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VIET Fellows at Philadelphia Discussion.

28 Aug Linh Pham | Comments
VIET Fellows at Philadelphia Discussion.

Back in June I had the opportunity to speak to a group of youths participating in my organization’s Summer Youth Bicycle Environmental Program on the environmental legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The coordinator of this group asked if I could say something about it because he recognized the connection between what happened in Vietnam thirty years ago and what the program seeks to instill in participants—namely that the resources we choose to invest in to build or destroy the environment has the ability to also build or destroy the surrounding communities. It was an offer I could not turn down.

Even though I have been studying the issue for a long time now, I was still unprepared for the challenge of presenting about Agent Orange in a way that made it digestible to such a young audience. Although I am sure he meant well when I asked how I should approach this presentation, the program coordinator’s suggestion of using pictures that would shock these students out of their comfort zones did not sit well with me. He also said that since the audience was a mix of high school youths with various levels of English fluency, I should check my use of academic words and phrases.

Instead of easing my anxiety, our conversation left me grappling with several questions: How do I condense all the facts and figures about Agent Orange floating about in my head and the environmental damages it caused into a short presentation? What do I say and how should I say it that would spark a reaction in these young folks’ minds and get them to really think about the issues? Moreover, when it came to showing the physical consequences of Agent Orange in the Vietnamese population, how do I present it in a way that respects the individuals in the photos but at the same time show the gravitas of what happened to them?

Reflecting on the experience, there were things I could have done differently to improve the presentation but I realized the only way to tell a story is to simply tell it and to let the audience arrive at their own understanding with the facts and figures they are given. The reactionless faces of my high school audience once the presentation was over did not make it clear whether they were any more affected by what they just heard then before they walked in and sat down. However, the opportunity to present on Agent Orange to any audience and to spread the message that we are all capable of making Agent Orange history was important. Creating the presentation and working through the questions that popped up along the way was a huge learning experience for me and only reinvigorated my efforts to support the cause. It would have been great to see some kind of spark of interest in these young folks’ eyes, and maybe down there road there will be, but odd as it is to say, my own reaction to everything was the best reaction I could have asked for out of this presentation.

-Linh Pham, VIET Fellow Involvement Tour


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