Man on a mission

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It has been just over a month since 29-year-old Nguyen Tuan Linh began his epic journey.

Fighting for justice for Vietnam's Agent Orange (AO) victims, Linh has embarked on a mission to collect 30,000 signatures of support by walking across Vietnam.

So far, he has traveled 1,000 kilometers and obtained 12,000 signatures. When the petition is complete, Linh plans to submit it to an advocacy agency.

"The journey for justice - to collect signatures for the AO victims" is printed on the national flag that Linh has been wearing throughout his trans-Vietnam trek, which will take him a total of more than 1,900 kilometers in 61 days.

Linh began his walk in Bien Hoa Town in Dong Nai Province, not far from Ho Chi Minh City, on February 3 and plans to stop on April 4 in northern Phu Tho Province.

Now in the central town of Hue, Linh has 18,000 more signatures to collect to reach his goal.

"When I was a little boy, I saw many veterans and children in my neighborhood affected by AO and I promised myself that I would do something," Linh said.

In 2004, Linh's family left their home in northern Thai Binh Province for southern Bien Hoa Town, where he met many AO victims as part of his youth union activities.

It was then that Linh came up with the idea for the journey.

He shared his plan with one of his colleagues, Vu Xuan Phong, and Phong was in complete agreement. He even volunteered to go along.

"We hugged each other and jumped in the market," he said. "Everyone thought we were crazy."

Linh's family, however, strongly objected to the idea. They were mostly opposed because he was about to get married.

"My fiancée at first also disagreed with me but then she sympathized and helped me to persuade the two families," Linh said. "Unless I had carried out my plan, I could never have kept my mind on the marriage."

After the plan was laid out, Linh threw himself into work to save enough money for the trip.

Finally, the pair began their journey but after 30 kilometers, Phong was hospitalized with appendicitis. Linh had to carry on the expedition alone.

On one of his first days walking into Binh Thuan Province, Linh became lost and couldn't find a house to ask for shelter that night.

By chance, he stumbled upon a tire-repair shack and the owner was so moved by his mission he offered to share his dinner with him as Linh had run out of food.

Each time Linh passed a secondary school or high school, he would stop to collect more signatures and give a talk about his journey.

Mai Thanh Dong, vice principle of Tran Cao Van High School in Quy Nhon Town, where Linh obtained around 2,000 student signatures, told Linh the value of his presentation was worth "100 civics classes."

Linh admits there have been many difficult times where he has been tempted to stop.

"I hadn't gotten familiar with walking and my feet swelled out," he said, "I thought about asking for a lift on a bus or train.

"But then I remembered a friend and veteran, Nguyen Van Quy, telling me to fight for justice by any means, even to die, so I stopped the intention."

Now, when reporters approach Linh to ask questions, he answers without ever breaking his stride, only stopping to collect signatures.

When Linh reaches his final destination of Phu Tho Province, he plans to ride a bicycle back home.

"Then I will start working hard for my marriage," he said.

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