The Hong Ngoc Humanity Centre for victims of Agent Orange

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So, it’s a bloody long drive from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay. Around 3 – 4 hours, traffic dependent. With both my sister and I having a history of car sickness, we weren’t particularly looking forward to spending upwards of 6 hours in a mini-van, but kept telling ourselves it’d be worth it to see Ha Long Bay. Clearly, it was worth it. BUT the drive honest to God was NOT THAT BAD! It helped that we had an absolute star of a guide who kept us informed and entertained for the most part, but taking a break half way was a fantastic too. As we were pulling in, he explained that the place we were visiting was an a centre that specialised in some beautiful art work; paintings and photographs were recreated by the resident artists, copying them from an original print onto a canvas by way of embroidery. The results were stunning, we were told. He then told us that the resident artists were also survivors/victims (I guess it depended on how you wanted to look at it) of the Agent Orange chemical used in the Vietnam War.

Basically, in an attempt to deny food, water and cover to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, the United States used a herbicide called Agent Orange to defoliate large chunks of jungle. An unfathomable approximate of 3 – 5 million people were affected by the herbicide (it’s hard to find legitimate numbers on this with claims from the US that the Vietnamese purposely made the numbers higher than they were..); countless deaths, cases of cancer, still births, mental and physical disabilities, nervous system disorders and babies born with horrible deformities was the result. As a result, that leaves a lot of now adults without the ability to work and earn a living, often classed as “burdens” on their families. This centre is a place for them to go to, where they are taught this art. They can also live there, and earn a modest wage; ironically enough, that sees these “burdens” becoming the main bread-winners for their families.

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We walked through the centre, silently, reverently I guess. I didn’t want them to feel like circus animals with my camera pointed at them, but a few seemed quite happy to have their pictures taken. I didn’t take many; it didn’t feel right. We watched them work away, some silently, others chatting and laughing amongst themselves. It seemed like a good environment; safe, productive, uniting. The work was beautiful, and I purchased a small picture of my own to take home. There were other items for sale as well – carved wooden goods, statues, scarves, knick knacks.

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Suddenly our huffing and puffing over a long car ride seemed not only insignificant, but incredibly selfish and bratty. This stop was not only to recharge our batteries for the next hour and a half in the car, but it recharged my heart as well. It gave some phenomenal perspective, which is absolutely necessary, particularly when you are travelling.

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