Two Royal Australian Navy Nursing Officers deployed to Vietnam for Exercise Pacific Partnership 2017 have marked Mother's Day in a particularly meaningful way this year - spending time with children with disabilities at an Agent Orange Rehabilitation Centre in Da Nang.
Exercise Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Lieutenant Commander Alison Zilko and Lieutenant Angela French spent a day at the centre which looks after children who have disabilities caused by the effects of dioxin, a compound of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War to defoliate large areas of jungle in order to deny the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese food and cover. More than 40 years after the war, dioxin is still found in soil used for growing crops throughout many rural areas of central Vietnam.
There are more than 1,400 children in Da Nang with disabilities linked to dioxin contamination, and many of their families struggle to provide the care they need. Centres like the Agent Orange Rehabilitation Centre in Da Nang exist to give the children a supportive place to learn, play and be cared for.
Lieutenant Commander Alison Zilko said the visit touched the hearts of all involved.
"Being a Mother who is spending Mother's Day away from my own children this year, it made my heart swell to be able to put smiles on the faces of these young ones," Lieutenant Commander Zilko said.
"I was dancing around with them and being a bit of a goose, and the more I was a goose, the more fun they had - and that's ok with me. Those smiles made it all totally worth it."
"You know, I can't be with my own children back in Australia, but I can be with these beautiful children here. It was nice to be able to connect with them, and show them that we care."
Lieutenant Angela French, who is also a mother of two, said the group of Pacific Partnership visitors also rolled up their sleeves to do something positive to help the centre.
"Together with some other volunteers from the US Navy and Army and the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force, we ploughed a weed-covered field so that the centre's volunteer gardener can now plant vegetables to help feed the children," Lieutenant French said.
"It was a small contribution, but I was so very grateful for the opportunity to do something to help."
"This visit has been really very meaningful to me. I may have even gotten a little emotional at one point, but meeting these children and helping out in the yard was truly a wonderful Mother's Day gift - one that I won't ever forget."
Exercise Pacific Partnership originated from the multi-national response to the 2004 tsunami in Banda Aceh. Australia has participated in every iteration of the annual exercise, demonstrating ongoing commitment to building regional capacity in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and regional security.
Pacific Partnership is predominantly a field training exercise which enhances interoperability between partner and host nations, and builds resilience, security and stability across the Indo-Asia-Pacific regions.