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Mr. Rinh’s Story

I wrote about Mr Rinh’s Story for my column in Hindustan Times today. You can read it here.
There is still a lot to say about his organization VAVA and The Vietnam Friendship Village.

I spent an entire day with the children living there. The Vietnam Friendship Village houses about a hundred and twenty orphaned victims of Agent Orange. They are aged between five and twenty and have varying degrees of disability.

I was taken around the place by the kind and gentle Mrs. Ha, who has been working at the Friendship Village for a decade now. The soft-spoken lady spent several hours with me, sharing information and introducing me to the staff, volunteers and the residents.

This is a care giving home for the people affected by Agent Orange. They also have a dedicated section to support Vietnamese war veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and are enduring the consequences in their old age.

The Friendship Village was founded by the late Mr. George Mizo; an American war veteran. You can read more about its history, founders and funders here.

I was a little intimidated about visiting this place. I was also apprehensive about taking out my camera to take pictures of the children. I asked Mrs. Ha repeatedly if it was okay for me to take their pictures. She said yes time and again. But when I finally reached there, I found myself instantly retrieving my camera, so I could hide behind it. It felt safer to view the children and their plight from behind the camera lens. Like it made it permissible to stare and focus on their disability because I had a camera in my hand. For the first five minutes, I felt sick in my stomach. Disgusted that I was clicking pictures like I was in a human zoo.

The children were beautiful. They were also painfully aware that they were different. I decided to put the camera away and first get acquainted with them. They were intrigued by my presence and slowly warmed up to me. Gradually, shy smiles gave way to big toothy grins.

As I sat there bashing myself for not having thought things through before I arrived, I knew that their story should be seen and heard by millions. They shouldn’t remain isolated and invisible because some of us might find it difficult to witness their hardship.

Some of the children didn’t want their picture taken, and I respected their decision. But others were very excited to be photographed, so I complied. One of the little boys came up to me and started posing to have his picture taken! He was ridiculously cute, clumsy and completely uninhibited. So I took his picture and before long, almost everybody wanted one!

I’m going to print the pictures and send them to Mrs. Ha so she can hand them over to their rightful owners. I’m sure they sensed my awkwardness; I found them going out of their way to make me comfortable.

The Friendship Village had quite a few volunteers as well. Well-educated students and professionals from across the world who choose to also use their time and skills outside of their high paying 9-5 jobs. Each told me how they felt enriched by their time here and that they had were convinced they would continue to volunteer, even after leaving The Friendship Village.

One of the volunteers was a young Pakistani-Canadian guy called Salman. He’d recently quit his job and is a ‘Voluntourist’ in Vietnam. He chose to experience the culture of a country by volunteering, working with the locals and by giving something back. Salman and his fried Zach were very popular with the kids. They were affectionate and attentive and quite at ease with their students.

In the brief chat that Salman and I had, we discussed how surprising it was that we hadn’t met any other people from the subcontinent except each other.

The Friendship Village is a well-equipped facility with a fifteen member trained staff, a physiotherapy room, a clinic and several vocational training classes to make the students economically independent. But they can only house a limited number of residents.

Mr. Rinh and VAVA are currently fundraising to establish several day care centers all across Vietnam for Victims of Agent Orange. They need approximately five million dollars to build and operate the facilities and provide homes for the neediest cases. But, help will only come when people become aware of the condition and number of Vietnamese suffering because of Agent Orange. I hope I’ve done my bit.

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30 Responses to “Mr. Rinh’s Story”

  1. kiran says:

    You seek and you will find them…the everyday heroes who through their simplicity and sincerity make life a bit more bearable. My hats off to Mr Rinh, to Salman and Zach and to you too!

  2. Ravi Sethi says:

    read your article today in Hindustan times. really admire what you are doing! all the very best…

  3. Mohandeep says:

    congratulations on your journey and wish you all the success

  4. Nikhil Nathan says:

    amazing story! how does one become a voluntourist?

  5. Prashant Thakur says:

    some books are available on google with more on agent orange http://www.google.com/search?tbs=bks:1&tbo=1&q=Veterans+and+Agent+Orange&btnG=Search+Books

  6. arani prakasam says:

    read about your journey today in the paper. all the best tithiya

  7. subhash barde says:

    every war has huge costs beyond life. millions of people in vietnam suffered from PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) caused by an illness resulting because of incidents in combat.

  8. amit garg says:

    i am sure you will also find a story in the thousands of “boat people” from vietnam who fled during north and south vietnam war even after americans withdrew officially.

  9. deepak apte says:

    vietnam was ruined infrastructure was destroyed, thousands of its people had been killed, and its farmland was polluted by American chemical warfare. It remains one of the poorest countries in the world. great to see one mans struggle to make a better tomorrow for a part of the community that has indirectly suffered.

  10. k krishnan says:

    amazing! the friendship Village project is about healing and hope.

  11. Deepika says:

    @nikhilnathan visit voluntourism.org/ to find out more

  12. Vaibhav Kumar says:

    majority of citizens of USA belive that the U.S. war in Vietnam was ‘fundamentally wrong and immoral,’ and not merely a goofup / erroneous political decision or mistake. Vietnam, among the poorest nations in the world, has scarcely been able to undertake the immense task of reconstruction from the wreckage of the war. initiatives like these really allow for such countries and other communities which sat quietly to move towards fixing this situatuion

  13. debsankar ganguli says:

    read abt your initiative in the papers today. really appreciate what you are doing tithiya. god bless you!

  14. Prabhu Mahapatra says:

    this wasnt the only effect of vietnam war, lets not forget, the war caused the breakdown of many families and also a breakdown of the Vietnamese culture. Thousands upon thousands of children were orphaned during the war and ended up either in orphanages or on the streets without a home. the imapct of this war has been more devastating than any documentation

  15. Ashok Rajani says:

    people like mr rinh make their country proud. otherwise, people just want to forget the war and get on with their lives. see kargil, so much after effects, but who is driving restoration in the lives of people who got effected?

  16. rajarshi banerjee says:

    its no secret that vietnamese civilians always believed that this was the americans war, not theirs, and they would have solved their problems by means other than armed struggle. and they continue paying the price of those acts. sad!

    but its refreshing to see mr rinhs efforts. my best wishes!

  17. Prashant Thakur says:

    the my lai massacre will soon be a motion picture called pinkville, the producers must donate a portion of the profit and proceeds to the Friendship Village

  18. Hebbar R says:

    read about your journey in newspaper today. all the best for your trip.

  19. Roshan says:

    unlike any other war aftereffect, agent Orange is not one of the past but something that many Vietnamese and Americans are still dealing with today.

  20. Ravi Krishan says:

    great effort tithiya, really loving the journey of your discovery. all the very best

  21. Mohit Awasti says:

    is there a way to subscribe via email to your website content, its such an eye opener reading your blog!

  22. Pradeep Gupta says:

    mr Rinh’s Story is truly amazing. i read your column today in hindustan times, congratulations on your journey

  23. Kailash upadhyay says:

    while there is still war going on in iraq, afghanistan and numerous places around the world, its sad to see that we are still dealing with the legacy of one that ended 30 years ago.

  24. Pulak Sathe says:

    look forward to more posts tithiya, this is truly a great project. i really hope it makes a meaningful impact in the projects your heroes are pursuing and people who are reading them through the newspaper and your blog. god bless you.

  25. dharmendra jadoun says:

    must congratulate you for sensitively documenting such a tragic story.

  26. Glynus Miranda says:

    wars have serious consequences, serious consequences that don’t disappear the day the fighting ends.

  27. Devendra Mhatre says:

    it is said that 13 million gallons of Agent Orange was used in the war. sad.

  28. Neha Varma says:

    you must also visit Vietnam-Dioxin.org – it is a gathering of people and organizations whose goal is to participate in an international campaign of inform public opinion and raise awareness on the continuing effects of the massive use of herbicides and pesticides

  29. Maggie says:

    God bless all the residents of The Friendship Village. And God Bless you Tithi, for going there, writing about them so passionately and sharing your learning.


  30. Merle Ratner says:

    Thank you for the excellent article!
    Those who wish to pursue the justice for Agent Orange victims that Tithiya Sharma talks about can take a look at the website of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign -


    The Campaign is a project of US veterans, Vietnamese Americans, public health, legal, environmental and peace activists to achieve justice and compensation to Agent Orange victims. We work in partnership with VAVA, the organization that represents Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims.

    Merle Ratner
    Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign

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