A million miles from Nashville, the singer caught a glimpse of our best selves.
In 1997 a group I'm a spokesperson for, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), invited me to Vietnam and Cambodia to see the results of its efforts to help victims of conflict.
There used to be more land mines in Cambodia than there were human beings. Even today someone in the world is killed or maimed by a land mine every 20 minutes. It's terrorism in slow motion.
Cambodia also has an inordinate number of kids who've had polio. One of the polio patients at the VVAF-run rehabilitation clinic I visited was a 12-year-old girl who had crawled her entire life. Through intense physical therapy, she learned to walk with canes. But when she went back to her village for a Buddhist holiday, she needed a wheelchair. So a couple of people from the clinic and I went to deliver it. I remember thinking, I'm on the Mekong River in a speedboat with awheelchair strapped to the back, going to a tiny village in Cambodia. And in that instant, I saw the horrible things that we, as a species, are capable of, but I also saw how human beings can plug into the better angels of their nature.
I met so many people who devote their lives to making other lives better. Though I wasn't one of the ones rolling up my sleeves doing the work, I felt very humbled just to be there.
Emmylou Harris's new album, Stumble into Grace (Nonesuch), is a collection of her latest songs. For more information about the VVAF, go to vvaf.org.
From the February 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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