In 2016, I moved to Vietnam to teach English in Bien Hoa, Vietnam because I was magnetized to the epicenter of where my story began. It was this period in my life that I fell in love with Vietnam, its people, and its complex history. The Vietnamese have a history of kicking ass like Lady Trưng Trắc who avenged the murder of her dissident husband by leading the great rebellion against China in 248 AD and Võ Thị Sáu, a sixteen-year-old school girl, who fought the French occupation and whose death led 980,000 Vietnamese women to join the movement. I was especially reminded of this strength and resilience when I visited Ky-Quang Pagoda. Founded in 1994 by Thich Thien Chien, Ky Quang cares for more than 200 disabled, orphaned, and abandoned children.
As I entered Ky Quang’s grounds with my friend, Tran Anh, we were greeted warmly by the staff. In the courtyard filled with flowering banyan trees, children from five to thirteen played and giggled with the sweetness of innocence. As we moved past them to the medical ward, I was told by Anh to brace myself for what I was about to see. She explained that during the (Vietnam) war, toxic chemicals were poured into the rivers and ingested by the Vietnamese, North & South alike. As a result, illness and genetic deformities like cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus or swelling of the brain began to spring up in the offspring of the people who ingested and had contact with the poison.
She paused and I stared blankly at her. I would later come to understand that she was referring to Agent Orange poisoning, a herbicide mixture used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. Much of it contained a dangerous chemical contaminant called dioxin linked to cancers, diabetes, birth defects and other disabilities .
There is often a layer of desensitization that protects us from feeling the world’s cruelties. Sometimes it’s a logical filter, willful distraction, or numbness: all are coping mechanisms and none are inherently wrong. But it wasn’t until this moment that these coping mechanisms melted in me, and I began to feel viscerally the experience of others.
I walked into the medical ward on the second floor and instantly began crying. I muted myself so as not to disturb the others but the tears continued. Before me, a row of infants suffering from hydrocephalus, or swelling of the brain, stared up at the ceiling on small cots. Their digits moved sporadically as they sensed us. One staff member, an older woman with kind eyes, who watched over the babies welcomed us. She advised us not to get too close, so I spent the afternoon whispering prayers of love and encouragement to them, hoping I could one day return to them.
That was five years ago. Chùa Kỳ Quang 2 Gò Vấp continues to care for these children. My hope is to raise awareness and funds to support these children, but my ultimate goal is to find a cure for hydrocephalus to give these infants a chance at life. If you are compelled, please feel free to donate to this cause. I've also started a bi-monthly community yoga class in Orange County where all proceeds will go to the care of these children. Your donation will go directly to this orphanage and will go to the care of these children.