December 2017 – December 17th, 2017

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Dear Family and Friends,img_9445

It is the beginning of December and middle of the rainy season. Water pours from the skies numerous times a day and the humidity is near 100%. Wearing freshly laundered clothing, although still damp, is better than smelly, soggy muddy clothing. Today an hour here and there of sunshine feels like a wondorous moment in life!!

I realize that we have not written since July!  Much too long! And I realize that much has occurred.

In August, as we had indicated, I spoke at the national VAVA conference in Hanoi. Serving and volunteering with MCC and VAVA is an honor.  I was one of 5 persons selected to share my story.  Most of the other persons were caregivers who have lived and supported disabled family members victimized by Agent Orange.  In that sense I felt quite honored and felt I was amidst a “holy crowd”.  The National VAVA organization had collected 108 stories of Caregivers from across the country to put in a book they published for the event.  At least 200 persons were part of the event and were hosted at a hotel/ guesthouse type facilty for a night.  For some, this was the first time they had been to Hanoi.  We were hosted and given a tour visit to the Ho Chi Minh Masouleum, the General Assembly building, and taken to a live traditional opera musical.  We were served special meals and treated as special folks.  And of course, with MCC and VAVA encouagement, I read my “speech”in Vietnamese.  At least I tried!!

While in Hanoi we enjoyed being part of the larger MCC exchange program and its process as we met and had a little time with the two Vietnamese IVEP’ers who were going to North America for one year of service and volunteer work with church programs there.

Back here in Duc Pho, one of the most important changes for our daily work has been that we now have had a full time translator to help with teaching and explaining things each day!! We were ready to give up, however, one day in mid- September a young man showed up in response to our job search via VAVA Quang Ngai.  He jumped right in and began to assist with translation. His name is Hoang. He is young, quiet, and rather shy. What a great help!  I feel that I can at least have someone to explain and follow-up in so many scenarios.  On weekends he accompanies us and we are able to bridge the language challenge with families.  This does not mean we do not use Vietnamese however it means less stress in explaining some details related to therapy and disabilities. And we can get help making phone calls and clarifying schedules, one of the more difficult things to do in foreign language.

The budget year and rehab program we have been involved with here in Duc Pho began on the ground in September instead of April, however all works for the “good”. This means we have been continuing and expanding a home therapy training program with trainees to assess individual needs of persons with disability.  After completing an extensive assessment in the home, they consult and confer with me, the therapist, to plan therapy activities they can do in the home.  Paul and I get to accompany them on some of the visits to demonstrate and model therapy and activities in the home.  After 10 months and 10 visits the family will hopefuly have some idea of what they can do for the better functional skills of their disabled.

With the 37 families who began last year we are now seeing some exciting changes in attitude and hope.  It begins of course with the trainees.  One woman who I have been working with said, “I see that you use very simple and small things and ideas to make a therapeutic activity so that it is easy to use and do.  Anyone could use this but it makes a big difference in the function of the person’s skill or ability.”  Like sitting straddled on a bench so that one’s arms must cross the middle of the body to pick up a cup or a block and place it on top of another on the opposite side.  This crossing of the middle of the body activates nerves and muscles and stimulates the eye muscles and the brain.  This does not have to be understood or explained however, believing and seeing the change in the ability of the person to balance, use both sides of the body, and move about more smoothly after doing this activity for 30 minutes, is what matters.

Are these people Agent Orange victims?  Sometimes maybe, but, they are identified as disabled and needing some rehab by the commune leaders and the VAVA representatives.  For me, the important part is that the families and disabled persons have a chance to feel some hope and progress in their daily living and occupational skills. It is quite different from a “charity only” program and so often the understanding is limited.  No test exists for children to link disabilities to Agent Orange. There is no national Vietnamese or American program to support aid to victims in the third and fourth generation. (We learned some local governments are assisting some third generation victims). When we ask for stories from some of the parents, they say they were children or not born during the war and do not have the stories from the older generation about possible exposure to Agent Orange.  I, Paul, just checked the spray maps and found that when I was living in Can Tho in the early 70’s, the area close to Can Tho was sprayed very heavily - on the map it appeared more heavy than Quang Ngai, and I drank water from the canal. I did have early prostate cancer, one of the recognized Agent Orange diseases. The other Mennonite volunteer living in Can Tho also had early prostate cancer and also now has Parkinson’s disease.  Was it caused by this?  How could my children know this, if I did not know it and I was a specialist on maps?

In the past few months our travel and time apart has included a three day weekend to the mountains of Kontum where we hired a tour guide to show us some of the tribal villages and life.  Paul then decided to return for an actual foot trek over more rugged terrain with a guide.  He shared some of these highlights in a Facebook post, “The two day trek near Kon Tum to visit remote fields and houses on stilts made of wood and rattan was very rejuvenating. It brought back memories of living in the jungles of Borneo in the late 70’s. It also helped give me some insights into how I can use my role of supporting Esther’s therapy work to experience my own interests in understanding how the economy works for those who have experienced the stresses of a family member with disability. It was a hard trek, some of it through old forests and up steep mountain hunting trails. I had visions of needing to go barefoot like the 72 year old local guide when the soles of my hiking boots fell off an hour into the trek. Fortunately I was able to tie the soles back on with string.”).

Taking a few days apart to do our separate interests was refreshing.  I, Esther, went my way to a women’s retreat called REST in the Ninh Binh Province.  A good time of being and also meeting some other English speaking women.  October included a week vacation to the mountainous area of DaLat.  In 1970 we had visited this town for our first Anniversary celebration.  Much has changed with development and expansion of vegetables and flower garden industries.  Everywhere one looks the hillsides are covered with greenhouses.  The elevation means very pleasant temperatures and beautiful blue crisp skies.  From there we took time to visit the big bustling city of Ho Chi Minh.  We explored some of the tourist sites like the old PO, the cathedral, the old palace, and the War Remnants Museum.  We also visited Pastor Trung and his wife, Bich, who we knew from the 1970’s and visited one of the Vietnamese Mennonite Church worship services.

We have been invited to join the MCC team for meetings and celebrations for Christmas in Hanoi so we decided to take some of our vacation days and celebrate there as we did at the end of last year.  In another 10 months we will heading back to life in the US.  Details beyond retirement and being closer to family and friends to be decided.  May each of you be blessed with joy and peace and warmth of knowing the hope and love of this season.

We love your letters, notes, responses, and even phone calls to our local phone which rings here in Duc Pho, Central Vietnam!! (804) 730-7459!! Please do give us a call!! Or call on Facebook messenger if you feel better doing that. These days the access to WiFi etc. is pretty amazing.!!

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