Le Ly Hayslip welcomed our group to make this Heaven and Earth Pilgrimage with her. In Viêt Nam she showed us the wealth, the poverty, and the extreme beauty of the country. We saw entrepreneurs everywhere including the small islands of the Mekong Delta. She brought us home to meet her family, and hear memories of her Central region neighbors in what was Ky La. We saw the country’s cultures preserved in the astounding Museum of Ethnology in Hanoi, the vast cityscapes of high rises in the north of the country, and Halong Bay which still haunts me and when I boarded a boat on the bay, I felt something as cliched and disarming as love.
But a most memorable part of the pilgrimage has been the opportunity to see the humanitarian work of the Global Village Foundation founded by Le Ly in 2020. I was astounded by the reach of Le Ly’s work which she began even before the books, the movie, and the documentaries.
In 1993 while Le Ly was with East Meets West, the first Foundation she established, she founded Village of Hope. Village of Hope serves orphaned and hearing-impaired children in Danang. Since the founding, over 800 children have grown up there. Our group visited the Village of Hope, met many children, and also adults for whom the Village was their family. They have gone on to higher education, and have children of their own.
Groups of dancers, including dancers who were hearing-impaired students, performed for Le Ly in thanks for her work and the work of others in the Global Village Foundation.
We also visited two orphanages. Global Village Foundation delivered food supplies and cash to Mái Ấm Mây Ngàn Orphanage in Tay Ninh, a home for children of all ages. Here’s my fellow traveler, Vietnam veteran, and life-long teacher, Mike Stempe, who dressed as a clown to entertain the children.
Some at Peace Village are students born with disabilities that have resulted from Agent Orange. I learned more about the extent of the on-going damage caused by Agent Orange in the country. The United States Institute for Peace reports: “The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese have been affected by dioxin [the toxic chemical in Agent Orange], including at least 150,000 children born after the war with serious birth defects.” They also report that “there is no timeline [across generations] for when the health effects of Agent Orange stop.”
The documentary “From War to Peace and Beyond” tells the full story of Le Ly’s humanitarian work in her motherland. We on the 2023 pilgrimage had small, but life-changing, experiences in our visits with children and adults whose lives she has saved.
Next: Just two more Letters to My Daughter, Come With Me to Halong Bay and Travel Tips for the Clueless (Such As Me).