2007 Student-Faculty Fellows: Virginia Wesleyan University

Making Peace with Vietnam

Mentor: Professor Steven Emmanuel
Students: Julie Maggioncalda, Lauren Perry, Matthew Ryan, Lan My Tran, Sarah Tytler


Project Abstract

Although our countries are no longer at war, there is a clear sense in which we have not really made peace with Vietnam. For many Americans, Vietnam is synonymous with war. The very word calls to mind thoughts and images of a painful past, a part of our history that many prefer to forget. The documentary, created by this research group, explores some of the ways that people today are actively working to make peace with that past, to make peace with Vietnam. One of the ways they do this is to engage in various forms of humanitarian work in Vietnam. This work is carried out by non-governmental agencies, public and private foundations, as well as by veterans organizations, religious groups, and by concerned individuals. All work is undertaken in partnership with some Vietnamese agency to organize and implement projects. One of the largest humanitarian programs underway in the country is directed by Dr. Nugyen Viet Nhan, Head of the Department of Medical Genetics and Director of the Office of Genetic Counseling and Disabled Children (OGCDC) at Hue Medical College. While in Vietnam this summer, we collected nearly 30 hours of footage, documenting all the different projects supported by the OGCDC, including interviews with some of its major American sponsors. Of special interest to me was the collaboration between the OGCDC and the Buddhist community (both in Vietnam and in the U.S.). Historically, the communist government has been rather hostile toward religion, and towards Buddhists in particular. Hue has the distinction of being the home of the Engaged Buddhism movement, which began in the 1960’s when a local monk named Thich Nhat Hanh began to work as an activist for peace (for which he was eventually exiled from the country). We gained footage from two pagodas that partner with the OGCDC, including interviews with the nuns who run them. Back in the States, we were able to get additional interviews with Vietnam vets, American Buddhists that support humanitarian work in Hue, as well as an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh. We hope that the final product will be ready for TV broadcast by next spring.

Julie Maggioncalda
“Religion Meets Human Services: How Buddhist Organizations Unite with Hue Medical College to Open Education to the Disabled Children of Hue, Viet Nam”

In Viet Nam, I was able to get a better understanding of the inter-workings of a social welfare system that has developed out of dire need and minimal governmental resources. The Buddhist community runs schools and orphanages for children that suffer from the mental and physical effects of dioxin exposure. I focused on the work of two pagodas, Duc Son and Long Tho, both of which partner with the Office of Genetic Counseling and Disabled Children in Hue. Though I have no immediate plans to publish my findings, I am summarizing what I have learned in a reflective essay about my experience.

Overall, traveling to Viet Nam expanded my understanding of Eastern culture and religion. This trip stands as a milestone in my educational and personal life. Attempting to explain how deeply traveling through Viet Nam has affected me is somewhat futile.

Lauren Perry
“The Efforts of the OGCDC in the Rural Provinces of Central Viet Nam”

As a major in journalism, my project was to research and report on the present conditions of the rural poor in Viet Nam, with a special focus on the efforts by the Vietnamese government and international humanitarian groups to address these problems. In Viet Nam, I looked closely at the work of the Office of Genetic Counseling and Disabled Children (OGCDC), which is currently involved in efforts to address the conditions of rural communities in the mountains. I am planning to share the results of my research in the form of a published newspaper article.

The month in Viet Nam helped me to understand that not all experiences are beautiful. I can no longer see the world through rose-colored glasses. There are powerful stories out there, but they take effort and a lot of courage to reach. I no longer wish to travel simply to tell others about the aesthetic beauty of a place.

Matthew Ryan
“How Micro-loans are being used to Address Poverty in Vietnam”

My goal this summer was to conduct research into the OGCDC micro-loan program in Hue, Viet Nam. I concentrated on four things: 1) the source of funding, 2) the distribution of the funds, 3) the manner in which the funds are being used, and 4) whether the program seems to be helping the poor families of Hue to raise themselves out of poverty. During this semester, I am also assisting Dr. Emmanuel in documentary post-production. My research is also being incorporated into parts of the documentary that deal with the micro-load program.

The experience as a whole has permanently changed me as a person. I now take nothing for granted. When things aren.t going my way or my car breaks down, I just think about the people I met in Viet Nam and how little they have. My professional goals have also changed. I intend to create investments in the United States that will help fund international travel to create humanitarian documentaries that will hopefully raise awareness of international poverty.

Lan Tran
“Dioxin Risk Assessment in Vietnam”

I did not realize the complexity of the problems surrounding dioxin before actually going to Vietnam. I used to think: “How hard can it be to avoid consuming dioxin?” “How hard is it to grow wholesome fruits and vegetables in the backyard?” The situation is not that simple. Applying the study of environmental sciences to problems in the world involves more than just its chemistry, biology, or other sciences. There are social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions to the problems faced by the Vietnamese today. Moreover, because the science surrounding dioxin is not conclusive, it continues to be susceptible to political manipulation. An area of uncertainty is easily transformed into a reason for not taking costly but necessary actions. But as the Stockholm Declaration correctly states: “(Humanitarian assistance) cannot await definite scientific conclusions.” (Environmental Conference on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, 2002) We must resist the temptation to oversimplify matters, and concentrate our efforts on minimizing the harmful effects of dioxin.

In our group, each member had a job to do. The teamwork we enjoyed in planning, interviewing, and recording was both heartening and enriching. Discussions at meals were intelligent and sometimes profound. Our varied backgrounds complimented each other rather than creating obstacles. As a result of this experience, I have developed some new views about international relations and the status of the human condition worldwide. There is an obvious imbalance of prosperity that may never be leveled out, but I feel there is no need for anyone to be deprived of basic needs. It is not right for one group to waste on a daily basis while another struggles desperately to survive.

Sarah Tytler
“Viet Nam: Democratization, Development, and Environmental Protection”

Many developing countries struggle to achieve economic growth with the resources they possess. Unfortunately, this often leads to a biased focus on economic development with little regard for the environment. The focus of my research is how to best achieve economic growth while assuring environmental protection. The specific question this project considers is whether a centralized or a decentralized government is more effective in attaining economic growth for a majority of Vietnamese while still protecting the environment, and a similar matter worth consideration is whether greater democratization will also promote environmental concerns. Clearly, Vietnamese at the local level must be heard, and government needs to be held to greater accountability, if the resources of the country are to be effectively shared and the environment protected.

What this trip has taught me is much deeper than words, or even pictures. I discovered the struggle inherent as a country as its people seek to develop and prosper. This trip has solidified my desire to help people throughout the world secure what they need for a daily existence and a sustainable future.