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An Epic Battle

The ‘Epic Battle’ occurred in Prince Albert, but it began in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese war broke out in the 1950’s and continued until 1975. The war concluded when North Vietnam took control of South Vietnam’s capital, Saigon. 

Thousands of South Vietnamese fled the North Vietnamese communist regime. Many fled in the dead of night, taking little with them, on overloaded, ill equipped boats, not meant for the high seas upon which they embarked. The survivors, many did not, were dubbed ‘The Boat People,’ and made their way to various refugee camps in Malaysia.

Three of these, a boy of 11, and his older sister and brother, eventually were sent to Prince Albert as part of the Canadian Refugee Program. Once here, they joined an English as a Second Language Course taught by my wife, Fay.

Fay quickly befriended the 11 year old. He was often at our house for dinners, and to interact with our three kids.

The boy went to Boucher Junior High. There he excelled both academically and in extra curricular sports, in particular as a sprinter. That is where the ‘Epic Battle’ occurred. In a 200 meter dash, he and Tim Donais clashed. Neither will say who was the winner – except to say it was a race of two enormous wills giving everything they had right to the finish.

That absolute will to succeed became the driving force that determined that 11 year old’s future.

He eventually graduated in 1985 from St. Mary High School – third in his class – winning the Rotary Scholarship - despite that English was his second language. Throughout his high school career he was no longer supported financially by the Canadian government, and worked every night for long hours in a local restaurant.

After graduation, he made his way to San Diago, California, where he was reunited with family who had also  fled Vietnam. There he met his future wife, also a ‘boat people’ refugee. Her story is one of horror and near death as the boat she was on, carrying more than double the number of people it was made for, devoid of all necessary sanitary requirements, ran out of food and water. She and her family survived by the same sheer will power had that driven her new husband. 

The two entered university, and graduated, honours standing, with Bachelors of Science. 

Then for post grad studies, they applied to several universities, a number of which were Ivy League institutions. They were accepted, with scholarships provided, to the University of New York (NYU) in the college of dentistry. 

They both graduated in the top range of their class. Finding the climate much more to their liking in Pheonix, Arizona, they each opened a dental clinic. Their commitment to hard work brought real success. 

But, that success fuelled a deep desire to give back for all that their new life had given them.

Self financed medical missions took them to: The Dominican Republic, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Mexico, Guatemala, Nepal, and eventually back to Vietnam. Several of these missions resulted in return visits. They provided free dental service, accompanied by free medical supplies, bought and brought by the two philanthropists (philanthropy is not enough of a word for what was done – ‘care givers without boundaries’ seems more suitable).

They were blessed with two children, both of whom soon joined with their parents to be part of the medical missions. In one case the two children, as teenagers, organized, fund raised, and carried out a care giving mission to a remote school in Guatemala. That mission brought solar lighting to the school and its grounds where no other lighting was available. It also brought 500 mosquito nets to the malaria endangered dorms where the students slept.  

How does one sum up such a story of humanitarianism. Perhaps the words of Vyvian, the daughter, when asked what she wanted to share about working in Guatemala, says it all, “As long as you have the vision and perseverance, you can accomplish anything. But the most important message is to simply never give up.”

That ‘never give up’ will carried her parents and grandparents from Vietnam to a new life – a new life full of meaning, full of work, endurance, success, giving back, giving to others - a new life with true meaning.

 

This Whale of a Tale arises as Fay and I recently had the good fortune to catch up with that 11 year old, now in his fifties, and hear how his life has unfolded – it truly was a ‘Whale of a Tale.’    

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Wednesday March 13, 2024