These photographs represent my view of Vietnam forty years after my last tour. Vietnam is old yet young, layered in 3000 years of history but looking forward to the future with great energy.
My feeling is that the Vietnamese are grateful for our efforts. I look forward to returning to Vietnam.
The School at Phong Son, Vietnam…
A JOINT PROJECT BETWEEN THE VETERANS VIETNAM RESTORATION PROJECT, TEAM XX AND EAST MEETS WEST.
Text and Photographs by Bob Stave
The Team: We came together from across America, on a small farm in northern California. We eleven were from varied backgrounds, education, and experiences. Nine of us were Veterans and two were non-Veterans. After three days of team building, mission understanding, “getting along” skills and writing a Covenant, we flew to Hanoi for a meeting that none of us dreamed we would have. We met with a Mr. Tuoc, Department of Cooperation, Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
On the night train from Hanoi to Hue, the club car was the place for food, drink and a good poker game. Once on the work site there were many philosophical discussions about the art of moving dirt.
In some stranger way we were like an infantry squad, no matter what, we were in this together… Whether doctor, lawyer or Indian chief… We were faced with the NAM… ourselves, the good of the team and building a simple school.
This project is more than just a building. It is an idea. It is people; kids, getting along, learning, enjoying and being a part of a positive endeavor. Then of course, there is the journey itself. Team XX members all worked at different levels but most importantly the team worked together.
VVRP, a 501 © non-government organization (NGO) has been sending teams of veterans and non-veterans to Vietnam since 1989. Teams have built disabled veterans housing, schools, vocational training centers and social care centers. The mission of VVRP is to help heal the wounds of war on both sides. Team members work along side Vietnamese to carry out humanitarian projects.
The majority of the Vietnamese are under the age of thirty. For most of them the war is a foot note in their long history. Vietnam is still in the lower 28% of the poorest nations. An average family lives on about $600.00 a year. They live hard but optimistic lives. The school at Phong Son demonstrates what can be done by a few, with simple tools and hard work.
At this point I am not about to judge the Vietnamese for their government or their way of life. I can say that I never feared for my person or my possessions; I was accepted and treated very warmly on and off the job site. They were grateful that these old guys were willing to come over and lend them a hand. There were no “Yankee Go Home” and no recriminations about the past.
We took many side trips in small groups and on our own. There were the hot springs, the beach, the market, museums, hundreds of small shops and galleries. One memorable side trip was to Mylai, Mylai 4, a.k.a. Pinkville; all the same village, now dedicated as “Peace Park”.
After the completion of the Phong Son project we went our separate ways in ones and twos, spreading out over Vietnam and a few to Cambodia looking for new adventures and in some cases completing some old ones. VVRP, the foundation, after 25 years of sending teams to Vietnam, has folded their tent and sent the last team in 2013.
The following images are a random selection of over 1300 pictures that I took. These images fall into three categories: kids, the river, and portraits of strangers who became friends.
Kids are kids; in trees, swimming holes, going to school. The river is part of me. I lived on the water for ten years, worked on boats, sailed, and fished in lakes, streams and oceans. My portraits are looking into the camera, trimming the lens and making a friend.