My wife and I pulled open the door of the taxi van that had delivered us to the Thanh Xuan Peace Village, near Hanoi, Vietnam, and one look at the assistant director’s face told us we'd been right to come bearing gifts.
A receptionist at the hotel where my wife and I were staying told us about the center and informed us that visitors were welcome—especially ones donating common household items.
The U.S. Air Force sprayed 20 million gallons of defoliants and herbicides on South Vietnam between 1961 and 1972. More than 40 years later, the chemicals' chief ingredient—dioxin—shows up in the children and grandchildren of people who were sprayed, passed from mother to child through breast milk.
Before coming to the center—one of 28 in Vietnam—my wife (Susan) and I had learned that it cost just 1 U.S. dollar a day to feed one of the 130 children living there. So the assistant director who greeted us couldn't have been happier as Susan and I began unloading noodle soup packages, sacks of rice, shampoo, combs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bathing soap, and boxes of lollipops. She eagerly gave us a tour of the facility and introduced us to staff and volunteers, our taxi driver translating.
We knew that dioxin damages brain tissue, but we were heartsick to see so many children with lopsided faces, twisted limbs and other deformities. Many looked up at us with sweet smiles, but the poison had rendered some such as the boy in the picture unable to speak and it was apparent all were dependent on the kindness of others.