Sometimes it is easier to be cynical and believe one person can’t make a difference, so why try? But, if everyone acted on this premise, nothing would get done. There would be no progress. Every day we make choices, and those choices determine what happens to us. This series is about those who chose to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of our veterans. By reading how they turned around the worst that could happen to them, you can turn their inspiration into a model for recovery and self-healing for yourself. Well-known veteran advocate Kenneth H. Young CD heads up this series.  Again, it is told in parts based on interview questions that I put to him.  BONNIE



1. How and why were you selected?

This is a bit complicated. After my attendance at the VAVA Conference,  I was asked to join Peace Boat # 77, which this year was presenting an AO or Rainbow Chemical theme.

Included were two people I had already met at the 2011 Hanoi Conference and Vietnam  Tour — Heather Bowser, a second-generation Agent Orange survivor from the U.S. and fellow delegate presenter, and the star of the movie that featured AO and the aftermath, “Living the Silent Spring.” The organizers also asked “Miss California.” Even though she had no obvious birth defects, she represented the third-generation survivors of the affects of Agent Orange because at age 12 she had to administer chemo therapy injections to her Mother and be her principal caregiver through her illness. This constituted the first known three generations of AO survivors assembled to give talks on their experiences. We were later joined by Jon Mitchell, a Walsh reporter, who broke the story of the Okinawa contamination of AO by the improper disposal of these chemicals after the Vietnam war, completing our team of four guest teachers on the subject of Agent Orange.

I believe that I was selected because of three things: one, I was a Canadian and nobody even knew about Canada’s part in testing or producing these chemicals for the U.S. Military and the war in Vietnam; two, I was knowledgeable in the subject of all Rainbow chemicals; and three, I was a first-generation survivor completing the tri-generational presentation.

2. Again, what were your experiences and impressions on this peace boat?

This was my very first cruise and so I was a bit apprehensive. Running into — not one — but two typhoons on my first voyage should have been a downer, but it really didn’t bother me. Many were sick and there were barf bags distributed everywhere, but the Peace Boat also supplied Sea Sick pills, so I was fine. The only problem was the boat rocked so much we couldn’t stand to give our presentations.

Throughout the whole trip I found the people of Asia very caring towards people with handicaps or using a cane. China had a special gate at Customs, ticket counters and security for anyone with a problem. Japan young girls and boys helped me with my luggage when climbing stairs and getting on the train. In Vietnam and Korea, it was pretty much the same, and in Vietnam, the ticket people even gave up their chair and gave it to me and they stood to do their job.

My first impression remained very positive during my entire voyage. The people were very kind and what impressed me more is that they really wanted to hear what we had to say. They actually listened to what we said. We had between 450 and 500 people at each stop, and each of the five AO lectures handled well over 200 queries during the Question and Answer session, which Heather and I conducted. It was the questions asked that showed beyond any doubt how much we were listened to.

We had three translators who did the English to Japanese, one who did the simultaneous Japanese to English and one administrator who could jump in at any time and do either. So five translators. They were all exceptional and talked at length with us to get the feeling wanted and not just the words spoken. Sometimes this led to much longer translations needed as they also relayed the concepts and feeling needed to say what we meant in Japanese All in all, a totally positive experience.

While I was in Vietnam, I spent much time talking to the general public and was surprised to find that not many under the age of 30 even knew what VAVA was and only one in ten had even heard of Agent Orange. Even the one who had heard of AO were not sure what or where it happened. Since I spent most of my time in DaNang, the most AO-polluted site in the world, I found the willingness of Vietnam to forget their history a bit disquieting, as they were just about as badly informed as we are here in Canada.

I was interviewed on many occasions and was very surprised to find that even the media from both Japan and Vietnam still had no idea about Canada’s participation in the Rainbow chemicals.

3. Following the results of your Peace Trip, what are your HOPES for the future?

What impacted me the most was seeing the participation and hard work of many volunteers who helped us advertise our lectures and who did much of the dirty work setting up and motivating the people to attend. They re-established my belief in the future of the world and to be honest was a very pleasant surprise. The only exception was the lack of knowledge the Vietnamese youth have of their own past.

My GREATEST HOPE. Well, in the near future, I hope to present to the United Nations Assembly my idea for a UN-led fund to provide for the medical, educational and social needs of the survivors of these chemicals. Laying blame is no longer what’s important. What matters is that, under a UN umbrella, all countries and corporations can donate toward the restoration of land and all-required treatment of the victims without admitting responsibility. This should allow many to donate and show a willingness to help regardless of whether they are found at fault or responsible at a future date but also to allow other countries who are fearful of being seen to give money to Vietnam itself.

Ken, thank you for your steadfast advocacy on behalf of all those exposed to the Rainbow chemicals anywhere in the world — veterans and civilians, but especially in Canada.

Note: Ken is a member of the Canadian Veterans Advocacy, V.E.T.S., Agent Orange Association of Canada, Our Duty, Veterans Of Canada and NATO Veterans Organization of Canada.


About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan vets, Canadian Armed Forces, Canadian Peacekeepers, caregivers, emotional trauma, federal government, Homecoming Vets, veterans' affairs, veterans' assistance programs, VRAB and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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