Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday - November 8, 2009: Saigon

A few more items left on my 'to do' list before my flight home on Tuesday morning. One of the 'to do' items involves searching for information for one of the thousands of adoptees who left Viet Nam prior to the end of the war.

On April 3, 1975, U.S President Gerald Ford announced that 2,000 orphans from South Viet Nam would be flown to new homes in the U.S. Known as Operation Newlife, it had two phases. Phase one involved evacuating more than 100,000 refugees to Guam, including 2,600 orphans in Operation Babylift.

On April 4, 1975, the initial Operation Babylift mission flight, a C-5A aircraft, took off from Tan Son Nhut airport (Saigon, South Viet Nam) filled with children from Saigon orphanages. Shortly after, the plane encountered mechanical failures. With great difficulty, the pilot managed to crash land the aircraft in a rice paddy south of the airport. Thanks to the aircrew's skill, 176 of the 314 onboard survived, including 150 orphans.

At least 2,000 children were eventually brought to the U.S and approximately 1,300 went to Canada, Europe, and Australia. A documentary, Operation Babylift: The Lost Children of Vietnam, was released in April 2009 - Over the course of many years doing charity work in Viet Nam, I have gotten to know some of the adoptees (Chris and Kelly Brownlee) and volunteer (Betty Tisdale) featured in this documentary.

Today I will spend part of my day tracing information for one of the adoptees, Viktoria Cowley who is currently living in London. Arming myself with old photos and 34 year- old information, I walk the new neighborhood looking for an old orphanage. The district is no longer under the same name, street names have been changed, and the orphanage has been closed down since the end of the war. You can view a brief trailer of a documentary by the BBC, Special Delivery The Babies of the Mercy Mission, featuring Viktoria at .

This is not the first time I have been involved with tracing and connecting one of the thousands of adoptees with their past. I am glad that I could be a very small part of their journey. In April 2010, Operation Reunite will bring many of these adoptees back to Viet Nam, some for the very first time. If you know of any adoptees from Operation Babylift or Mercy Mission, please contact us. Team Operation Reunite would like to connect with them

2010 will also mark the 35th anniversary of the end of the war. The 12th HumaniTour Viet Nam is scheduled for March 27 through April 4, 2010. Sign up now if you want to travel with us, please write to for more information.

Kim Browne (center) is one of the 1975 Viet Nam adoptees in London, and a member of team Operation Reunite and Global Ambassador of KWB. Kim left Viet Nam when she was two months old and returned to the Go Vap Orphanage for the first time in 2007. Since then, Kim is a devoted volunteer and supporter of the orphanage.

Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Saturday - November 7, 2009: Saigon

Breaking the cycle: with a little help from the Teach Me To Fish (TM2F) program

Tonight is the usual reunion of thirty some orphans formerly from Go Vap Orphanage. Each time I come to Saigon, a night is set aside for the reunion dinner of these grown kids supported by the Teach Me To Fish program. All of them grew up in the Go Vap Orphanage, then moved to the Picasso Orphanage. Most are out on their own, some have started their own families.

We meet at the usual restaurant. Some of the kids have to travel several hours by bus to reach the city center. We have done this so many times, they all know the routine. Each comes looking his/her best, it is the biggest event of the year since the last reunion (back in July) and until the next one (next year in April).

These children, now young adults, grew up together. They used to live under the same roof, sleep in the same big room, eat together, study together, play with each other just as other families with sibblings. Then they moved out of the orphanage and started their own lives. Some now they live in small groups, near where they work, support and care for each other. When one is ill, many will come and take turn to care for him or her. They look after each other as a big family.

I must admit there were times when I underestimated these kids. As much as we (through the TM2F program) tried to prepare them for life outside of the orphanage, they started on their own with very little. They work hard, study hard, follow good work ethics, help each other, and give back, if and when they can. Some have achieved their most important dream, breaking the cycle of being an orphan by having a family of their own. Almost all are giving all they have to escape the cycle of poverty.

It costs less than US$1 a day to support one of the many orphans in the Teach Me To Fish program. To contribute on line, go to: .

View photos of some of the TM2F kids at:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friday - November 6, 2009: Saigon

Today I accompanied a team of American volunteer medical doctors and nurses with Project Vietnam ( on their visit to the Go Vap Orphanage. They will see first hand many of the sick and disabled babies and children and meet with the management staff and the orphanage doctor and physical therapist.
The Go Vap Orphanage:
Located in the Go Vap District approximately 20 minutes from the Saigon city center, this orphanage has been around for more than 100 years. Currently the orphanage has 227 children from newborns to 14 years old. More than 180 of these children are sick with a variety of mental or physical illnesses, many of these are life-threatening.
I have been involved with this orphanage for more than 10 years. In past years, through the support of various organizations I have been able to help improving the quality of life for the children in the orphanage. To give you some ideas of the ongoing needs, here are some of the items we have provided for the orphanage: clean water (a new water storage and distribution system), washer and dryer, new baby cribs, computers, training for staff, wages for additional staff, weekly English class, school supplies, medical supplies (including invaluable medical shunts for babies suffering from hydrocephalus), baby products, new children clothes, hygiene products, dental care products, and many volunteers coming from many different countries around the world.
To contribute to support our work or to volunteer, please visit our website at or write to us at .

View more photos at

Watch short video of the orphans in the Go Vap Orphanage English class.

Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon

Thursday - November 5, 2009: Saigon

Back in Saigon, I had a chance to visit with Geroge and Joyce McHenry. Dr. George McHenry is the Head of Det Norske Veritas Academy, and Dr. Joyce McHenry is the Associate Professor of the Oslo School of Management. Both are from Norway and currently live and work in Viet Nam. Joyce and George started the Hai Phong Charity Program joining KWB in supporting the children in the Hoa Phuong Orphanage.
Over dinner, we discussed possible ways to grow the Hai Phong Charity Program and ways to involve more expatriates from Hai Phong City. We also shared ideas and discussed ways to support the Teach Me To Fish orphans with vocational training and higher education.

Since I started KWB in January 2001, our network of volunteers has grown worldwide. I have gotten to know so many extraordinary individuals who have given unconditionally of their skills, talents, experiences, time, and money to support our programs and projects. Our volunteers come from many different countries, are all different ages, and have all types of skills and talents. They have helped us make small differences around the world and, in turn, receive life-changing experiences. It's the POWER OF ONE.
THANK YOU, George and Joyce, Leanne, Mrs. Truc, Sarah, Virag, Ms. Chi, Ngoc Minh, and so many others. Looking for a life-changing experience? Join our POWER OF ONE team. To volunteer, please write to us.

George and Joyce, suurounded by some of the Teach Me To Fish orphans (and two children of one of the orphan)

Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wednesday - November 4, 2009: Hanoi

Thien Nhan, the Miracle Baby:
I had the opportunity to visit our Miracle Baby in Hanoi. The family, Mom Mai Anh and Dad Nghinh, brothers Big and Little Minh, and Thien Nhan, came to my hotel for dinner. It has become a tradition now since I first met the family back in July 2008. Each time I am in Hanoi, we meet at the restaurant in the Melia Hotel for dinner. The hotel and restaurant staff adore Thien Nhan and let him roam freely in the restaurant and around the hotel lobby (and escalator, stairways, lobby lounge, ...). Thien Nhan has just recovered from a bad cold, following his trip to the U.S for medical care. He had several medical tests in Houston (Texas) and his adoptive parents are still waiting for the results from the tests, which will determine his future medical treatments. To learn more about the Miracle Baby, enter 'Miracle Baby' in the search box on this blog.
Teach Me To Fish (TM2F), reporting from Hanoi:
Currently we have four young women supported by the Teach Me To Fish program who live and work in Hanoi. We had our usual 'reunion dinner', a trip to the market to shop for clothes and some personal items, and some time for 'lifeskill coaching' and problem solving.
- Thao: has been serving as KWB in-country representative in Hanoi. Thao works in sales for Protec (affiliated with Asia Injury Prevention Foundation, a partner organization of KWB). Her English continues to improve, thanks to the night classes she takes. Thao looks after the other TM2F kids in Hanoi and Hai Phong. She makes monthly visits to the Hoa Phuong Orphanage (her old home), checks up on the orphans and lets us know of any needs or difficulties.
- Mo: is working at an upscale garment shop in downtown Hanoi. She received her certificate in restaurant service, worked in a restaurant briefly. Then she saw a better opportunity working in a field where she might have better opportunity to grow with her excellent skill as a seamstress. Mo asked me to send a request to her sponsor's in New York to attend evening English classes. Mo is still suffering from a medical issue and we have arranged for her to get a blood test. We will then follow up with her based on the results of the test.
- Lien: completed restaurant service training and now works at an upscale restaurant near the Hanoi Opera House. Since most of the restaurant customers are foreign tourists, she has had the opportunity to use her English regularly and to improve her language skills daily.
- Giang: completed restaurant service training and works at the same restaurant near the Hanoi Opera House.
To learn more about the Teach Me To Fish program, enter 'Teach Me To Fish' in the search box on this blog.
From left to right: Mo, Thao, and Lien.

Son Michael Pham reporting from Hanoi.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tuesday - November 3, 2009: Hanoi

Beautiful weather in Hanoi. Hoan Kiem Lake is surrounded by flowers, and bustling with people from early in the morning until late night. The city is counting down to the 1000th birthday celebration which is less than a year away.

Beautiful time of the year in Hanoi

Saving lives: I visited with two medical doctors from the U.S. They are in Viet Nam with a medical team from CardioStart International performing and teaching life saving heart surgery for children with congenital heart defects. The team is working at the Viet Duc Hospital preparing for the very first Human Tissue Valve Replacement performed in Viet Nam.
From left to right: Dr. Yen, Thao, Giang, Dr. Tien, and Mo. Thao, Giang, and Mo are Teach Me To Fish kids live and work in Hanoi

Three of the girls in the Teach Me To Fish Program spending a fun day in downtown Hanoi.

Monday - November 2, 2009: Hai Phong:

Latest news on some of the orphans in the Teach Me To Fish program:

Some of the Teach Me To Fish (TM2F) orphans (and their children) at a reunion in Hai Phong, the usual gathering spot whenever I visit them.

- Duong (female): she continues to do excellent in school. Duong also takes English night classes and her English is better every day. She is scheduled to leave the orphanage in July 2010.

- Dien (female): she is currently working in a factory in Hai Phong. Dien completed her training in hotel service (housekeeping and room attendant) in Hanoi last year. She got very good reviews working as a trainee/intern at a five star hotel in Hanoi. Unfortunately due to the slow down in tourism, Dien was not able to land a hotel job after she completed her internship. Dien moved back to Hai Phong and found a job in a textile factory. She had some health problems and we were able to get her the needed treatment. Dien has one physical obstacle which prevents her from landing a decent job: her height. Even though she is pleasant, hard working, and willing to learn, employers consider her too short.

- Tung (male): he studies hard but is only doing average in his last year of high school. Currently, Tung studies soldering after school. He hopes to land a job in Hai Phong working in a steel factory or ship building when he leaves the orphanage in July 2010.

- Duong (male): in 11th grade. Duong lost both of his parents due to illnesses and he has lived in the orphanage since he was 10 years old. Since the music program started, Duong is seldom seen without his guitar. He just loves playing the guitar and loves the music classes. He used to be shy and quiet, now he is always beaming with a big smile and showing the self confidence and self esteem he has gained from playing music.

Want to view the photos of these few kids in the TM2F program, visit:

Please help us to continue to support these orphans through the Teach Me To Fish program with your contributions. For less than $1 a day, we are able to walk with them today, so they can run on their own tomorrow. To make a donation, go to:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Sunday - November 1, 2009: Hai Phong

Hoa Phuong Orphanage in Hai Phong:

This Sunday is a community wide clean-up day in Hai Phong. Students in school uniforms filled the streets sweeping and picking up trash. At the Hoa Phuong orphanage, every Sunday is designated for cleaning. Kids are out sweeping the ground, gathering leaves and branches, or tending the garden. Inside each of the eight homes, everyone is busy with laundry, sweeping and mopping the floors, or cooking.

There are eight homes on the ground of the Hoa Phuong Orphanage, six 'families', one 'home for boys' (over 14 years old), one 'home for disabled kids', and one for 'street children'. A 'mother' and up to ten orphans make up a family. The house for street children is used as a temporary shelter until the kids are reunited with their parents or relatives. Orphans have to leave when they turn eighteen to make room for younger orphans. Four are scheduled to leave the orphanage in July 2010. Through the Teach Me To Fish (TM2F) Program, Kids Without Borders will walk with them until they can run on their own. It takes a little help to make it on your own.

I joined one of the families for lunch. The kids spent all morning preparing a delicious meal. We all sat in a circle on the floor on straw mats enjoying lunch. After cleaning up and doing the dishes, the kids skipped the usual 'siesta' and instead they gathered around me in the courtyard under the shades for conversation and small games. It was a beautiful day in Hai Phong with temperature in the low 80s, sunny blue skies, and a constant breeze.

Later in the afternoon, from the courtyeard we could hear the sound of violins playing. Recently some expatriates living in Hai Phong formed a charity group to support underserved children in the area, working as partners of KWB. It was an idea by Dr. Joyce McHenry from Norway who is currently living and working in Hai Phong and it was launched after I had a brief meeting with Joyce and Mr. Jack Reilly, General Manager of the Harbour View Hotel back in April, and followed by many emails. The luxurious Harbour View Hotel in Hai Phong has conducted several fundraising events to purchase musical instruments and launch music classes (teaching violin and guitar) at the orphanage.
You can make online donations to KWB to support our work with the children in this orphanage.

Meet Sarah (left) and Virag, two of the volunteers supporting the Hoa Phuong Orphanage program.

Sarah, from Norway:
I live in Hai Phong because I'm working at the Harbor View Hotel as a trainee.I am originally from Norway where I got my Hotel Management degree. I got involved in this charity project through the hotel and I think it is a nice way to do something for the children in the orphanage. What I especially like about the Music Project is that it involves music and its aim to give the children more than their "basic needs" like food and shelter. This Music Project wants to give the children self confidence and skils that can provide a positive effect on their self image. I like it :)

Virag, from Hungary:
I garduated as a biologist when I came to Viet Nam - beacuse of my fiancee's job - I could not continue my work that I had in Hungary. I had been in a few developing countries and I always had to face the fact of how big the difference is between the living standards of the West and the developing countries. I believe it is good opportunity to help children who live in poor conditions. In Hungary I could work with needy children when I participated in a dog-therapy volunteer program with my dog. The smiles of those children made me really happy during that period and I hope those smiles meant a little change in their life. the orphans's needs might be different but I hope we can make a change in their life and make them smile even more.

Smiling children, always love to pose for photos

Look who wants to join us at lunch

Duong, talented in many things, and a quick learner in violin
View more photos:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Saturday - October 31, 2009: Saigon

Go Vap Orphanage in Saigon:

Met a new baby arrived at the orphanage just one week ago. His name is Phan Chien Thang. Chien Thang can be translated as Victory. Unfortunately Victory ended up in the Go Vap Orphanage barely two months old with some major challenges. Victory was born with no ears, not even ear holes on either side of his head. It also appears that he is blind.

Victory is one of the almost 300 kids in Go Vap, most are either with life threatening illnesses or disabled. Next Friday, I will accompany a team of medical doctors from the U.S on a medical mission in Viet Nam by Project Viet Nam. They will have a busy day meeting with the orphanage doctors, nurses, and staff and reviewing the most urgent cases.

Victory sleeping peacefully in his crib

Nhat, survived hydrocephalus

Always happy, orphans with developmental and/or physical disabilities

Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Chu (Uncle) Son is back in Viet Nam - Fall 2009

Kids Without Borders Founder Son Michael Pham is currently on his annual fall trip to Viet Nam. Son Michael is known as 'Chu Son' (Uncle) to the children throoughout Viet Nam. You can follow Chu Son on this blog. Here is his first report.

Saturday - October 31, 2009
It's 8am and the crowd starts to grow enjoying the weekend morning public concert on the step of the Opera House. It's a a warm and sunny morning in Saigon. However on the horizon is another typhoon heading toward Viet Nam. It is expected to land in the central area within the next 72 hours, where people are still picking up from the devastating Ketsana typhoon.

Watch morning musical concert:
I will spend part of the day at the Go Vap Orphanage, and then a brief reunion with nongovernmental colleagues and friends (all of us are members of the Vietnamese American NGO Network ( and we will discuss our work and collaboration on this trip.
Son Michael Pham reporting from Saigon.