As I mentioned before, the orphanage where I am volunteering is privately run by a Buddhist organization in a fully functional Buddhist temple (Ky Quang). Government orphanages are available here, but they are very crowded; as a result, children in those facilities may not get the care or stimulation that they can receive at privately funded facilities.
Ky Quang has approximately 200 orphans that range widely in age (a few months up to 24 years old). Some are “true” orphans, but sadly, an inordinately large percentage of them have some kind of disability (such as blindness, hydrocephalus, or Down’s syndrome) and were abandoned. It’s a sad contradiction that in a country that values family deeply, many people here are ashamed of family members with disabilities—a disability is viewed as “unlucky” or as proof of some former wrongdoing.
Andy, a young British man who is one of the coordinators for this orphanage, said that many of the children at Ky Quang were simply left on the orphanage’s doorstep with no background information. In one particular case, he tracked down the family of an abandoned disabled boy and discovered that he had a healthy twin brother and older sister, both of whom are cared for by the parents in a relatively new home. It was clear that the parents have the means to support the boy they abandoned.
I’m told that there is a disproportionately large percentage of birth defects in Vietnam because of the lingering effects of Agent Orange, the dioxin-contaminated defoliant that was used profusely during the Vietnam War (between 1961 and 1971, 11 million gallons were dropped over South Vietnam). Although original reports indicated that a ‘mere’ 500,000 children were born with defects as a result of Agent Orange, it is now believed that its effects will last for several generations, either due to direct contamination of a parent or grandparent, or through lingering contamination of the food chain.
Speaking of which, today I visited the War Remnants Museum with a few of the organization’s interns. The museum is dedicated to preserving evidence of ‘war crimes’ against Vietnam and is primarily focused on those perpetrated by the Americans during the Vietnam War. The museum clearly has a bias, so I found it important to be mindful that the informaton we’re supplied has its own bias—as always, the truth lies somewhere in between. This particular museum pulls no punches in terms of laying out its evidence. There are glass cases with bombs, weapons, and instruments of torture, as well as numerous grisly photos of the Vietnamese victims of the war—bodies ripped apart, men and women tortured, women and children massacred. And of course, an exhibit on the effects of Agent Orange.
War has many remnants, not all of which can be preserved neatly in a glass case.