It is a classroom full of sunlight in Vietnam's southern
city formerly known as Saigon, with Mickey Mouse and
Donald Duck painted on the wall overlooking several
But one pupil writes with a pencil held between his
toes, another cannot close her smiling mouth properly
and the oldest of them, Tran Thi Hoan, wheels herself in
and out as her legs have no calves.
They are residents of Ho Chi Minh City's Peace Village
2, a state project set up in 1990 from a ward of Tu Du
Maternity Hospital to help disabled children, mostly
victims of the Vietnam War defoliant Agent Orange.
On Monday, a New York court will begin hearing a lawsuit
brought by more than 100 Vietnamese seeking compensation
and a clean-up of contaminated areas from more than 30
firms, among them Dow Chemical Co and Monsanto Co, the
largest makers of Agent Orange.
It is the first time Vietnamese have sought legal
redress since the Vietnam War ended in April 1975.
"I wish the suit will end with a victory so that the
life of the victims like me could be materially better,"
said Hoan, a 10th-grade student who came to the Peace
Village from the central province of Binh Thuan.
She was also born with no left palm. Hoan's younger
brother died at birth as he had no peritoneum, Hoan
Dr Nguyen Thi Phuong Tan, head of the Peace Village,
said many of her patients suffered from severe physical
defects, while others face chromosome disorder.
"Most of their children were born and grew up in areas
sprayed with the Agent Orange defoliant during the war
in Vietnam," Tan, also member of the Ho Chi Minh City's
committee for Agent Orange victims, told Reuters
U.S. forces sprayed an estimated 20 million gallons of
herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam between
1962 and 1971 to deny food and jungle cover to the
Vietnamese communists, but the chemical remained in the
water and soil decades later.
Agent Orange, named after the color of its containers,
is blamed for nightmarish birth defects in Vietnam where
babies appeared with two heads or without eyes or arms.
U.S. veterans of the war have complained for years of a
variety of health problems from exposure to the
Dioxin, the toxic compound in Agent Orange, has been
shown to cause cancer, birth defects and organ
Vietnam has 12 peace villages and 500 clinics nationwide
to help its 3 million Agent Orange victims.
It is unclear whether the Vietnamese plaintiffs will
succeed, but there are precedents in a 1984 agreement by
Dow and Monsanto to pay $180 million to U.S. veterans.
The U.S. government has refused consistently to discuss
A U.S. lawyer representing the Vietnamese said those
rallying behind the trial included U.S. veterans made
sick by the chemical.
Nguyen Duc, 25, a Peace Village patient who now works
there and is among the Vietnamese bringing the New York
suit, has a twin brother who has been confined to bed
since the 1988 operation in which doctors separated the
twins sharing two legs.
"The U.S. government should pay for their mistakes," Duc
said, sitting in his wheelchair.