A farmer in central Vietnam who lost his hand in a bomb explosion almost four decades ago is now an international ambassador working to raise awareness of the consequences of explosive remnants.
He is Pham Quy Thi, 59, of Dien Sanh Village in Hai Lang District’s Hai Tho Commune in Quang Tri Province.
He is informally called the ‘one handed ambassador’ and has travelled to 30 nations around the world to give lectures and raise awareness in communities of the consequences of explosives left from the U.S. war in Vietnam.
An accident that changed his life
While speaking with a Tuoi Tre journalist in his house under the scorching sun, Thi recalled the accident that changed his life in the summer of 1977.
“I just wanted to die after I realized in the hospital that I was left with only one hand and countless injuries on my body after a bomb exploded near me.
“During the months I stayed in the Hue Hospital, I was obsessed with thinking about how I could earn a living with one hand. I became extremely depressed.”
However, he grew determined not to give in; “But I had to live, whatever the reason was.” He then began adapting to a life as a farmer with one hand.
Two years after the accident, he married a local woman who admired his energy, courage, and determination to lead an independent life.
Pointing toward the farm near his house, he said, “You see, I own three acres of rice, and I do it alone.”
Thanks to his hard work, he could afford to send his three children to universities, and they are now able to find good jobs.
After securing a more stable life for himself, Thi began helping locals who also became disabled from accidental explosions.
Feeling inferior as disabled people, many victims have turned to alcohol abuse.
In 2004, he mobilized locals to set up a club for handicapped people to build a community that encourages mutual support.
In 2008, he set up an athletic club for the handicapped.
An international ambassador
Also in 2008, Thi worked as a volunteer for RENEW, a U.S. NGO, and Handicap International, a non-governmental organization of Belgium to raise awareness in the community and prevent more people from getting injured by explosions.
“I helped educate locals, especially children, on the dangers of making a living from selling remnants of explosive material,” he said.
“Explosive remnants from the U.S. War are extremely dangerous, as is attempting to earn a living from collecting and selling them,” he concluded.
From his motivation, he was shortlisted by Handicap International to join 50 other volunteers to travel to Hanoi, where one of them would be chosen to be an international ambassador.
He was selected as an international ambassador after answering the three questions given by Handicap International representatives:
“What do you need most, as the victim of explosive remnants?”
“What I need most is to have the chance to represent other victims to call for peace and prevention of more injuries,” he replied. Other volunteers said they needed a crutch, a wheelchair, and other such things that would only help them, not anyone else.
“Do you need a salary if you are selected?”
“Why do you want this job?”
“I am working for victims like me and for my people.”
Since then, in his posititon, he has traveled to 30 nations around the world, including Lebanon, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Norway, Germany, Ireland, and Zambia to give speeches on the consequences of explosives remaining from the U.S. war.
He makes jokes about his injuries. “I have been living with bombs and mines, explosive remnants from the war. Four pieces of bomb shell are still inside my body.”
With 800,000 tons of explosive remnants left over from the war across Vietnam, it will take the nation 300 years to clear all of the remains, according to the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense.