War Legacies Project
Those working with children with disabilities in Vietnam and Laos do not make a distinction between Agent Orange-caused conditions and conditions related to other causes. A child in need is a child in need, no matter what caused the condition. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Programs in Vietnam and Laos for children with disabilities have historically left out children who are classified as severely impacted by Agent Orange. Since resources are limited, the decision is often made to assist children with mild to moderate disabilities to enable them to attend school (or receive vocational education, at the least) and become self-sufficient. This means many children affected by Agent Orange do not receive critical care and resources, as many are seen as having disabilities that are so severe that they require too much medical or educational intervention to become self-sufficient..
Because the vast majority of these children live in already impoverished rural areas where access to medical, rehabilitative, education, and social services is limited, financial assistance is often the only help affected households can get, if they get anything at all.
Many aid programs lack both human and financial resources, like trained physical therapists, specialized education teachers, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists.
Still, many NGOs are working with their government counterparts to ensure that as many children with disabilities as possible receive adaptive equipment or extra support services needed to go to school. Other organizations are working to reduce the stigma faced by these children and to ensure the protection of their rights. While most programs continue to focus on urban areas, efforts are being made to reach out to more rural populations.
What Needs To Be Done
Despite many challenges, children, and young people with disabilities in Vietnam and Laos have made great strides in integrating into their local communities, fighting the stigma of their conditions and more. Yet there is still much to be done to help the most disenfranchised of children.
Below are some of the priorities in addressing the needs of all children, young people, and adults with disabilities, regardless of the presumptive causes, in Vietnam and Laos:
- Develop and conduct a nationwide survey of people with disabilities; and create a birth defects registry to better determine those in need of services and support.
- Improve the quality and quantity of occupational and rehabilitation therapists, speech pathologists, developmental specialists, and mental health practitioners.
- Improve and advance the diagnostic capabilities of and treatment by public health professionals for children up to three years of age, to ensure early identification and intervention.
- Establish rehabilitation facilities and respite day care centers in rural areas with high rates of people with disabilities.
- Strengthen and expand inclusive education, specialized education and vocational training programs for children and youths with disabilities.
- Improve prenatal care and provide testing on the genetic effects of Dioxin exposure and counseling for individuals who may have a high risk of reproductive abnormalities.
- Ensure that impoverished households of people with disabilities or suffering from Dioxin-related illnesses have access to medical care, social support programs and education services.
- Develop peer support programs for children with disabilities and their parents.
- Provide support to poor families with children with disabilities to help them improve their livelihood, housing, and sanitation conditions.
- Remove the stigma often associated with persons with disabilities and encourage integration into the community.
- Build the infrastructure needed to remove the physical barriers for those with physical disabilities so that they can navigate in their communities.
How We Are Ending the Toxic Legacy of War
Agent Orange Record is a website project of the War Legacies Project, a not-for-profit organization that works to address the long-term health, environmental and socio-economic impacts of war. War Legacies Project has programmed the following initiatives to tackle the issues of Agent Orange-affected birth defects, disabilities and illnesses in Vietnam and Laos, and improved hundreds of lives of people living with disabilities and their families.
Provides financial support to impoverished families caring for children with severe disabilities by providing assistance in the form of animal husbandry, support to start a small home business, home improvement, or vocational training.
Supports early intervention and education programs by providing scholarships to children with disabilities or to their siblings who attend secondary school or university.
Finances medical operations for children with congenital heart disorders and birth defects, such as cleft palate and club foot. Wheelchairs, prosthetics, and other adaptive equipment are also provided.
Helps villagers of Vietnam’s Dong Son Commune replant rattan and other native tree species in their home gardens and forest plots.
A digital storytelling project that will capture and archive the eyewitness memories of ordinary Lao citizens who experienced pre-war, wartime and post-war Laos.
Leads the Laos Agent Orange Survey project to identify and address the ongoing health and environmental impacts of Agent Orange-Dioxin in Laos. The survey is currently focused on five districts in Salavan (Samoi, Ta-Oey) and Savannakhet (Sepone, Nong, Vilabouly) provinces along the border of Vietnam where the Ho Chi Minh Trail was located.