By D’ANN WHITE | The Brandon News & Tribune
Published: September 17, 2008

TAMPA – The story spread like wildfire through the close-knit Vietnamese-American community.

In churches around the nation, they held special services to pray for the 18-year-old woman of Vietnamese heritage who was brutally raped and beaten April 24 at Bloomingdale Regional Library in Brandon.

In Westminster, Calif., Michael Nguyen, a member of the Union of Vietnamese Student Associations of Southern California, organized a carwash and bake sale to help pay her medical bills.

Closer to home, Michelle Phan of Tampa and her friends were considering a similar type of fundraiser after learning the victim likely will need expensive, long-term rehabilitation.

“I first heard about the rape victim on a MySpace bulletin,” said Phan, a 21-year-old student studying illustration at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota. “A lot of young people were talking about it so, after hearing her story, how she had this full scholarship to college and so much promise that was destroyed, I just felt compelled to help her.”

Phan said their first idea was to host a barbecue or carwash. But when she announced her plans on her Web site,, the fundraiser evolved into Fashion for Compassion, a benefit fashion show.

“People just started offering to help,” Phan said. “We got the ballroom at the Tampa Convention Center for a huge discount, free food, and a lot of independent Asian and American designers from around the country contributed fashions for the show; everything from T-shirts and street wear to couture.”

Amid it all, Phan and her partners, Yvette Nguyen, 20, of Sarasota and Wey Nguyen, 25, of St. Petersburg, received an unexpected phone call two weeks ago.

The rape victim’s mother called to say she heard about the benefit and appreciated it, Phan said. The mom said her daughter, who is undergoing inpatient rehabilitation in Sarasota, can’t walk or talk and is partially blind, but she can smile in response to questions, Phan said.

“Our hearts just dropped when we got that call. She invited us to meet with her and her daughter,” Phan said, adding the women gratefully accepted the invitation. “The family is really private, and we felt so honored, so trusted and so inspired.”

i’m angry and frustrated about what happened to this woman, and why. it makes me feel sick and disgusted. it hurts. i wonder why people could be so cruel. and then i think about the people who have supported this woman, and women throughout the world, to stop violence. i think my role as director for Cal’s Vagina Monologues. my mission, my community. i think about the kindness and courage of such people like Phan and her fellow designer friends. and i am inspired.

More funding for ethnic minority poverty

The Prime Minister has agreed to give more funding to the second phase of a socio-economic development project in poorest ethnic minority areas, known as Programme 135.

According to the PM’s official circular dated May 19, 867 billion VND will be doled out to assist children in village kindergartens and day-boarder primary students in the areas. A further 800 billion VND will be distributed amongst the poorest communes and villages.

The Ministries of Finance, and Planning and Investment have been entrusted to manage capital resources to allocate to the programme as well as to guide and supervise the implementation of its projects.

The second phase of Programme 135, to run from 2006-2010, targets over 1,640 poor communes and 2,500 poor villages in ethnic minority areas.

Ill-fated victim of ship fire found

A crewmember from the abandoned Jordanian vessel was found dead on May 21, four days after the ship was engulfed by flames on Ba Ria-Vung Tau waters.

Mostaga Arafa, a 60-year-old Egyptian, was the only sailor of the Zayed ship crew to die in the accident. His body has been taken to Ho Chi Minh City .
A Vietnamese vessel rescued the remaining 27 crew members, including 10 Indians, eight Burmese, six Egyptians, two Filipinos and one Pakistani.

Survivors of the accident said there was an explosion from the cabin around 6am on May 17, which caused a fire to race through the oil-carrying vessel.

Police are conducting an investigation into the fire and relevant agencies are considering methods to remove oil from the ship.

ASEAN women’s group aids disabled kids

The ASEAN Ladies Circle (ALC) in the Netherlands is set to grant 2,705 Euros (68 million VND) to support children with disabilities in Vietnam .

The sum was raised at a fair spotlighting culinary and cultural features of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries held in The Hague on May 17.

The fair featured traditional art performances and fashion shows where visitors had a chance to see traditional Vietnamese dress such as the ao dai and head wear including the men’s turban and the women’s flat palm hat with fringing.

A special folk dance performed by Phan Thi Hong Chau, who is currently studying at the Tilburg Dance Academy , won the acclaim of audiences.

Visitors also had the chance to savour Vietnamese specialties from spring rolls to fried fish and lean pork paste, along with purchase souvenirs or view films highlighting the sites and wonders of Southeast Asia .

The ALC is formed by ASEAN women diplomats and the wives of diplomats to increase mutual understanding among ASEAN embassies and people of the Nertherlands.

The group hosts biennial cultural events to promote ASEAN’s image and raise funds to aid physically disabled children in member countries.

Eye hospital makes return flight

The Orbis Flying Hospital will return to Ho Chi Minh City and the central city of Da Nang from May 21-27 to provide check ups for 164 patients who they performed eye surgery on in March and April.

During their last visit, the voluntary Orbis professors and doctors offered training courses for local eye surgeons and nurses where they explained new treatment techniques. The Orbis professionals then worked alongside the local teams to provide eye check ups and operations to local people.

Orbis, a humanitarian organisation providing treatment to eye patients over the world, is helping Vietnam implement 14 long-term eye care projects in 24 provinces and city.

Germany helps Danang’s buses to go ‘green’

Central Danang city is conducting a feasibility study on an environmentally friendly bus project to be funded by Germany, reported the municipal Service of Transport and Public Affairs.

The credit commitment made by the German Government to the project is worth 300,000 USD, which is expected to be disbursed within 2008.

The city also plans to pilot a bus system project to improve accessibility for people with disabilities by means of funding from the Ministry of Transport.

Gov’t enacts decree on environment protection fee

Organisations and individuals involved in the exploitation of natural minerals are now required to pay environmental protection fees in line with a recent government decree.

Decree No. 63/2008/ND-CP on environmental protection fees for mineral exploitation activities, which was signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on May 13, says minerals include stone, gravel, sand, soil, coal, mineral water, ilmenite, metals, apatite ore, crude oil and natural gas.

The decree specifies that municipal and provincial People’s Councils will decide on fee levels in accordance with situations in their localities.

Environmental protection fees on exploitation of minerals, excluding crude oil and natural gas, will be allocated to local budgets.

Resettled people abandon homes for forest

Residents of Pachepalanh and Cutchrun, two resettlement zones for the A Vuong Hydroelectric Plant, are abandoning their homes and moving into the forest, said Dinh Thai Long, chairman of the People’s Committee of Quang Nam Province’s Dong Giang District.

According to official reports, about 20 families moved into the forest, causing problems for the local authority’s residential management.

Families may have left due to several housing problems at Pachepalanh and Cutchrun. After only three years of occupancy, many houses are already deteriorating. Residents often lack water and agricultural land, and landslides have left houses in precarious positions.

Artificial vulva made at Ha Noi hospital

The Ha Noi-based Saint Paul Hospital successfully formed an artificial vulva for a 35-year-old woman with a new surgical technique.

Despite being female, the patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, did not have ovaries, a uterus or a vulva. Instead, she had a pair of testes in her groin which had grown to the size of an adult male’s.

The surgery’s innovation comes from using soft skin from the thighs, instead of the upper arms as is usually done, to implant the artificial vulva. This allows the transplanted skin to feel sensation since veins and nerves are also transplanted.

The cause of the patient’s sexual condition is unknown. However, doctors believe her mother used contraception during pregnancy.

Rain beats down Quang Ninh Province

Monday’s downpour wreaked havoc in Quang Ninh and left many plots submerged.

Rockslides at the But Mountains Pass located on Highway 18A in Ha Phong Ward, Ha Long City destroyed iron fences and sea walls below. Some of the stones weighed more than a tonne.

The area is notorious for the frequency of its rockslides, but yesterday’s rain brought down four to five times the typical amount. No injuries were reported.

Provincial police lauded for major hashish bust

Government agencies and police in the northern province of Quang Ninh have received a letter of praise from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for the part they played in cracking an international drug smuggling ring last week.

Dung praised the Ministry of Public Security’s Drug Crime Investigation Department, the Coast Guard Department under the Ministry of Defence, the General Department of Customs and local police for catching the criminals, saying it was a big achievement not only in the fight against crime at home but also in the region and the world.

The PM said he hoped the police and custom officers would continue to tackle crime and implement the Government’s national programme on fighting illegal drug use.

Last week, police confiscated nearly nine tonnes of cannabis resin as it was being shipped through the Quang Ninh Province’s Mong Cai border.

The raid was the culmination of an investigation by C17 Drug Police from the Public Security Ministry and Quang Ninh Provincial Police. Five people carrying foreign passports were later arrested and charged with drugs trafficking.

Remains of voluntary soldiers from

Cambodia reburried

Remains of 16 soldiers falling down in Cambodia during the war-time were reburried in a ceremony held in northern Nam Dinh province on May 21.

As from 1997, the province has repatriated 81 sets of soldiers’ remains from Laos and Cambodia.

Free training course opened for farmers

The Vocational Training Centre of the Viet Nam Farmers’ Association on May 20 started a free training course for 100 farmers in the capital’s Tu Liem district.

Participants include low-income earners, social-welfare beneficiaries and those whose land has been repossessed for urban development.

The three-month course, taught by lecturers from the University of Agriculture, will provide farmers with basic information on farming, growing flowers and ornamental plants and practicing veterinary techniques.

The centre plans to open 15 courses of this kind for farmers this year.

HCM City puts kibosh on illegal matchmakers

Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee is launching an “iron-hand” campaign against illegal matchmaking services in the city that arrange buy-and-sell marriages between Vietnamese brides and foreign grooms.

The city authorities will check hotels, rented houses, and hostels on a regular basis.

The People’s Committee also assigned the Justice Department and the local police force the task of researching international regulations and conventions on marriages, especially in regards to the Republic of Korea and Taiwan .

This will be used to contribute to Ho Chi Minh City’s proposal to the National Assembly to include illegal matchmaking in the country’s penal code.

German NGO showcase their Vietnam aid work

The International Solidarity Organisation (SODI) of Germany is holding a photo exhibition of the aid work it has carried out over the past decade in central Quang Tri province.

The three-day event, opened in Berlin, Germany, on May 20, puts on show 30 colour photos depicting landmines being cleared and infrastructure being built in the province to relieve the aftermath of the war in Vietnam .

The SODI-funded projects were carried out in Con Trung hamlet, Phuong Coi village in Cam Lo district and Tan Dinh village in Trieu Phong district.

Since 1998, SODI staff have worked with local Vietnamese to deactivate almost 70,000 land-mines from 960 ha of affected land in the province as well. In addition, the organisation has run training courses on the dangers of landmines for thousands of villagers .

SODI have helped revitalise communal living conditions through construction of 200 new homes for families who were displaced by the threat of land mines, as well as traffic, electricity and water supply systems.

In total, the German organisation has spent 6.52 million Euros on projects in Vietnam over the past decade.

Professor Horst van der Meer and his wife, who first began landmine clearing projects in Quang Tri ten years ago, said the exhibition reviews SODI work in Vietnam so far and serves as a foundation to consider future projects.

Vietnamese Embassy Counsellor Nguyen Dang Tuan expressed thanks to SODI for their practical help given to Quang Tri people to overcome the aftermath of war. He cited SODI credits projects, training courses for poor women and investments in improving local educational conditions, in addition to major projects like land-mine clearing and resettlement assistance.

Tuan said SODI deserves Friendship Order, a distinguished honour presented by the Vietnamese Government for outstanding work by a foreign individual or organisation.

“We hope for more assistance from the SODI to Vietnam in overcoming war consequences,” concluded the Vietnamese diplomat.

Vietnam Red Cross rallies for disaster victims

The Vietnam Red Cross (VRC) on May 21 is appealing to people across nation to support the victims of recent natural disasters in China and Myanmar .

The VRC is calling on Vietnamese individuals and organisations to give their support to the victims by donating money, food, clothes and medicine. The program is accepting all donations until the end of May.

The association and authorities aim to deliver aid relief to the victims as soon as possible to help them overcome the aftermath of the disasters.

VRC has helped victims of many major disasters across the globe, including the Beslan massacre in Russia in 2004, hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005, the tsunami and earthquakes in Indonesia , Thailand , India , and Sri Lanka in 2005.

Front to raise funds for Nargis victims

The Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) has pledged to support a fund-raising campaign to raise funds for victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

VFF Chairman Huynh Dam announced the plan, to be launched by Vietnam Red Cross, as he laid a floral wreath in memorial of victims at the Myanmar embassy in Hanoi on May 21.

Dam also offered the fatherland front’s deep condolences to the Government, the Union Solidarity and Development Association and families of the bereaved.

“We strongly believe the Myanmar people will overcome the Nargis cyclone’s aftermath soon,” the VFF leader said.

Myanmar Ambassador thanked the VFF and Vietnamese people for their support during “their hardest time”.

(Source: VNA)

Cindy McCain says she would make Myanmar human rights a priority as US first lady

HANOI, Vietnam: Cindy McCain blasted Myanmar’s military junta Thursday and vowed to make improving human rights there a priority if she becomes America’s next first lady.

She traveled to Asia this week, far from the U.S. presidential campaign trail and her husband, Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting Sen. John McCain, to showcase her charity work and get a close-up look at relief efforts for victims of last month’s devastating cyclone in Myanmar.

She said she didn’t even bother trying to get a visa to Myanmar, knowing it would likely be denied by the secretive government. Instead, the U.N. World Food Program in Thailand will brief her Friday about its work.

Cyclone Nargis killed more than 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing, according to the government, which has turned away some assistance offered by the United States and other countries.

“It’s just a terrible group of people that rule the country, and the frightening part is that their own people are dying of disease and starvation and everything else and it doesn’t matter,” she said in Vietnam, while working with a charity that helps children born with facial deformities. “I don’t understand how human life doesn’t matter to somebody. But clearly, it doesn’t matter to them.”

Current first lady Laura Bush also has been a sharp critic of human rights abuses in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Cindy McCain said she would continue that push if she winds up in the White House. She has visited Myanmar twice, including once when her husband met with pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

She also visited the Vietnamese coastal town of Nha Trang where about 100 children born with cleft palates and cleft lips were awaiting free surgery provided by the U.S. charity Operation Smile. The procedures will take place offshore on one of the U.S. Navy’s hospital ships, the USNS Mercy.

She has made several trips to Vietnam, where her husband was shot down during the Vietnam War and held for more than five years as a prisoner of war.

“This is what I do, and this is what revitalizes me, personally,” she said. “The campaign is extremely important, of course, but this is also important to me, and so you try to balance everything.”

She has been actively involved with Operation Smile since 2001 and is a member of its board of directors.

She has a special connection to Vietnam because she and her husband first helped a baby, Phuoc Thi Le, receive reconstructive surgery on her cleft palate and cleft lip in 1997 after a chance meeting with the girl’s uncle in Arizona. Cindy McCain reunited with Le, now 11, during her one-day visit.

The McCains later adopted a daughter from Bangladesh who also was born with a facial deformity.

“When you see a child anywhere, say a child that doesn’t have food or a child with a cleft palate who’s been kept in a back room because the family is embarrassed or whatever it may be, it takes you back to really what’s basic and what’s really important,” Cindy McCain said.

She also plans to visit Cambodia to participate in charity work there.

Separately, she told ABC’s “Good Morning America” in an interview aired Thursday that she believes Democrat Barack Obama “is a fine man” and his wife, Michelle, is “a fine woman,” but the presidential election “is about who would be better and I think my husband would be better.”

Cindy McCain caused a stir in the presidential race when she took exception to Michelle Obama’s February comment that for the first time in her adult life she was proud of the United States. She pointedly told reporters at the time: “I have, and always will be, proud of my country.”

But Cindy McCain softened her tone when asked by ABC about the remark. “It wasn’t about being insulted at all. I don’t know why she said that — everyone has their own experience. I don’t know why she said what she said. All I know is that I’ve always been proud of my country.”

America’s game hits Vietnam metro

Ready position: Coach Jeff Brueggemann shows locals kids how to “get low” for a ground ball  

Major League Baseball and Operation Smile discover they are doing the same thing at Ho Chi Minh City’s first baseball camp.

Having only seen base-ball on TV, Vietnamese youngsters took to the game with flair Saturday as Major League Baseball introduced the game at a camp in Ho Chi Minh City.

The camp, held by the world’s premier baseball organization – home of the Yankees and Barry Bonds – and Operation Smile Vietnam, aimed to teach locals how to play the game while at the same time creating awareness of the charity organization’s cause.

“We are here for the same reason that Operation Smile is here, and that is to put a smile on your face,” said Rick Dell, Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Director of Baseball Development in Asia, during his opening address.

Operation Smile, an organization that provides surgeries for children with cleft palates, helped to organize the event and had a booth open at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s South Saigon campus, where the camp opened yesterday.

This is the first time MLB has held a camp in HCMC, though its coaches have hosted similar seminars in Hanoi and Dong Ha in Quang Tri Province near the former demilitarized zone.

“I have never played baseball before, though I have seen it on sports channels, Japanese comic books and American movies,” said 8th grader Ngo Le Vy, one of the 15 students from Vietnamese American Private School (VAPS) who took part in yesterday morning’s camp.

Dell, who ran the camp with two other American coaches, said the major goal was simply to have some fun, but he did not rule out promoting baseball in the country on a more long term basis.

MLB currently supports baseball teams throughout the Asian region, including programs in China and Cambodia.

Dell said he wasn’t sure if baseball would catch on in HCMC.

“My plan is now to run four very good training sessions in Vietnam and when I wake up on Monday morning, we’ll see where we are and go from there.”

Judging by the kids’ enthusiasm and energy yesterday, Dell and MLB might have to return.

“I’m not very good at throwing and catching the ball yet, but this is fun,” said Trinh Ngoc Anh, another 8th grader from VAPS.

“I may start playing baseball after the camp.”

VAPS CEO To Thu Thuy said “If the kids here today are interested, we’ll certainly give them opportunities to play baseball.”

US Consul General Ken Fairfax, who threw out the traditional first ball at the camp, said sports diplomacy has the ability to bring countries together.

“Playing sports together is a good way to become friends and this is some-thing I think will help Vietnamese and Americans to become friends.”

Thirteen-year-old Le Vy said she wanted to study in the US someday, so the more she knew of American culture, the better.

“This also gives us a chance to practice our English skills,” said Vy’s friend, Ngoc Anh.

Also on hand was Hong Bang University’s President Nguyen Manh Hung.

Hung said his school planned to incorporate baseball to further develop its sports program.

He said that he felt Vietnamese schools didn’t pay enough attention to sports but that “as they interacted with schools across the world, more sports programs will surely emerge.”

The camp will conclude today with a morning session (10:00-1:00 p.m.) for kids 12 and under and an afternoon session (1:30-4:30 p.m.) for anyone 13 and over. All camps are co-ed.

Reported by Thuy Linh

Mon Mar 26, 8:52 PM (Project MotiVATe news)

Project MotiVATe’s 2 nd Annual Benefit Gala
Mentoring Today to Empower Our Tomorrow

Friday, March 30, 2007
6:00pm – 10:00pm

Ticket Cost:
$50 – Adult Ticket
$40 – Student Ticket

Emerald Bay Restaurant
5015 West Edinger Avenue Suite V
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Why Sponsor Project MotiVATe Benefit Gala?

· You want to be part of a community that encourages high school students to graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

· You support the Vietnamese American youth community.

· You believe that education is one of the most important aspects in a young person’s life.

· You believe that community-based organizations are essential for social change.

· You believe that the future of our community is through the youth.

· You dream of living in a society where education is the key to success.

Our Mission

To motivate and influence Vietnamese American youth through academic mentoring using a holistic approach (taking into consideration the social, familial, and cultural factors) to graduate from high school or obtain a GED and pursue higher education.

Mentoring Program Focus

· Educational or academic mentoring helps mentored youth improve their overall academic achievement.

· Career mentoring helps the youths develop the necessary skills to enter or continue on a career path.

· Personal development mentoring supports youth during times of personal or social stress and provides guidance for decision making.

Need for Project MotiVATe

Project MotiVATe was created due to the lack of support for Vietnamese American youth with academic problems. Other organizations providing service to Vietnamese American youth with academic problems charge a fee that many families unable to pay. Project MotiVATe provides free academic tutoring for students who show a need for academic mentorship and are referred by their high school teachers or counselors.

For tickets or more infomation contact Don Luong 949-735-0680

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A young begger with his eyes and right arm missing was the victim of an leftover bomb from the war that exploded near him.

 A D V E R T I S E M E N T 

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Rick Gunn
March 22, 2007

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Editor’s note: This is one in a series of journal entries from Rick Gunn, a South Lake Tahoe photographer, detailing his two-year bicycle journey around the world. Along the way, he is soliciting donations for The Make-A-Wish Foundation. To donate, go to To read his complete “Wish Tour” journal, go to

Nha Trang was a city big on concrete, and short on character. It’s only draw being the diving and snorkeling around its nearby islands.

I slipped 12,000 Dong – roughly $8 – into the hands of a sleazy tour operator, before I hopped aboard an impossibly overcrowded boat. There I took a seat, elbow-to-elbow with nearly a hundred Asian tourists.

“Welcome to your new lives as sea slaves!” the captain seemed to shout in Vietnamese as we departed. “You’ll be whipped and deprived of gruel if you fall short on your paddling,” he seemed to say. When he finally switched to English, I realized he’d been shouting the safety rules. This was a joke.

And as we moved farther and farther out to sea, I began to take notice of the boat’s intricate failings. Not only was it filled well beyond its capacity, but each nautical detail seemed to tell its own tragic story of neglect and disrepair.

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The Vietnam War Remnants Museum displays the horrors of the war.

By the time we reached open ocean, and I’d finished planning my swimming routes back to shore, a singular phrase began repeating within my mind. That phrase was “CNN Headline.”

Remarkably, the boat reached our destination, and we set anchor just-off a small rocky island. When we did, I stood for a moment and drooled over the edge into the cerulean-blue waters.

“You’ve got one hour to snorkel at this stop!” the slave-master bellowed. And with that, I grabbed my gear, raced to the roof, stripped to my suit, and plunged in.

Penetrating the surface with a boom, I arced gracefully through this quiet new world of crystal blue. Water had always been a place I’d called home. And let me state rather clearly, that despite what a handful of religious descendants of monkeys cared to believe, it was this monkey’s belief that he originated from the sea. And should I sprout gills tomorrow, I would happily return to it – never to set-foot on dry land again. I snorkeled for hours that afternoon, descending deep beneath the surface, then dove and dove again.

After I’d coaxed my lungs to relax, I began to dive deep. As deep as my breath would take me – 10, 20, 30 – then eventually 40 feet beneath these warm welcoming waters. All the while, shimmering ringlets of light danced atop the coral, illuminating a burst of multicolored fish.

Nha Trang’s reefs are home to approximately 398 species of hard and soft coral, as well as rare species of frogfish, paperfish, devil scorpionfish, dragonettes, flying gunard, cowfish, nudibranches and giant morays, manta rays, large stingrays and some shy turtles – making it one of the richest hard coral dive sites in the world.

But this afternoon, I was happy to just hover over ethereal lumps of brain coral and observe a handful of Clown and Angel fish as they darted electrically before my eyes.

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Dead soldiers shown here at the Vietnam War Remnants Museum were victims of agent orange, a flammable defoliant used in the jungles. (Photos by Rick Gunn / Special to the Tahoe Daily Tribune)

It was only later I’d discover what trouble this underwater paradise was in.

According to a recent report by the World Conservation Union, Vietnam’s coastal and marine resources “have been severely degraded and overexploited due to dynamite and cyanide fishing practices, in addition to being harvested for aquarium fish in an unsustainable fashion.”

The report also stated that Nha Trang’s reefs were declining due to a “substantial increase in tourism over the last 10 years: up to 300,000 visitors a year. This led to “inappropriate anchoring, and the uncontrollable consequences of scuba and snorkeling practices, as well as general waste discharge in and around coral reefs.”

Should this not have been enough, there was something else killing large swaths of coral. Some invisible force, that had baffled marine scientists for years.

Then, in 2002, after a study of Vietnam’s habitat of Scleractinian Corals, the Russian Journal of Marine Biology named a culprit.

The study concluded that, “Samplings of bottom sediments and biological objects suggest that the spectrum and distribution pattern of persistent congeners of PCDD/Fs (dioxins) in bottom sediments are similar to those of the defoliant Agent Orange chemicals used as defoliants during the AmericanÐVietnamese war.

It had been 30 years since the end of combat in Vietnam. Ironically, the conflict still continued to kill. This time it was the coral reefs just below the sea.

My last day in Nha Trang brought a foot tour of the city. Late in the day I visited the impressive Long Son Pagoda, a Buddhist Monastery near the center of town. I was ambling up a large set of stairs to get a glimpse of an immense lying Buddha, when I came upon a horrendous sight. It was a young beggar boy, with a face pulled straight from a horror film. His eyes were missing and his right arm was gone just below the elbow. “No,” I said, recognizing the source of his injuries.

“It was a unexploded bomb,” a Vietnamese tour guard verified as she walked by. The boy was another victim of one of the 800,000 UXOs (unexploded ordinance) leftover in the countryside from the war. The boy was the worst bomb victim I’d see in Vietnam.

Three days after I’d cycled out of Nha Trang, I reached the southern city of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Rolling into its center, it seemed a unique confluence of ancient and modern economies where Capitalism met Communism. Huge glass-faced store-fronts boasted Gucci, Versace, and Louis Vuitton. Beneath them were the poorest of poor peasants pedaling soup, coconuts, hats and rice. Businessmen drove BMWs, and beggars wore rags.

Before I pedaled out of Vietnam, I had one more place to visit. This was the Vietnam War Remnants Museum. It was a place where the Vietnamese Government told their side of what they called “The Great War For Liberation.” Within its crowded walls were a flood of disorganized and poorly translated stories, timelines, diagrams and photographs. Despite its inadequacies, I was engulfed for over an hour. In that hour, I gazed upon photos of dead and dying soldiers, victims of Napalm, as well as displays of Vietnamese children that suffered from genetic abnormalities, after their parents had been exposed to the defoliant “Agent Orange.”

I was moving along slowly, and handling it all pretty well, until I came upon a solitary photo that stopped me in my tracks. It was a photo that tore at my soul. It was a poorly printed black and white photo of a pile of children who’d been killed by American forces during the war. As I stood and stared, a voice came from over my shoulder.

“We did not bomb civilian targets,” the American man behind me said as he noticed the picture. His statement seemed conflicted, his voice stretched, as if squirming beneath some unacceptable truth. I turned with a burning gaze, and pushed-down the anger that welled from inside.

As I did, I became acutely aware of people told themselves, and to what depths of denial they had to descend into to justify these acts of war. This seemed to send me straight into a funk. The truth was, I was growing weary.

Weary of this journey. Weary of this constant movement. Weary of the isolation, the loneliness, and this life as a perennial stranger. Moreover, I’d grown weary of this constant witnessing.

The witnessing of poverty, pollution, and large-scale environmental degradation. Most of all, I’d grown weary of witnessing the results of armed conflict, as well as the ideological intolerance, and collective fear that fueled a seemingly endless list of cruelties that one man could inflict upon another in the name of war.

I’d reached the saturation point. All of it seemed to send me inwards: to my own delusions, my own fears, and my own pain. The pain of witnessing another type of war. One I’d witnessed when I was young.

It was the war I’d watched between my parents at the end of their a 17-year marriage. This memory surfaced again and again when things went wrong.

Mostly because it signaled a turning point in my life. A time that marked the end of my childhood, and a tectonic shift in my fledgling sense of well being.

It also marked the beginning of a new struggle: to heal, to re-build, and to re-learn what it was to create healthy relationships. A process that will end, as I take my last breath.

I left the war museum that afternoon carrying too much of this within my mind. I made my way across town into an Internet shop. There I sent out an electronic S.O.S. to my safety-net of friends, family, and loved ones.

What came next was a virtual flood of kindness and support from around the world. One of the most poignant messages came from my good friend, and fellow photographer Lisa Tolda.

She wrote:

“You … are living life my friend. We all have highs, lows, love and despair, but you are living and feeling it all.

“You are making a difference. You are inspiring others. You inspire me. Fly Rick. Fly and be free … At the end of your life you will know that you did the right thing by undertaking this enormous and difficult trip. Soar. Love, Lisa J.”

– To read previous articles by Rick Gunn, go to



The Vietnam Women’s Union on March 21 presented “For Vietnamese Women’s Advancement” insignias to the director of the non-governmental organisation Latter Day Saint Charities (LDSC), David Berry, and his wife.

The two Americans were honoured for their help given to the disabled and the poor in Vietnam, particularly women and children.

LDSC has provided around 2,500 wheelchairs for disabled people, mainly women and children, in northern Ha Tay, Thai Binh and Phu Tho provinces, and Hanoi.

The charitable organisation granted US $15,000  to Hanoi’s orthopedics centre and another US $40,000  to support victims of typhoons Damrey and Xangsane in central Thua Thien-Hue province and Da Nang city.

Also donated was US $20,000 for the construction of clean water supply systems for thousands of poor people in Truong Son commune, Luong Son district, northern mountainous Hoa Binh province. (VNA)