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Return to Vietnam

A veteran, his daughter, their journey

‘Garbage Pail Kids’ – life for Cambodian refugees in Tra Vinh


On our way from Can Tho back to Ho Chi Minh City Wednesday, we visited a dump in Tra Vinh, a rural province near the Cambodian border. There, “Doc” Bernie Duff, a Vietnam veteran who moved to Ho Chi Minh City last year, showed us his “Garbage Pail Kids” - a group of about two dozen children, some with parents or grandparents, who live and work in the trash heap, digging around for recyclable pieces of plastic that can earn them about 80 cents a day.

Our group handed out clothes, vitamins, toothbrushes, toiletries, candy and toys, but in contrast to the cash-strapped orphanages and schools we’ve visited, I couldn’t help feeling this was really a hopeless situation. These people are ethnic Cambodians who fled that country, and some don’t speak much Vietnamese. Duff is paying for some of the younger children to go to school, and when the dump is moved in a few months, said he wants to get some showers built at the new site.


Stay tuned for more photos and a profile on Duff as an artist, veteran and grassroots humanitarian. In the meantime, click on the video link below to see 13-year-old Song and 9-year-old Quary show us what they look for in the trash every day.


This entry was posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007 at 6:00 am by Nicole Neroulias. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Category: Vietnam veterans, Vietnam veterans



4 Responses to “‘Garbage Pail Kids’ – life for Cambodian refugees in Tra Vinh”

  1. Anon

    Is it really necessary to perpetuate the insulting “Garbage Pail Kids” label? Seems tasteless to do so. Terminology like this belongs to the province of tabloid journalism.

  2. Nicole Neroulias

    That’s the term Bernie Duff coined for them, and I was quoting him. The children actually do live on top of mountains of trash and search through it all day long … seems to me that sanitizing the term for publication would be doing them a disservice, if the goal here is to convey what their lives are really like. Also, I didn’t find “Garbage Pail Kids” to be pejorative – it’s descriptive, while playing on the popular collecting-card fad from the 1980s with the same name.

    Is there an alternative term you would prefer? (Somehow, I don’t think “Sanitation Engineer Kids” would serve the same purpose…)

  3. Return to Vietnam » Blog Archive » Vietnamese, Cambodian kids show Rockland spirit

    [...] course, the kids we met don’t realize what they’re wearing; they were just happy to have some new clothes. But, [...]

  4. Return to Vietnam » Blog Archive » The cycle of life: peace, war, peace, war, peace…

    [...] for ourselves, courtesy of Bao Anh, Vietnam veteran Bernie Duff’s girlfriend and partner in humanitarian work. Hurtling through the crowds, ankle to ankle with other riders, dodging the random pedestrians, [...]

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About this blog
"Return to Vietnam" chronicles the journey of Col. Andonios Neroulias USA (Ret.) of Briarcliff Manor, NY, joined by his daughter, staff writer Nicole Neroulias, to the country he fought in 40 years ago. They are traveling with Vietnam veterans and Rotarians from Rockland County and other parts of the country. Check this blog for daily posts, photos, recordings and slideshows about their experiences.
About the authors
Nicole and Andonios Neroulias

Nicole Neroulias grew up in Briarcliff Manor, NY, and graduated from Cornell University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has covered religion and city news in Cyprus, Connecticut and California, where she earned several fellowships and prizes, including a national Religion Newswriters Association award. She joined The Journal News in early 2007 and also teaches journalism at Columbia.

Col. Andonios Neroulias emigrated from Greece in 1956 and was commissioned an officer through the ROTC program of the City College of NY. From 1967-68, he served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry (Tropic Lightning) Division, whose main base was in Cu Chi, known for its intricate Viet Cong tunnels. Among his military awards are the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He is retired from the U.S. Army Reserve and lives in Briarcliff Manor, NY.
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