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VVAW Continues Investment in Vietnam's Future

By Chuck Theusch

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For many years, John Zutz of VVAW put together an Annual Beer Fest, often at Milwaukee's Serb Hall. Many VVAW members donated their time and labor to make these events successful. Some proceeds from these events in the early 2000's went to support the Library of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia Project.

VVAW sponsored computer lab, March 2018.

The idea of building libraries in Vietnam and Laos was new. It still is. As of 2010, the national government of Vietnam has made dramatic strides with a decree calling for independent libraries to be incorporated in the construction of new schools as well as existing facilities. This was a breakthrough. Indeed, Laos followed its neighbor Vietnam passing a similar directive in 2013.

But the Library Project was well ahead of the curve, being founded in 1999. It was in 2004 that Vietnam Veterans Against the War co-sponsored a Library at Kean Village in Laos' Savannaket Province. This small Village Library continues to this day. The National Library of Laos in Vientiane periodically ships "Book Boxes" the 5 hour journey South from Vientiane to the village, rotating the content for the young scholars of this poor remote area.

"We Always Come Back"

The mission of the Library Project is rooted in the idea that we always come back. This is the call to action in the post-war period that, while acknowledging the anguish of the past, calls forth a sense of the future. The perfect place to act on this is in the field of education. Like kids around the world, the poverty-stricken youngsters of Southeast Asia continue to show a gleam in their eyes that simply cannot be extinguished by life's trials and tribulations.

My Lai
(known as "Son My" in Vietnam)

On March 16, 2018, exactly 50 Years to the day after the My Lai Massacre, Vietnam Veterans Against the War joined hands with the Library of Vietnam Project and the High School at My Lai sponsoring a small Computer Lab there. It was Mr. Hoang Quoc Ve, a Vietnamese veteran and Quang Ngai visionary himself and the Library of Vietnam's first partner back then who believed in the Vietnamese saying that "We cannot change the past, we can change the future." And so VVAW has acted on this ideal.

At 9 a.m. The Library Project's small delegation of six—3 American veterans and 3 Vietnamese citizens—attended the Memorial Commemoration held at the site where it all happened 50 years to the day earlier, recalling the anguish of the past. At 2 p.m. the same day, the same delegation went to nearby Son My/My Lai High School and participated in the installation of a small computer lab, a vision of the future for the students of My Lai and its future as a community at the Library Project's building, dedicated in 2013.

Computer Lab

The VVAW Computer Installation and lab features:

  • 6 Computers
  • Internet
  • Hardware Support (2 Years)
  • Software Support (2 Years)
  • Teacher and Librarian use training
  • Information Technology Maintenance and Repair by FPT Corp. Vietnam.
VVAW TEAM Scholars, English students, and
Library Project Delegation, March 16, 2018.

Team Scholarships

The Library Project's "TEAM" Scholarship Program (Together Everyone Accomplishes More) is designed to provide hope in an area where even such a small amount ($25/250,000 VND or $50/500,000 VND) by American standards is a valuable contribution to their futures. In addition, the students take well deserved pride in the Certificate of Accomplishment they receive. This small Library continues to inspire as the Library Project goes back, with additional books and TEAM Scholarships. On October 24, 2017 the Library Project made its most recent visit to the kids there.

On March 16, 2018, VVAW sponsored four students with these Scholarships at My Lai:Nguyen Thi Ha My (sophomore), Vo Thi Thu Ngan (junior), Dang Thi Mai Uyen (senior), and Nguyen Huong Lan (senior).

History of The Library Project

The Library Project was founded on December 15, 1999 at Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province, Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV). It was the good fortune of the American veteran that sponsored it to find an honest devoted group of local authorities. They, in turn, had an excellent contractor who built a small building with the veterans' plans, drafted in Washington DC by a Vietnamese architect, whom the veteran retained. The basic architectural footprint of this library continues to inspire local construction code changes. It includes special handicapped access, Greco-Roman roof lines and pillars, bathrooms, electrical service geared to introduction of information technology (such as the computer lab VVAW has sponsored at My Lai High school), among a host of other small but meaningful innovations in the essential Public Building Code of Central Vietnam. The original design and specifications continue to serve the school at Pho Thuan, Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Project. American funded visions of the future continue today.

The Future of The Library Project's Mission

Vietnam has developed in the major cities, but the places where the Library of Vietnam Project has built these "temples of learning" are still mired in poverty and bedeviled by post-war legacies of landmines, unexploded bombs and exposure to Agent Orange contaminants. At the My Lai High School, War Legacy Risk Education is part of the library's mission.

Beyond that is the incorporation of English language education at the libraries across Vietnam. When the Library Project shows up at any of the 24 facilities it has, from Lao Cai at the China Border to the Mekong River Delta and Cambodia, the children and English teachers light up with appreciation. The future includes a focus on English language training and presentation of native English speakers to the teachers and kids in these regions.

The Vision of Education

Since 1999, the Library Project has continued in its small way to advance the hopes and dreams of the children of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. VVAW's sponsorship of the original village library in Laos, and more recently the installation of the computer lab and scholarships at My Lai High School, speak to the vision of its members and the organization. To support education takes a long view of life, well beyond the here and now intrinsic in the nature of health concerns. It is easy to understand the natural human impulse to invest in support for health care measures such as heart surgeries, and the like.

But there is more to life than a healthy body—it is a healthy soul that complements the body and is essential to living a happy life. The government will always receive local pressure to provide health care, food, water and the like from the population. But it is the food for the soul that a government can more easily set aside remaining oblivious to, and avoid, investing in. That is where we come in with our libraries and dreams of the stars. There are many amputated limbs in the post-war population, but there is nothing like an amputated spirit—there is no prosthetic for that.

VVAW's investment in the spirit answers a hunger in the soul that can starve the healthy body into the abyss of hopelessness. It nourishes the vision of hope that is essential to a meaningful quality of life.

Chuck Theusch is a Vietnam Veteran of the US Army, 4/3 Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, Vietnam 1969-70. 1999-present Founder/CEO Library of Vietnam Project, which has built 35 Libraries and Schools in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

50th Anniverary - My Lai Student Performers, Vietnam, March 16, 2018.

50 Year Anniversary - My Lai Memorial, Vietnam, April 4, 2018.

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