August 19, 2013
From 1997 to 2007, Charles Bailey was the Ford Foundation representative in Vietnam. At the start of his posting, the war in Vietnam had been over for more than twenty years, but one of its legacies, environmental contamination caused by the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange, was an under-addressed concern. Bailey looked into the facts of Agent Orange use in the Southeast Asian country and began to develop a vocabulary that American and Vietnamese officials could use to discuss the issue. After a few years, Ford invited the Aspen Institute, which has expertise in facilitating difficult conversations, to initiate a dialogue around the issue, and the two governments began to talk. Eventually, the United Nations, other NGOs and foundations, and several European governments joined the conversation.
But one thing was missing, says Bailey, and that was a way to connect the American public to the effort. With his encouragement, Active Voice, a social documentary shop in San Francisco, put together a three-minute public-service video, "Make Agent Orange History," while San Francisco State University contributed fresh reporting to the discussion through its Vietnam Reporting Project. In 2011, Bailey moved to the Aspen Institute, where he continues to support dialogue, advocacy, and public education around the issue.
Recently, PND spoke with Bailey about the Agent Orange program and what remains to be done.
Philanthropy News Digest: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently met with President Obama in Washington, D.C. Why was the meeting significant?
Charles Bailey: President Sang is the second Vietnamese head-of-state to visit the U.S. since the two countries normalized relations in 1995, and his visit was an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable progress made since 2007 in at last addressing the legacy of Agent Orange. Over the last six years, our Agent Orange in Vietnam Program has had a hand in raising over $100 million to assist Vietnam to begin to deal with this legacy from the U.S.-Vietnam War. Even more important for the future, President Obama and President Sang issued a joint statement at the end of their talks on July 26 that contained a key statement: "The president reaffirmed the United States' commitment to providing further medical and other care and assistance for people with disabilities, regardless of cause."
I published an op-ed in the Huffington Post on the occasion urging both presidents to take advantage of this breakthrough and include language on disability services and rights as part of a new comprehensive partnership agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.