On summer day of 1980, Do Thien Dang left his home in Bich Khe Village of Trieu Long Commune to collect wild thatch in hills near the La Vang Holy Land. Wild thatch was then a primary material that locals in Trieu Phong used to roof their houses. The area surrounding this Catholic church was almost uninhabited because the bloody fighting only ended five years earlier. Seeing a tall thatch bush, Dang approached to cut it. His foot stepped on a piece of wartime munition, and a terrible blast was heard throughout the area. Thatch collectors working nearby rushed to bring Dang to the local hospital. He was transferred to Hue Hospital on the same day. Doctors had to amputate both legs above the knees to save his life. Waking up in the hospital bed and realizing he no longer had his legs, Dang cried. The hope of a bright future for the 20-year-old man vanished.
Returning home from Hue hospital, Dang faced difficult challenges. But over time, thanks to the care from his mother and siblings, Dang regained his desire to live. He tried to do all the house chores he could in order to ease the burden for his aging mother. Nine years after the tragic accident, Dang married a girl in the same village and they soon had three daughters, born in 1990, 1994, and 1997. Dang and his wife were delighted, but they had to face reality: Making ends meet for his own family became more difficult than ever to the disabled father of three.
In 2003, RENEW experimented with a livelihoods initiative to generate income for bomb and mine survivors – mushroom-growing, since this kind of activity seemed relevant for those who lost their limbs in postwar accidents. Dang participated enthusiastically in the mushroom growing supported by RENEW. The income from his mushroom production partly supported the livelihoods of his big family which now included husband and wife, three children, and Dang’s mother.
Based on this victim assistance experience, in 2009, RENEW cooperated with the New York-based Humpty Dumpty Institute to implement a livelihood assistance program called ‘Mushrooms with a Mission’ with funding provided by the U.S. Department of State, the Japanese Embassy in Hanoi and the Taiwanese Embassy. The family of Do Thien Dang and many other families of bomb survivors were provided with tools, materials, training and grow houses to cultivate a variety of mushrooms. They grew oyster, wood-ear, linghzi and other species of mushrooms. After five years, initial results showed that the program had created job opportunities and good incomes for these families.
In 2020, with support from Safelane Global, RENEW equipped this double amputee with an electric working tool kit and renovated his old mushroom grow house into a production facility. People visiting Dang’s house would see the man skillfully using his new electric tools to cut, reshape, and fashion bamboo ordered by florist shops in Quang Tri Town. Dang said during the past two years he has been able to earn about 2.5 million VND per month from selling these bamboo wreaths.
This year he has received fewer orders from local florist shops due to an economic recession. However, Dang – who is now a grandfather with disabilities, remains busy as usual. Waking up every morning and taking his granddaughter to school on his motorbike, Dang returns home to help his wife prepare food for their three sows and tend the potato garden.
In the village of Bich Khe where he lives, Dang has earned much respect for the tender care he gave to his invalid, bed-ridden mother, despite his own disabilities. Since his mother died in March 2020, Dang and his wife now live with the child of their eldest daughter – a fourth grader – who moved in to live with them to be closer to her school.
“I feel happy with my current life,” said the 63-year-old grandfather. “I know, from my experience, that it is important for donor countries to continue to support Vietnam to address the explosives left from the war and assist those affected, like me, to integrate into society and have a job to earn income to support their families.”
Thanks to the funding provided by the Irish government via Irish Embassy in Vietnam, and Friends of Project RENEW, RENEW has helped hundreds of people with disabilities caused by unexploded ordnance to rebuild their lives and create better futures for their families.