Photo credit: Peter Markowski
“The Vietnam War left our country devastated, with the living conditions worsened by an oppressive communist regime. Seeing no future for her six children in Vietnam, our widowed mother decided to put our fate in God's hands by taking us out to sea in a wooden boat in the hopes of finding freedom from war and poverty.
Despite being five years old, I remember sitting on my mother's lap in the belly of a wooden fishing boat, crammed together with 300 other anxious refugees. It was suffocating. We weren't allowed on deck, which was especially hard for my older sister who got extremely seasick from the rough waves that thrashed our boat. For two days we were at sea, enclosed in thick, sour air. However, we were the lucky ones because we learned afterwards that the boat that had departed just minutes before ours had crashed at sea taking the lives of all on board.
When our family arrived in Canada, we were warmly received by a group of sponsors. My first impression was one of great joy when one of our sponsors' children gave me a doll at the airport. The doll was a symbol of the kindness and generosity of so many Canadians. These sponsors went on to play a key role in helping us make Canada our home. To this day, we remain grateful to them, and for nearly forty years they have remained our dearest friends.
I wanted to honor them by paying forward this kindness and generosity. Seeing and hearing the news of the ongoing desperation of the Syrian refugees made it difficult for many of us here to sleep at night. I didn’t know how to help, but then I remembered what Mother Teresa said and that was ‘you can do no great thing, only small things with great love.’ That gave me clarity to help sponsor two Syrian refugee families to give them hope and freedom. Fortunately, I was surrounded by many amazing friends who were eager to help.
Together, we were able to partner with the Mennonite Centre of Canada to bring over the two families. I feel a poignant connection to the larger family, which is why I brought a little doll for the youngest daughter, Alma. Perhaps in forty years, my friends and I can look back and say that, in this one moment in time, we did make Canada and the world a little better. It has been wonderful so far. The families are so kind and gracious, and we look forward to seeing the children blossom as they make our country even more beautiful.
I want to live in honor of their kindness by living a purposeful life congruent with the values instilled in me. My mother taught me that ‘people can take everything away from you, but they cannot take away your education.’ I see education as the key to a creating a more equal society free from hatred, ignorance, injustice and poverty. Hence, as a medical doctor, I identify education as one of the most important factors for improving public health.
Because my friends and I know how important education is in making this world better, we founded the Children of Vietnam Benevolent Foundation in 2013. It is a registered Canadian charity with the mission to help, through education, give hope and opportunities to the impoverished children of Vietnam.
Although I am a proud Canadian, I cannot ignore the fact that so many of our little brothers and sisters who remained in Vietnam are still living in poverty, after all these years. Because of the many blessings we have in our life in Canada, the purpose of the Foundation is to work to pay forward and honor the kindness and generosity we ourselves received.”