Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

Healing a wounded heart

Hue, Vietnam — Stepping into the Wounded Heart gift shop on Vo Thi Sau Street, your eyes instantly fix onto the colorful bright bags, bowls, linens and picture frames fashioned from the flotsam of this crowded, largely poor city that once was synonymous with urban warfare.

After that moment passes, you begin to notice the staff. Many are disabled, unable to speak or hear or walk through the aisles. Yet they are responsible for creating and selling the items that line the shelves.

None of the teen to thirtysomething staff is old enough to remember the war. But many believe their disabilities bear its legacy.

The Wounded Heart program is the joint project of Pacific Palisades resident Marichia Simcik Arese, founder of the Spiral Foundation, and Dr. Nguyen Viet Nhan, director of the Office of Genetic Counseling and Disabled Children at Hue College of Medicine & Pharmacy.

The goal of the gift shop is to provide the store’s artisans rehabilitation and job training while using proceeds to help subsidize badly needed surgeries for Vietnamese suffering from congenital defects associated with human exposure to dioxin, the highly toxic chemical in Agent Orange that was sprayed during the war.

During her summer visits to the gift shop, Arese arranges a special field trip for the artisans. The shop is closed and the artisans are picked up and taken to see a family that has received one of their funded operations.

“The artisans call their job ‘double happiness’ because on one side they can have a dignified life with fair salaries and on the other side they are helping other families in greater need,” Arese says.

How the story came about:
The interactive package produced by Los Angeles Times videographers Katy Newton and Sean Connelley was created during a fellowship with the Vietnam Reporting Project and the Renaissance Journalism Center.

The fellowship provided funding for travel, accommodations and food, as well as training and logistical support. The fellowship acted as a liaison, connecting participants with numerous scientists, researchers and advocates on the issue of Agent Orange.

Special recognition is given to Trude A. Bennett, associate professor of Maternal and Child Health at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill; Wayne Dwernychuk, retired senior scientist and current advisor with Hatfield Consultants; the Ford Foundation; Susan Hammond, founder and executive director of the War Legacies Project; Edwin A. Martini, associate professor of history at Western Michigan University and author of “The Invisible Enemies: The American War on Vietnam 1975–2000”; Jon Funabiki, and the Vietnam Reporting Project.

More stories produced by this year’s fellows:
The forgotten ones: A legacy of Agent Orange
By K. Oahn Ha, KQED, the California Report

The leaves keep falling
By Ed Kashi / VII and Julie Winokur/ Talking Eyes Media

Unfinished business
By Cleveland Plain Dealer staff

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