During our time in Vietnam, we had the privilege of volunteering at Friendship Village, a relief center for children and veterans affected by Agent Orange. Many of the days we were at Friendship Village centered around special education classes where we would play games and draw with the kids. As the days past by the kids remembered us and would get so excited to see us every morning. Honestly most of us got really attached to these kids very quickly and we knew from the start how difficult it would be to leave.
Down the hall was the more specialized vocational training classroom, which was personally one of my favorite classes. Here, we worked with advanced students who spent their mornings twirling paper and crafting cards to sell in the community. The students welcomed us excitedly, taught us how to paper twirl (which is much much more difficult than it sounds) and proved just how capable and skilled they were, regardless of any disability. We also learned that all the profits from the cards and hand crafted flowers are sent home to the students’ families. This was a place these kids would come every morning; a place they felt at home. Friendship village creates a space where these students can excel in creativity and set goals for themselves no matter what obstacle they may face.
One of my favorite moments outside of the classroom was our time playing volleyball with veterans from the Vietnam-American War. They were so welcoming and excited to have us participate. None of them spoke English, but there wasn't much of a problem communicating with them.
Something I wasn't expecting during this trip was to be able to hear the veterans personal insight about the war. It was one of the most impactful conversations I have ever had. These people had the most genuine forgiveness for all Americans as they were speaking to us. We were sitting in a facility that had to be built solely because of something the United States had caused, yet they treated us with such kindness and respect. When we asked how they could be so forgiving to the country that had invaded their land, one man responded: “The reason we are here is to forgive and love each other. Half a century has passed; people killed and hurt each other but holding onto hate will not bring them back.” He went on to explain that he and his people empathized with the American soldiers; they couldn’t blame anyone for defending their families.
This experience left me in awe to say the least. This week at Friendship Village was amazing but heartbreaking. It was so hard to leave these kids, not knowing what was next for them, or how their lives would turn out. But it is safe to say that this experience is one I will never forget and one day I hope to return to Friendship Village.