Return to Vietnam
This month, I had the honor to be invited to visit Vietnam with a diverse group of Americans brought together by Common Cause, the Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute. This small delegation spent five days looking at the legacy of the Vietnam war: Agent Orange and its effect on the environment and people. For me, this an important opportunity to lend a disability rights perspective to these explorations. This was also an exciting opportunity for me to return to Vietnam. In 2006, while in graduate school, I spent the summer living in Ho Chi Minh City working with grassroots disability advocates and conducting a survey of the experiences and outlook among the Vietnamese disabled.
This was my first chance to return to Vietnam since publishing a paper of my research findings, “Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Vietnam,” and I hoped that this short visit would be a chance to see my old contacts and supporters and share with them the product of our work together. With the help of friends Grace Mishler and Tran Ba Thien, a lunch was arranged for my first day in the country. I was honored that many old friends and colleagues there came together on a Sunday afternoon. It was like a reunion, but not only for me to see these friends after five years, but for many of these activists to see each other too. Living in one of the world’s largest cities, its motorbike fast pace, where my friends are working hard to advance the status of people with disabilities in Vietnamese society, it can be difficult to connect. In a garden beside the river Saigon, we took the time and did just that, embracing and catching up on our families and work. We went around and everyone shared their current efforts in organizing disability empowerment projects, and later I read them small portions from my paper, the “voices” of their brothers and sisters. The discussion then turned to planning, for these local activists to discuss future meetings, collaborations, and how to build solidarity among Vietnamese with disabilities. I am thrilled that this lunch became the opportunity for new energy and collaboration in the movement.