be able to lead and educate other children in the future, hopefully pulling the country out of poverty,” Melinda Nguyen, public relations officer of VSA, said.
The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that 150,000 children have been born with birth defects due to their parent’s exposure to Agent Orange. Twenty-nine percent of the Vietnamese population lives under the international poverty line, and children have trouble getting proper education and medical care, an issue Children of Vietnam seeks to remedy.
Affected children can have birth defects such as missing or extra limbs, deafness and other impairments. Adults can have digestive ailments, skin diseases and cancer, and women exposed have high rates of stillbirths, premature births and spontaneous abortions.
Crysta Tran, the Asian American Student Union representative of VSA, said that VSA has a bake sale and a fundraiser at a local pho restaurant planned for the project fundraiser. Next semester, they will also host a banquet and the Family Night Show, a culture show, that will include presentations of the project and ways to donate.
“[In the past] we will get 60 to 70 people at the fundraisers,” Tran said, also noting that the banquet often has more participants.
The VSA’s involvement in the project is a part of the larger Collective Philanthropy Project (CCP) by the Union of North American Vietnamese Student Associations (UNAVSA), a non-profit organization that has chosen similar projects every year since 2005. UNAVSA works with affiliated VSAs across the U.S. and Canada to collectively contribute to the project. The project was selected at a UNAVSA conference, after being voted for by regional VSA representatives.
My-Phuong Ly, director of the campaign for CPP, said the goal of the project is to raise awareness and “educate [people about] what the possibilities are, what Agent Orange is and how it is really affecting the children.”
“Because of these deformities, they’re not truly adapted into society,” she said. “They become ostracized, and their parents aren’t able to help them either [due to economic circumstances]. We want to reiterate that … we can give them hope for a future where they are not ostracized.”
To that end, Ly said the CPP has branched out further into social media, sharing links on Facebook on how to donate and learn more, as well as links to the Children of Vietnam website. Children of Vietnam also launched the Hold on to Hope campaign, which allows people to upload pictures of what gives them hope to increase awareness onto the campaign Facebook page.
Ly said UNAVSA is also working on producing a newsletter to take the campaign beyond Facebook and aims to create more personal connections by relying more heavily on phone calls and email.
“Hopefully [we’ll] start sending [the newsletter] through Twitter and global websites and charities focused on helping other people … because Facebook can only do so much in terms of awareness,” Ly said.
The campaign is only part of the relationship, however. After UNAVSA spends this year campaigning for the Hope System of Care, they will spend the following year looking into how the money they raised is spent. UNAVSA has auditors who work with the organization to track where the money is going and ensure that it is used to help children.
Ly said this is also part of UNAVSA’s efforts to become more transparent. The CPP website outlines a budget the project follows, as well as provides further information on choosing the projects, the execution of each one and follow ups after campaigning.