Agent Orange victim studies abroad in India
VietNamNet Bridge – Returning home for summer holiday after two years studying in India, 27-year-old Vuong Thi Quyen from Thanh Luong Hamlet, Quang Xuan Commune, in the central province of Quang Binh, is as determined as ever to leave her mark on the world.
Hard work pays off: The representative of Quang Trach District’s Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin gives a present to Quyen after she won the scholarship to attend Niilm University. Photo qbtv.vn
Although she weighs just barely 28kg, she defeated many other ‘weighty’ applicants to win a scholarship for one young, talented female student, awarded by the Ministry of External Affairs of India.
Quyen is currently a third-year student in the faculty of journalism and mass communication at Niilm University in Kaithal City, India.
According to Vuong Quoc Thuan, Quyen’s father, she is the youngest daughter in the family. She is also the only one of his four children to suffer from the effects of herbicide dioxin Agent Orange, which was sprayed by the US military during the American War in Viet Nam.
At birth, Quyen used to be as physically normal as other children of the same age. However, when she reached nine, a tumour started to grow on her back and got bigger over time.
“Conclusions from the local hospital stated that she has deformed bone structure, which is the consequence of the development of the tumour. All the nutrition is absorbed by the tumour, making her body very skinny,” Thuan said.
But Quyen has never been defeated by her unfortunate fate. She has always performed best at school and was ranked among excellent students at secondary and high schools.
After graduating from Quang Binh University, majoring in computer science, Quyen was hired to work for Quang Trach District’s Association for Victims of Agent Orange/ Dioxin.
“Sometimes I cast doubt on her working ability, but Quyen has always made me feel as if she were neither handicapped nor a victim of Agent Orange,” says Dang Ngoc Van, chairman of the association.
Quyen’s chance came when Viet Nam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs of India jointly launched an interview to award a scholarship to a young talented female student in 2014.
Triumphing over many other contestants, she won the US$6,200 scholarship to attend Niilm University.
At Niilm University, most international students come from Africa and Asia, like Uganda, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Nepal, all of whom are the children of officials serving in the ministries of foreign affairs.
Globetrotters: Quyen (centre standing) poses with her international friends at Niilm University. Photo bqtv.vn
There are only three Vietnamese students at the university, and only Quyen is a victim of Agent Orange.
“My international friends had no idea about the disaster caused to Viet Nam by Agent Orange or its victims. But then they understood, welcomed me with admiration and have helped me a lot,” she said.
Her first days at school were a struggle. She fell far behind her classmates because her English skills were lacking, and all the teaching and textbooks were in English.
With the assistance of two Vietnamese students, Quyen spent most of her time, besides attending lectures, honing her English.
By the end of the first term, she was able to communicate as fluently as other students. From an average mark of 60/100, Quyen has acquired nearly 70/100 for each subject. Her great efforts have made a good impression on her international friends.
For a victim of Agent Orange, living in a foreign land seems to be fraught with enormous difficulties, from the erratic climate to different eating habits.
The weather in India is severe. In summer, the temperature can be as high as 48 degrees Celsius, while in winter it can plunge to below 0 degrees Celsius. Quyen’s body is highly sensitive to changes in the weather, and she sometimes feels tired and suffers from pain.
In Haryana State where Quyen is living, most of the residents are Hindus and vegetarians. Despite living there for two years already, she has not been able to get accustomed to the food. Quyen therefore has to ask her friends to go shopping for her and cook the food herself.
“I’m entering the third term and also the final term at Niilm University. My two Vietnamese friends have already finished their courses and come back home. Now I’m the only Vietnamese at Niilm University, which makes me a bit worried,” Quyen said.
“I have a lot of dreams after graduating,” she said. “I have been tremendously supported spiritually and financially from my family and the whole community. After this summer holiday, I have to be back to school. However, I’m sick most of the time in India, so my only wish now is to have good health to finish my last term so that I could repay what I have been offered and contribute to society.”