In Hanoi, Vietnam, the GiveYourGap Travel Team visited The Friendship Village, a learning center for Vietnamese youth. This learning center was unlike any other the team had visited before. The students attending this school bear the weight of the consequences of a war fought generations before their time. This not-for-profit serves children affected by Agent Orange, a toxic gas that can cause physical deformities and severe neurological damage. During the Vietnam War, 20,000,000 gallons of toxic herbicides were spread all over the country in order to eradicate food and foliage coverage for guerillas in the war. As a consequence, the gas affected many innocent people and its use during the war still has repercussions today. At The Friendship Village, the children receive medical attention, specialized education, and vocational training. This NGO was founded by an American veteran with the vision of repairing the severed ties between the US and Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Once enemies fighting against each other, now they are working together to help improve the lives of these children with an overarching goal of working towards a more peaceful future.
With at least one volunteer and teacher per ten children, each child received a lot of personalized attention. Brightly colored walls decorated the classrooms and give what could be considered a sad situation a jubilant feeling and positive energy. The kids welcomed us strangers, young Americans, with smiles, hugs, and hi-fives. When Kim gave one of the boys with Down’s Syndrome a cheek to cheek side kiss, he squealed with joy and shed tears of happiness. GYG strolled through several of the vocational training classrooms where these children learned different skilled crafts including embroidery and sewing. Despite being born with limitations, these children had an amazing ability to perfect their craft of choice with such a technical skill.
Being an American at the center, one may feel ashamed or guilty for the actions committed by one’s own country. However, we did not feel that way because we are a new generation. We hope to be ambassadors of peace and agents of change. The Friendship Village is just one example of how Vietnamese and American relations have changed since the war. To be a part of continuing to mend this important friendship, and to spend time with some amazing kids, consider giving your gap at The Friendship Village.
Check out our interview with Friendship Village volunteer Steffen!