Statewide nonprofit installs water wells in CambodiaIt was back in 1968 and 1969 when Fletcher Hinds, now of Duluth, decided he wanted to give back to the people of Cambodia. At the time, Hinds was serving in the Marines and fighting in the Vietnam War. He said he saw firsthand the suffering and poverty experienced by many Cambodians.
It was back in 1968 and 1969 when Fletcher Hinds, now of Duluth, decided he wanted to give back to the people of Cambodia. At the time, Hinds was serving in the Marines and fighting in the Vietnam War. He said he saw firsthand the suffering and poverty experienced by many Cambodians.
“I saw that women and children are the real victims of the war,” said Hinds, a Duluthian for 35 years. “Our infantry didn’t treat women well, and I personally felt the need to reconcile from those activities I participated in and reach some closure.”
This is what motivated Hinds to establish Minnesota Veterans for Progress (MVP) in 2006. Hinds created the nonprofit organization with the goal of addressing the needs of veterans and military service members while providing aid to the areas where they served.
“The purpose is to help Vietnam veterans move toward reconciliation and emotional closure of their service,” said Hinds, president of MVP. “The idea is that if we can get veterans to return to and participate in the culture of that area, it will help them reconcile.”
One of the ways the organization reaches its goal is by allowing veterans of the Vietnam War to do humanitarian projects in Southeast Asia. Water Wells for Cambodia is a project that was started in 2008 to install water wells in the city of Siem Reap.
At the start of the project, MVP members installed water wells by using well drillers. Now, the organization provides funds for a non-governmental organization (NGO) to install the water wells.
Water Wells for Cambodia has installed 35 water wells in the city of Siem Reap since it began. Hines said the organization installs at least 10 wells a year at the cost of $350 each. Every year, a member of MVP travels to Cambodia to check on the installation of the wells.
Water Wells for Cambodia is funded solely by individual donations from throughout the state. Members of MVP have been giving presentations throughout Duluth to provide information about the project.
Hinds said MVP chose Cambodia for the project because of the country’s lack of infrastructure. He also said that Cambodia has the poorest health care of any nation in Southeast Asia and that its communities live in great poverty.
“The Cambodian government established rehabilitative communities in 2004, but they have been unable to provide the basic services to these communities as promised,” Hines said.
MVP’s website says that 6,144 people in Cambodia have been killed since 2000 by landmines and other explosives. The site also says that many rural Cambodians are forced to use landmine-laden land for growing crops to make a living.
Duluthian Tim Dieffenbacher, who served in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1969 and is a member of MVP, has been visiting Cambodia for 15 years to participate in volunteer projects. He said the polluted water many Cambodians use leads to health problems.
“We need to take a look at the needs for basic human subsistence,” he said. “They are every bit as human as we are. They scramble every singe day, and people deserve more than that.”
Dieffenbacher is also concerned with the sociological effects polluted water will have on the city. He said many Cambodians live far from water sources and have to carry 5-gallon pails of water to their homes.
“The first thing we need to do is get their trust and say that somebody really does care,” Dieffenbacher said. “If we can get water into their communities and give them access to water, they can start learning how to grow vegetables. We have a commitment to providing help over there.”
MVP is continuing to give presentations at churches and schools in Duluth and collecting donations in support of this project.
Sewing center project
With the Water Wells for Cambodia project well underway, MVP has been thinking about another humanitarian project for Siem Reap. Fletcher Hind’s wife, Joan, has been running a sewing business called Fancy Work and Fashion out of her home for more than 20 years.
“My thought was to somehow connect sewing to empowering women who have been abused, or whose husbands have died, and have no way to provide for themselves,” Joan said. “It would teach them a skill.”
While her husband was visiting Cambodia, a member of the non-governmental organization that MVP works with brought up the idea of building a sewing center in Siem Reap.
Joan said MVP recently created a proposal for the project and will be collecting donations in support of it.
For more information on Minnesota Veterans for Progress, visit www.mnvetsforprogress.com. Donations can be made by clicking the link “Donate” on the homepage.