Viet Nam News
by Hồng Vân
Frenchwoman Jade Owhadi first heard of Agent Orange (AO) from her French-Vietnamese grandmother when she was in high school. This gave her a new perspective on life and bolstered her passion for community work.
“My first reaction was complete horror at the cruelty human beings are capable of. I decided to do a project on agent orange for my advanced English classes at school and I ended up not only educating my peers about it but the teacher as well, who had never heard about it prior to my presentation,” said Owhadi.
Owhadi decided to become an advocate for the rights of AO victims. The 23-year-old first came to Việt Nam in 2014 and began working in Nha Trang with orphans and disabled children.
Also in this trip, Owhadi visited children at Từ Dũ Hospital, where she would later revisit once a year, for the first time.
“That was one of the most emotional moments I had experienced in my life. I remember walking into one of the rooms with the most severely disabled children, and I can still hear their screams of agony and pain resonating in my ears.
“I remember feeling stuck, like I was glued to the ground, the only thing I wanted to do was to take that pain away from them, and hold them in my arms and let them know everything was going to be okay, but I knew the damage from Agent Orange is irreversible and I broke down,” said Owhadi.
“It’s actually the children from the rest of the floor on the hospital who came and got me with a huge smile on their face that made me regain the strength to gather my composure because I didn’t want them to see me crying.”
Also in 2014, Owhadi started a fundraiser for kids and the following summers when she came back Việt Nam, she brought with her toys, books, clothes and gave children an opportunity for a field trip.
It was also the first trip to Việt Nam in 2014 that led Owhadi to do her master’s degree in International Humanitarian Affairs. “I realised there was a lot of things I needed to familiarise myself with regarding humanitarian aid in foreign countries, therefore this programme was the best fit for me.”
She is currently a French high school teacher for underprivileged kids at Davis High School, Texas in the US.
An empathetic person, Owhadi strongly believes “every human being deserves the same basic human rights”.
“It is only right for me to give back to those who haven’t been given the same opportunities,” said Owhadi.
Owhadi has also visited an orphanage in Malaysia, a community school in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico as well as an NGO in Sierra Leone to raise funds for disadvantaged people.
Every year the French girl sent AO victims a package for Christmas with toys, and over the summer, she went to the hospital every day, playing with them and practicing English.
“Most importantly I am able to give them the mother figure they desperately need. I consider them my own kids. I actually have a board filled with pictures of them at my desk at school, and will spend my year teaching the kids about them and Agent Orange,” said Owhadi.
This year, Owhadi brought in a Vietnamese teacher to continue teaching the kids after she left.
The kids, who spend most of their time in the hospital, can also go on a yearly two-day field trip to the beach with the hospital staff.
“The main thing these kids lack is a regular childhood experience. With the field trips, they are able to play in the water, which they absolutely love, we go out to eat, we dance, we sing and it is just a memorable journey full of laughter, love, and pure joy,” said Owhadi.
Owhadi’s grandmother, Anna Owhadi Richardson was born in Việt Nam in 1943. Her grandfather, Pastor Paul Richardson and her Vietnamese grandmother helped build the Đà Lạt Protestant Church.
Anna got a scholarship to study medicine in French in 1961. She and her family moved in 1964. Anna founded the Association of Friends of Đà Lạt, which aims to improve the city of Đà Lạt, especially in terms of health, social and educational development as well as promote co-operation between the people of France and Việt Nam.
“Jade Owhadi is among my six grandchildren. She is the brightest and a very empathetic person, therefore I decided to talk to her about other aspects of life and send her to Việt Nam to know about kids suffering from Agent Orange.
“I am very proud of my little girl and hope that she will inspire this humanitarian cause to other young people,” said Anna.
Give and take
With compassion and love for kids and hope to raise awareness of the brutal impact of AO, Owhadi has a Facebook and YouTube channel featuring the kids.
“I have the kids on Facebook and they video call me when they have internet, and I am always so excited to be able to see them. These kids are so full of life and love, and it is a blessing for me to have them in my life.”
“They may not realise it, but their strength gives me courage to keep fighting,” said Owhadi.
About two years ago during her last semester in college, an accident gave Owhadi second degree burns on her legs, which left her pain for six months.
“It was the kids that kept me going. Regardless of the pain they face every single day, they never complain, they remain strong and optimistic, and I told myself I owed it to them to remain strong. If they can do it, so can I,” said Owhadi.
The final year student was able to finish her undergraduate degree in Political Science on time and came out stronger than ever.
“People thank me for the work I do for them, but I thank the kids for allowing me to have a place in their hearts. They are truly some of the most beautiful souls I have encountered, and I can’t imagine my life without them,” said Owhadi. VNS