Monday, May 24, 2010


I spent a good part of yesterday at an orphanage for children with disabilities in the town of Hoi An, in central Vietnam.

Nearly 1 in every 20 children born to Vietnamese parents has a disability. This disproportionately high percentage is attributed to a number of factors -- most of which are hotly contested by lawyers -- generally the only people anywhere to benefit from any kind of misfortune.

The word on the street is Agent Orange.

This delightful little chemical weapon was sprayed all over this gorgeous country by the US military and, not surprisingly, the sprayers themselves have suffered a disporportionately high number of crazy cancers. And their children -- like the children I met yesterday -- are riddled with defects of one kind or another.

Cerebral palsy is endemic. So is downs syndrome. Children are born with atrophied limbs. There was a tiny baby born without eyes.

Yesterday the orphanage held a birthday party for all the children born in May.

Despite a million reasons for it not to be so -- the caregivers made this a happy birthday. There were little cakes. Some fresh cut watermelon. Juice in big containers. And a small present for each child.

With a little help, most of the children were able to blow out their candles. Those of us in attendance, helped feed the children who couldn't eat. We cradled and soothed the babies.

And then we left. Because we're lucky enough to be able to.

War is hell.