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Vietnamese American community giving back to orphans

Jun. 12, 2018
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One irreplaceable feeling sure to warm your heart is helping others. Commitment in lending a hand is multiplied when helping those with whom you share a connection. Personal equals sincere. At a moment’s notice, you could help a person who is where you once were. Why wouldn’t you help? Similar to “making friends” with the new kid or giving back to your hometown, we empathize with the reflection of our own life experiences. In California, Vietnamese-Americans are completely in tune with this way of thinking; the community uses their resources to invest in their homeland of Vietnam. 

Vietnam is a land lush with environmental diversity and strong in its cultural aspects. After the Vietnam War, sanctions on travel to the Southeast Asian country allowed for American immigrants to visit their homeland. Shockingly, Vietnamese-Americans found their beloved motherland not in the most ideal economic, political, or social standing. From that experience, nonprofit VNHELP was born. 

A number of issues have been addressed and improved through the efforts of VNHELP. One of the major causes for concern is the development of orphanages; the orphanages are built, and the children are clothed and fed. However, people working with the orphanages have noticed orphans’ lack of developmental real-life skills. Once the orphans are on their own, they tend to not be prepared to be independent from the shelter of the orphanage. Nurturing social skills, career guidance, and emotional support are all on the agenda for VNHELP.

 Phi Nguyen, program development director of VNHELP, discussed the direct measures taken to improve life for orphans in a recent video with Mercury News. The nonprofit’s headquarters are in San Jose, but Phi Nguyen visits the Vietnam orphanages personally. The video footage was recorded at the orphanages during his visit, and it mentions how young orphans look to their older counterparts as role models. However, the video emphasizes that these older orphans have not lived in the real world, and also lack in social areas related to adulthood and everyday living. VNHELP decided to bring in other adolescents—specifically, college students from local universities—to begin filling the mentor gap.

The new VNHELP initiative uses volunteers in Vietnam and donors from San Jose to support the program. Psychology and sociology students are the volunteer mentors. Scholarships are offered to participating students, and this opportunity is seen as a chance to benefit the students’ career development, as some students are performing studies while they volunteer. For example, Tinh Le, a Nhan Van University student, aspires to implement sexual education for orphans. VNHELP founder Thu Ahn Do said, “In our program they are taken care of in terms of physical needs. The thing they lack most is mental development.”

Key words to fit this nonprofit include independence and integration. The goal is to increase preparation to integrate into life, and not only for orphans. VNHELP pushes to advocate for those in poverty. Approximately 43% of Vietnam lives on less than $2/day. 

VNHELP stands for Vietnam Health, Education, and Literature Projects. The organization was officially founded as a nonprofit in 1991, and its programs have since aimed to provide services related to education, clean water, economic development, and assisting street children and orphans. After almost 30 years, here are a few of VNHELP’s accomplishments:

  • Vision for the Poor performs free surgeries and post-op care for cataract patients.
  • VNHELP makes micro-finance invests in Vietnamese businesswomen.
  • A restaurant where students from low-income families pay 2,000 VND (around 10 cents) for a meal has been built.

This is just a small tip of the iceberg. In reality, this nonprofit does more than help the poor; it encourages and uplifts the underserved communities of Vietnam. The organization’s mission statement states its mindset clearly: “Our goal is to realize a Vietnam where every individual, regardless of background or standing in life, can achieve self-sufficiency, self-determination, and self-confidence.”  

Donate to VNHELP here