The Peace Boat
Peace Boat participants.
The Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. The Peace Boat's 77th Global Voyage - the 50th time for Peace Boat to circumnavigate the globe - departed from Yokohama on 24 August, 2012, and returned to Japan 85 days later on 16 November, 2012.
Heather Bowser of Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (COVVHA) shared her personal story with the Peace Boat participants, describing the ways in which her father's exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam resulted in her multiple birth defects. For the first in a series of lectures covering the topic of Agent Orange, Heather Bowser appeared on stage to discuss her personal connection to the virulent wartime herbicide. Filling the entire auditorium, participants gathered to hear her testimony. "Agent Orange is the code name for a chemical herbicide developed for the US military, the purpose of which was to deny the enemy cover and concealment by defoliating the trees where the Vietnamese enemy could hide," Heather explained. She went on to tell the audience that her father Bill Morris was drafted to Long Binh, Vietnam in 1968, where he was forced to work in conditions where Agent Orange was transported and stored. Heather's father even recalled servicemen using the barrels for BBQs and collecting drinking water. The US government assured servicemen and the world that Agent Orange was proven to be harmless to humans and would only destroy one crop cycle.
Heather has been incredibly active and vocal on the topic, particularly in relation to the innocent second and third generation victims. As a co-founder of Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance (COVVHA), Heather offers a network of support for people living with Agent Orange-related problems. "Despite the fact that we were victimized, we prefer to be called Agent Orange survivors, not victims." This empowering twist is the type of fuel that powers Heather's movement, which aims to create a sense of solidarity and strength among the generations affected.
The survivors worked closely with Peace Boat volunteers who together helped raise awareness of the ongoing generational effects of Agent Orange. They collaborated to create posters, banners and messages of support for Agent Orange victims, additionally assisting Heather with lectures and workshops. Heather also works towards seeking support from the US government, which up until this point has taken minimal responsibility for the generational effects associated with Agent Orange. While some compensation is available, it is primarily for survivors born to female veterans who were exposed and only in very rare cases for males. Heather's condition is invalid under US government designations. She explained that it is not only the sense of neglect from her own government that is immoral but the financial burden left to those in need of medical assistance. "Every morning when I put on my artificial leg, I wonder if the people who decided to dump 20 million gallons of a toxic chemical on Vietnam think of the people they harmed."
The participants joined the 77th Peace Boat voyage, sailing with Guest Educators from Yokohama to Da Nang, Vietnam. COVVHA's argument and cause are not confined to the US. They have shown incredible empathy for the estimated 4.5 million Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, making visits to the care centers around hot spots such as Da Nang. COVVHA aims to create an international support network that connects the innocent survivors still bearing the burden of a war they were not responsible for.
Peace Boat participants piled onto the stage showing their support for Agent Orange survivors. The Peace Boat participants drew connections between Agent Orange and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster. Visiting Fukushima last year, Heather established ties with those affected, sharing her knowledge around safety myths and the importance of international solidarity. "The unseen danger is what we have in common. The effects of Agent Orange slowly crept up on the victims and you never know where it will end in your family."
After docking in Da Nang, the group visited one of the Agent Orange victim support centers, a partner organization of Peace Boat. There, they connected with second and third generation child victims still living with the effects of Agent Orange. COVVHA workshops left a huge impression on Peace Boat participants, inspiring them to create their own events in areas that they are passionate about, both on board and on land. After her journey on board the ship, Heather spent a week in Vietnam visiting some of the areas most heavily effected by Agent Orange in a rare opportunity allowing first, second and third generation non-Vietnamese Agent Orange survivors to connect with Vietnamese survivors. The trip began with a visit to the Da Nang Center for Supporting Agent Orange and Disadvantaged Children, a center supported by Peace Boat that offers second generation Agent Orange survivors support and training. "People put greed in front of human life. Governments will go to war without thinking of the people who live there. We all suffer because of war and my future intent is to continue to bring peace and try to promote a future where we can live together, no longer harming each other and no longer harming each other's children."
Children of Vietnam Veteran Health Alliance, Inc (COVVHA) has recently been incorporated as a nonprofit organization. VVAW national coordinators Susan Schnall and Marty Webster are assisting this dedicated group of activists in the early stages of their development.