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On a practical level, those working with children with disabilities in Vietnam and Laos do not make a distinction between Agent Orange-affected 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 Agent Orange-affected. Since resources are limited, a decision is often made to assist only children with manageable conditions who can attend school (or receive vocational education, at the least) and become self-sufficient, ultimately. Children affected by Agent Orange are seen as already too late for medical or educational intervention. 

Because the vast majority of these children live in already impoverished rural areas where access to medical, rehabilitative, education and social services is even more limited, providing any financial assistance to affected households is often all that can be done.

A major problem for many of these programs is that they lack both human and financial resources. In particular, the programs suffer from a paucity of trained physical therapists, specialized education teachers, occupational therapists and speech pathologists. 

For sure, many NGOs are working with their government counterparts to ensure that as many children as possible with disabilities 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.

What Needs To Be Done

Despite many challenges, youth in Vietnam and Laos have made great strides in integrating into their local communities, fighting the stigma of their conditions and more. Indeed 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 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 antenatal 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 with 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 sanitary conditions.

How We Are Ending The Toxic Legacy of War

Agent Orange Record is a 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. And for many years, War Legacies Project has programmed the following initiatives to tackle the issues of Agent Orange-affected disabilities and illnesses in Vietnam and Laos, and improve hundreds of lives of people living with disabilities and their families.

The Livelihood Program

War Legacies Project helps impoverished families caring for severely disabled children by providing assistance in the form of animal husbandry, support to start a small home business, home improvement or vocational training.

The Education Program

War Legacies Project supports early intervention and education programs by providing scholarships to children with disabilities or to their siblings who attend secondary school or university.

The Health Program

War Legacies Project 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.

The Environment Program

War Legacies Project helps villagers of Dong Son Commune replant rattan and other tree species that are native to the valley, in their home gardens and forest plots.

Untold Stories Project

War Legacies Project is conducting 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.

Laos Agent Orange Survey

War Legacies Project is leading 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 5 districts in Salavan (Samoi, Ta-Oey) and Savannakhet (Sepone, Nong, Vilabouly) provinces along the border of Viet Nam where the Ho Chi Minh Trail was located.

Painting by: Vu Giang Huong