Le Nguyen ’17, who earned a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant, was in her home country of Vietnam this summer working with victims of Agent Orange.
The initiative was part of the Davis United World College Scholars Program that provides grants each summer for students to complete a project that advances or develops peaceful initiatives throughout the world. Nguyen’s “Foundation of Hope” project was geared toward helping children with developmental disabilities caused by Agent Orange, a chemical that was used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam conflict to defoliate forests, which is still having detrimental effects on people there.
An estimated 19 million gallons of the chemical were sprayed aerially between 1961 and 1972 over forests and crops that provided cover and food for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The U.S. at the time was unaware that the chemical would be found to be the cause of serious health problems, including cancer, birth defects, tumors and psychological symptoms to the Vietnamese population and U.S. troops who were exposed.
Nguyen and other volunteers went to the Thanh Xuan Peace Village in Hanoi, Vietnam, which is home to many children afflicted by the chemical, to spend time with and help children who have been affected. The four-week project Nguyen designed ran from late May to late June and included educational lessons, field trips, crafts and other activities. The three main objectives of the project were to improve the childrens’ education, show love and support to the victims and promote awareness about Agent Orange in the Vietnamese and U.S. communities.
“It was very difficult to interact with the children as all of them have severe mental disabilities and some have physical disabilities that prohibit them from moving around as easily as others,” she said. “It was one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced.”
Initially, Nguyen had planned to use part of the grant to purchase 10 computers for the village so that they could have better access to educational tools and information. She instead bought air conditioners, televisions and fiber threads as she learned that those things were most essential to the village. Now, the children there will be able to attend school even during the extremely hot and humid summer months, and televisions will be used as display tools in classrooms. The children in the village are also taught to weave and sew, and Nguyen’s purchase will provide them with the necessary materials for a long time.
“I have grown as a leader and as a person thanks to this project,” Nguyen said. “It has changed my life in so many different ways, and it will always be a big achievement that I will never forget.” She added: “Despite all of the temporary stress and anxiety that I faced, I would do it all over again, and I would work even harder because I realized that I would do almost anything to see those children happy.”
Ten of the 18 volunteers who Nguyen worked with over the summer are staying in Hanoi and will continue to visit the children at the peace village. She appointed three leaders to guide the group and to recruit more volunteers. They’ve already recruited 30 more, for a total of 40 volunteers. Next summer, Nguyen plans to make adjustments to the project and carry it out again with the funding and support of the Rotary Club of Carroll Creek.
“After next summer, I am hoping that the group will grow bigger and stronger and the volunteers will take initiative in fundraising to keep the project alive as I can only help as much as I can from the other side of the planet,” she said.
Nguyen is majoring in business administration with a concentration in marketing and minors in web development and economics. She plans to share more about her experience in a presentation to the campus community—details will be available soon. Learn more about Nguyen and her Foundation of Hope project at foundationofhope2016.weebly.com.