Jul 19, 2008

Phùng Tüu Bôi

Meet Phùng Tüu Bôi, the driving force behind much of the reforesting around Hué. A botanist by training, "Dr. Boi" (he's not really a doctor, I've just conferred him with an honorary degree) has not only spearheaded replanting in areas devastated by Agent Orange and Napalm during the war, he's also planted green fences around dioxin hot spots to cordon off the area from humans and animals and thus prevent more dioxins from entering the food chain.

Dr Boi is a gentle man with an easy smile and though he claims to be retired, he's the most active retiree I've ever met. His concern extends beyond the land to include the health and welfare of the people living in these war-scarred areas. His next project brings the reforstation effort to everyone's backyard, as he wants to plant fast-growing trees that produce non-edible nuts and harvestable wood to supplement the income of local people. Many people now sell fresh-water fish raised in ponds (bomb craters actually) in their back yards. Industrious yes, however many of these ponds, and the fish that swim in them, have elevated dioxin levels. The fun just never stops.

In our conversation I also learned about four other regions of South Vietnam that were heavily hit with the Agent Orange/Napalm blitzkreig and that are also undergoing significant replanting efforts. If I want to continue with this project and gather enough material for a book, I now know where to look.

In the meantime I'll have the chance to host Dr. Boi in New York in November. As a result of Christie Aschwanden's New York Times article last year, several concerned New Yorkers donated money to Dr. Boi's cause. He'll be coming to town to meet and thank them personally. I will have my photos printed by that time and will work towards staging an exhibition to coincide with his visit.

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