Face to Face with the reality of Agent Orange | Our Travellers Stories

Today, Daniel shares his experience from Vietnam with Hands on Journeys. The sad reality of Agent Orange is still a real problem for many in this country…

Standing there I was beaming at the beautiful grins, the different walks and the well thought out wheelchairs that made their way around the courtyard in the golden hour of sunrise.

I wished my eyes would stop welling up. I beamed on and cursed myself for not wearing sunglasses.

I had been invited to a hospital which was a permanent home to generations of those affected by Agent Orange and similar evil and unwanted poisons.

A kind-hearted gentleman beckoned me over. “Xin chào” we shared whilst shaking hands for what seemed like eternity. He briefly talked about Sydney and Australia, we talked about his life here. I asked if there was anything he would like.

“Coffee. Nescafé is good. If you bring that we have all we need”

I was taken back by the very essence of those words… We have all we need.

It summed up everything I have learnt over the past few weeks. We can’t judge, decide or speak on behalf of people for what they want or require.

We can just be humble, listen and oblige. It wasn’t until I walked away I realised he had one leg. My eyes saw people first, human connections. Disabilities were an after thought… If it is even ok to say that?

As the rice soup was served and I carried my trays towards the bedrooms a young lad shot from his seat to guide me.

“Follow me” he said with a grin and further highlighting that point. He wasn’t a boy who struggled to walk in his eyes, he was a young man showing a guest into his home with far more elegance than I could ever muster if I was to invite you for dinner.

“How old are you?” We ask a young girl. 34 she signals back. We try to hide our shock behind our smiles of hope as we give our time, share peaceful silence, sign language, laughter and physical contact.

Cold hands turn warm quickly and emotion is communicated though simple touch.

Thank you I read through bright eyes. Thank you for being our guests, our visitors. I hoped my eyes were communicating the right message.

I was glad my sunglasses had stayed at home.

Dan Flying Solo

“These are the lucky ones” Our friend who invited us announces.

“The ones who don’t have to stay with their families and can access support”

Lucky to not stay with their families?

A lady who grew up in this very hospital now lives here again. She fondly referred to it as home as she spoon fed what could have been her son. He lay there, on a wooden slatted mattress unable to communicate yet still radiating love at her.

She wanted to give back and support those in her community. There’s nothing more important than family I can hear silently from her in the air, this being her adopted family.

“Many decide they won’t go home, even when their family can provide”

Why?

“They feel welcome here, comforted, more than a community. When they decide they say, make one for me” as he gestures to the prebuilt coffins semi hidden behind a plastic divide.

They survive on little, some who are able to will sell small items on the street to fund a slightly more materialistic lifestyle for their community, and by materialistic we can be talking as simple as fish.

When people greet you on the street with a small sign or a call for hope remember this. Their stories could well be true and your minimal purchase could have maximum impact. It certainly changed my view on the realities of ‘hassle’ and ‘beggars’ I so often see complained about when we are guests in these countries.

We bid our farewell. We step back into our real world of air-conditioned transport and cool, safe drinking water and I cry for what seems like eternity as I try to type these words.

I always used to say ‘Let us never forget’ but that no longer seems enough.

Today I start saying, and actually truly meaning it, ‘Let us be the change we want to see in the world’