Barry Kelly spends time with one of the orphans in the Ba Ria orphanage in Vietnam.
Barry Kelly spends time with one of the orphans in the Ba Ria orphanage in Vietnam. Contributed

Veteran's life-changing return to Vietnam

FOR Barry Kelly, a recent trip to the old battlefields of Vietnam brought with it a fear of dredging up old demons, but what happened took a hardened old warrior very much by surprise.

One of the main points of the trip was to deliver about 10million Vietnamese dong ($800) to an orphanage set up by Australian soldiers in 1966, during the Vietnam War.

But when Mr Kelly and his mate Terry Smart got there, they were refused entry.

Thankfully a helpful guide found another solution.

"She told us of another orphanage, set up by the Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group and the Australian Government in the 1990s," Mr Kelly said.

"This place was set up specifically for children with disabilities.

"Now at this point we'd already toured Long Tan and Nui Dat, and whereas I thought I'd struggle there, I just thought what a waste of lives it had all been. "But when I saw these blind and twisted kids, that tore me to shreds.

We handed over the money we'd brought and spent the whole day with the kids and finding out what more we could do to help."

HIS CALLING: Barry Kelly makes some new mates at the orphanage in Ba Ria, Vietnam.
HIS CALLING: Barry Kelly makes some new mates at the orphanage in Ba Ria, Vietnam. Contributed

Mr Kelly, who fought a class action against Monsanto and Agent Orange for 15 years, has four children of his own with disabilities, something he believes can be linked to his own exposure to the chemical in Vietnam.

"I spent $100,000 and lost a marriage fighting that case," Mr Kelly said.

"And ended up with nothing.

"My kids had problems like deafness, curvature of the spine and heart defects and the kids in that orphanage all had serious birth defects."

Agent Orange was a herbicide used by American and Australian forces in Vietnam to clear the jungle, to establish a clear line of fire.

Debate raged for years afterwards about its effects on the people who came into contact with it.

As such,Mr Kelly said he felt compelled to return to the orphanage to help out.

"I was sad and angry at seeing the state of the gorgeous little children, just dumped there by parents who didn't want them.

"I feel a calling, a responsibility to do something about it.

"I'll be going back at the end of the year, and want to raise $4000 to take with me this time.

"They need English teachers, so I'll help out doing that, teaching basic English to the kids."


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