Director sets up fund to support Vietnamese Agent Orange victims

by Keiji Hirano

Kyodo

Vietnamese schoolchildren born with physical problem, apparently due to the lingering effects of Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War, are getting a helping hand in the shape of a scholarship from a Japanese film director.

“Most of those who were exposed to the toxic chemical during the wartime have been living in poverty, but the disabled children possess great potential,” director Masako Sakata said. “If they could be provided $25 each per month, they could attend colleges or vocational schools.”

Under the “Seed of Hope” scholarship program, Sakata and a victims’ group, Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) have collected $18,000 (¥1.45 million) from about 50 donors in Japan and started providing the money earlier this year to 20 students to attend school for three years.

“The more money we can collect, the more students can attend schools,” she said. “Moreover, they will be heartened only if they are aware that there are people even outside Vietnam who care about them and want to support them.”

Sakata has engaged the victims since shooting a documentary, “Agent Orange — A Personal Requiem,” in 2007 in the memory of her husband, Greg Davis, an American photojournalist based in Japan who worked throughout Asia.

He succumbed to liver cancer in 2003 at the age of 54 after being exposed to the toxic chemical in Vietnam during his three-year military service through 1970.

While examining if his fatal disease was connected with Agent Orange, she showed through her first film how the chemical erodes the human body from generation to generation and how Vietnamese have desperately and affectionately struggled to support the victims.

The film has been screened in Japan as well as overseas, winning several awards.

She came up with the idea of establishing the scholarship when she studied Vietnamese in Hanoi last year to get to know the victims better and produce a sequel to the first film.

“I happened to see a physically handicapped woman, and she told me she wanted to be a doctor to help Agent Orange victims like her,” Sakata said. “I was aware at that time that young people like her could achieve independence with some help.”

Responding to the proposal, VAVA chose the 20 scholarship students in their teens and 20s through its networks. It hopes to increase the number of recipients.

Scholarship recipient Tran Doan Hien, a 21-year-old college student in Hanoi, wrote in a letter to Sakata and VAVA, “Many child victims of Agent Orange are trying to do their best to overcome their fates and illnesses so they can go to school.”

The scholarship “is a special gift to encourage us to continue to learn and study at schools or universities,” he said.

For info about the scholarship program, contact Sakata at masakosakata@gmail.com