Thursday, December 29, 2011

Teach Me To Fish


We talked in a small restaurant over rice and fish. In many ways the four brothers are like young men anywhere in the world. Duong Kim Thao, 19, is about to take his university entrance exams in June. Tall, handsome and a natural athlete, he seems more excited about being elected captain of his school soccer team than he does at the prospect of more school. Nguyen Van Nghia, 18 years old and as unlike Thao as two brothers can be, is taking his exams much more seriously. He has just ranked first in natural science, math and chemistry in his school and plans to study banking in university. He prefers comic books and music to soccer and swimming. Tran Ngyuen Hoang Phi, 17 and the baby of the group, lets his big brothers do most of the talking (though he does manage to do most of the eating). All three look up to their oldest brother Huynh Tung Hieu who, at 19, is the first one to attend college. He is a serious boy with thick rimmed glasses and serious interests – engineering, books and newspapers are his bread and butter.

However, in one important regard they are very different from young men in much of the world. The boys are orphans and brothers in spirit if not by blood. Their experiences, their challenges and their victories provide an insight into a less regularly examined part of the life of a Vietnamese orphan – leaving the orphanage and carving a new identity and a new place for oneself in Vietnam’s status and family focused world.


The importance of family is hard to overemphasize anywhere in the world and no less so in Vietnam. Responsibilities, identities, duties, marriage, schooling and jobs often revolve around the complex network of family connections that keep the culture, neighborhoods and industries of Vietnam humming. Wealthier students not only attend elite schools but are able to access afterschool programs in English, science, math and a host of other subjects. And looming over every Vietnamese student hoping to enter this country’s growing middle class are the all important National University Entrance Exams held each year in June and July. For the college bound, their scores on these tests can define the rest of their and their family’s lives. Families save and borrow to send their children to the best test prep academies.

The four brothers have none of these advantages. Coming from a world of dedicated but impossibly overworked teachers and nurses, there were no extra classes, tutors or foreign teachers to help these boys perfect their math, science or English pronunciation. Yet, while their material conditions may be limited, there are no bounds to these young men’s aspirations.

The oldest, Hieu, has already passed his exams and is completing a degree in engineering and architecture. While modest and humble, he says he remembers every person who has ever helped him, it is clear that his own work ethic and talent are the source of his academic success. Nghia, with the highest scores in his school in science, math and chemistry is not far from college himself.

Role Models

All four boys mentioned that adult sources of inspiration, advice and motivation were few and far between. While most mentioned that they appreciated their teachers they noted that in Vietnam’s conservative culture, teachers felt it inappropriate to discuss the personal problems or lives of students. A teacher is an instructor more than a friend or mentor. When asked about heroes and role models, the brothers all pointed to other children in the orphanage. Successful orphans became role models and older children offered not only academic help but advice on life, mortality and the all important transition to life outside the orphanage.

With 18 year olds given the impossible task of teaching 14 year olds how to be a man, it’s no surprise that the boys could think of numerous instances in which they had intentionally attempted to provide a good role model for the younger children. Of course they wouldn’t be children without plenty of stories of sneaking extra food, stealing candy from the teacher’s office and sneaking out after curfew to go swimming at the neighborhood pool.

But talking to these young men, one is struck by their commitment to building a community. Helping elders in the community and assisting victims of automobile accidents were good actions not just because they helped the people in question but because they helped to teach the younger children the difference between right and wrong.

The Future

When asked how they had managed to achieve success in school and life more generally, the boys pointed to many factors. Hardworking teachers. Good friends. Older students. Their own desire to prove they could succeed. And they mentioned the impact of volunteers from across the world that they had met as they grew up. The friendship, advice and glimpses of a wider world that volunteers had offered over the years all clearly mattered enormously to these young men, even when the volunteers were there only briefly.

Son Michael Pham, founder of Kids Without Borders (KWB), has personally mentored these young men and women and walked with them from the orphanage into the world outside. KWB Teach Me To Fish program has connected hundreds of volunteers from around the world with these youth and has lent them a hand when they need one to lean on.

As they leave the orphanage and attempt to carve their own way, these young men will wrestle with many obstacles that lie in their path. But as difficult as life is for a Vietnamese orphan, their friends, foreign volunteers and their ‘family’ of brothers will have served them well. They go into the world armed with confidence, good friendships and a stronger sense of family. What happens next will be up to them, but Son Michael has the utmost confidence that these young men and women will manage the tough roads in front of them.

To learn more about Kids Without Borders Teach Me To Fish Program and how you can support/contribute, please contact us at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Viet Nam Miracle Baby

An update on our Viet Nam Miracle Baby Thien Nhan

Thien Nhan (right) and Thao (KWB Volunteer)

in Hanoi (March 2011)

Child's survival, recovery inspires a nation
by Nguyen Minh Thu

Phung Thien Nhan is leading a happy life after his latest surgery in Italy. — VNS

HA NOI — Seeing the five-year-old boy jumping up and down restlessly on his sole left leg, people just cannot believe it is the same child found abandoned with his right leg and ... read more

Compassion In Action: University Temple United Methodist Church

April 22, 2011: Kids Without Borders delivered donated products to the University Temple United Methodist Church. Volunteers of this church manage and operate a service center serving the homeless and marginalized people from the surrounding University District area.
To volunteer at the service center, please contact us at

April is National Volunteer Month

Without our Volunteers, our work would not be possible. THANK YOU.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Japan Relief

A project of Kids Without Borders, Friends of MeySen has raised more than US$20,000 for Japan Relief.

View photos and stories reported in this blog by an American volunteer working side by side with the MeySen team.

Learn more on how the MeySen volunteers in Sendei use the donated funds to aid victims of the earthquakes and tsunamis, visit , and you can make your online donation.

Latest news: April 7, 2011
A magnitude 7.1 earthquake (scaled back from an original 7.4 measurement) has hit Japan near the eastern coast of Honshu. According to the USGS, the quake occurred at a depth of 25 miles and is estimated to have hit 215 miles away from Tokyo. The AP reported that a tsunami alert was issued for the northeast coast--the same area hit hardest by the March 11 quake which measured 9.0--warning of waves up to 2 meters. According to Reuters, the quake hasn't had an impact on the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, which is 90 miles away from the epicenter of the quake. No injuries were reported among the TEPCO workers at the plant, but NHK's English live TV feed has reported that these workers have temporarily taken shelter at the facility. The news outlet also relayed an alert from Japan's NHK public television saying that those "in areas where the tsunami warnings were issued should evacuate to higher ground." Thursday's quake is currently measured at a larger magnitude than the Kobe Quake of 1995, which measured at a magnitude of 6.8. This is the strongest aftershock--assuming it can be so termed--to have occurred since March 11, which resulted in an estimated 25,000 lives lost and $300 billion dollars worth of damage.

Travel With A Purpose - Upcoming trip to Viet Nam in July 2011

LAST CHANCE to sign up for the 14th HumaniTour Viet Nam, July 7 - 16, 2011. For more information, contact

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Helping Kids in Japan

For all who have been supporting and donating to the 'Friends of MeySen Academy' project, THANK YOU on behalf of the staff and volunteers of MeySen. Please continue to follow their relief work at .

Helping Kids in Japan: A Trauma Guide for Caregivers and Volunteers Working With Children Compassionate response for friends in Japan from all over the world has brought much attention to the needs of children affected by the earthquake in Japan and subsequent tsunami. Years of work in other areas hit by natural disasters has led my mental health colleagues and me to develop a simple guide to support those already in the field or planning to visit Japan soon. It is my intention in this article to provide an overview and helpful guidelines for use during the important second phase of this disaster, the Recovery Phase, as the Emergency Phase will hopefully begin to wind down and badly needed psychological support can begin. There is an enormous need to help children in the second Recovery Phase of this disaster before rushing too quickly to rebuild the external world. Governments and agencies too often rush to enter the third or Reconstruction Phase that follows a disaster of this magnitude without understanding the consequences of ignoring the deeply held emotional traumas of the local population. It is not a given that children will suffer adverse consequences following the tsunami; therefore, it is our intention to provide support to caregivers who wish to address the specific needs of children during the three- to six-month period following the earthquake and tsunami so the number of people who actually develop PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be substantially minimized. Much more can be said, and certainly much more has been written about trauma and children than is mentioned here. Many resources are available to families and professionals, but few take into consideration the underlying cultural needs of an area like Japan that was devastated. After much discussion with community leaders, local teachers, parents and caregivers, as well as considering the traditions that must be honored and respected, this guide has been assembled to support the Japanese communities affected in the months ahead. What is important is that body-centered therapies and approaches are every bit as important as any other efforts, and such interventions could conceivably be even more valuable than we can measure. It is my sincere hope that this guide will be of value to every child and caregiver now and in future generations.

Understanding Trauma
Trauma is a wound to the energy of the body, either in physical or psychological terms. It is used to define an event that has caused harm or injury to the psyche, as in a "traumatic" event, disaster, disease or accident. Most traumatic events are totally uncontrollable; their results shatter people's personal sense of safety and security. Present in every episode that might be labeled traumatic are two components: • Extreme fear and helplessness • A possibility or threat of serious harm or death Basic human nature makes it possible for most people to recover from a traumatic event with little or no counseling or support. Every individual knows instinctively how to protect his or her life and acts accordingly; moreover, the sensing and feeling nature inside each child has a remarkable capacity to reorient life after tragic events if given loving support. A very small percentage of children will need more intensive interventions as a result of many factors -- the nature of personal loss, the history of family and social interaction, the degree of personal bodily harm, etc. These special cases, too, can most often be returned to a happy childhood over time. Normal coping mechanisms are available to children as well as to adults. While there is a reasonable concern for each child's well being, most of them will recover from this event and go on to lead happy, productive lives.

Helping All Children
Five key points to keep in mind when working with children:
1. Reaffirm safety, protection and your own concern for the child's overall well being
2. Monitor your own real emotions and feelings as they relate to the event, and take care of yourself so you can take care of others who need you.
3. Return to and maintain a steady routine of activities upon which a child can come to depend.
4. Watch for small problems that might develop which an early intervention (a gentle, caring chat or hug) can resolve; validate children's emotions and do not shut them down.
5. Allow more time that usual for simple activities, keeping in mind a slowed pace is easier to facilitate recovery.

Hope and meaning are the two essential components of resilience, the quality needed to recover a sense of purpose in our lives and move forward. No one can speak the absolute truth and give meaning to these events, but surely all of us share a sincere and genuine hope for the future of this nation and its most precious asset -- the children. Add to that a profound faith, abundant humor, remarkable sensitivity, perseverance in the presence of hardship, amazing adaptability and enormous caring and support from others, and this revered culture will undoubtedly recover its exquisite beauty and charm. Its people and children will return to a new life with our support.

Age-Specific Guidelines
• Infants and toddlers (up to 5 years old) may react with crying and clinging behavior, aware of the distress in their caregivers. Episodes of bedwetting, rocking, regressive thumb sucking or new fears are normal. Continual reassurances, physical contact and nurturing love are usually all that is needed for children of this age group in order to overcome the symptoms of trauma.
• Those in middle childhood (up to 12 years old) often act out more symptoms, exhibiting aggressive behaviors or anger, avoidances, and some challenges in returning to everyday routines such as school. Slowing down the processes and taking more frequent fun breaks than would otherwise be scheduled helps children of this age to work through their stresses. Physical movement -- like playing sports, martial arts or simple running games -- are excellent releases of stagnant energies.
• Adolescents' responses vary greatly and can more quickly accelerate into serious avoidant behaviors, like substance abuse. Some extreme risk-taking can also be observed, as children of this age group may harbor deep feelings of abandonment and thus carry a distorted value of life. Soliciting help from these children to create their future is a perfect response to this groups needs. Building projects that directly contribute to their future -- creating new curtains, painting, developing carpentry skills and other things which allow them to be an accepted part of the adult community -- dramatically reduces symptoms. Extreme Cases The most common diagnosis of those who suffer ongoing problems of trauma is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. This diagnosis is often misapplied to those experiencing normal coping symptoms, and as a result exaggerated expectations will frequently exceed actual psychosocial need. In effect, PTSD will not usually occur unless during the period of 90 to 120 days following the event nothing is done to help victims release repressed emotions.
In the fourth month, three symptoms may appear leading to a diagnosis of PTSD:
• Reliving the experience of the event through haunting pictures, memories, flashbacks, nightmares or a sense that the event is not over; reliving the stress caused by the event when placed near settings where the event took place (e.g. near an area where serious damage occurred, close to the shoreline or power plants)
• Avoiding behaviors in an attempt not to be reminded or exposed to the associated stress. These include disinterest in things that are normally fun, introversion or shyness beyond normal cultural mannerism, no interest in planning the future and feelings of abandonment or isolation.
• Physical hyper-arousal leading to loss of sleep, outbursts, startling, hyper-vigilance or "jumpy" over alertness.
Often, these three symptoms are also accompanied by:
• Obsessive behaviors that recreate the context of the trauma. • Dissociation and feelings of "disconnect" from others.
• A burden of guilt for surviving the event itself. The second group of three symptoms may or may not be present in a diagnosed PTSD, whereas the former three are thought to be necessary to confirm a diagnosis.

Helping Children Deal With Loss
Certain very simple skills are needed to help children deal with loss:
• Patience. Don't rush expressions of mourning or grief. Children may vacillate between outbursts of crying and ecstatic laughter. This is a normal coping mechanism and caregivers need to follow the lead of the child.
• Listen. Let children know you care by engaging them in simple conversations, and then be prepared to truly listen. Sharing your own feelings briefly might open up a dialogue with a child.
• Remember. Support children in recalling their deceased parents or siblings. Talk about what they loved, what they miss, and what they might not miss. It is unnecessary to react in any other way than your presence.
• Remove all blame. Some children take responsibility for the death of a parent or sibling, thinking they could have acted in a different way to warn or protect, or done something more to help. This guilt requires your sensitivity. Do everything you can to reassure the child that he or she did the best they could.
• Include. Many children can benefit from hearing other children express their feelings. Work in small groups of three, four or five children that create safe spaces to open up. Sometimes, the silent child will gain a great deal through this mechanism.
• Play. Remember, we are helping children, and children love to play games. Too much talking does little to help them deal with loss. Dance, play games, draw, sing -- do anything to express feelings or process energy in the body helps in a nonverbal way as well as any talking.

A Reality Check For all children, it is important to keep in mind that their world is now completely different than before. Their sense of personal safety, both physical and emotional, has been forever altered. Each caregiver must convey a new growing safety in his or her mannerisms, behaviors, language and unconditional presence. Children are also dealing with feelings of abandonment. Having lost one or both parents, many friends and siblings, together with their neighborhoods, possessions and communities having been swept away causes enormous stress. Keep your word and rebuild trust. If you say, "I'll be back tomorrow," you must come back. If you say, "I'll call you Friday," call. Children need to reconstruct their world by renewed trust in caregivers' actions. Make no promises you cannot keep. Religious beliefs have been forever challenged. Whether discussions of the laws of karma or the will of God are offered as an explanation, children have great difficulty placing their experiences into a reliable context. Help children to regain meaning in life by talking openly about what has happened -- not why it happened. Trust that they can develop their own sense of why at an appropriate time later in their lives. Give them hope, and talk about the future. Set a Good Example It is easy for caregivers to forget their own needs, but essential for them to take care of themselves. The degree to which you can truly be of value helping children is directly proportional to your own mental health. Take time out when necessary. Don't push. Relax, and trust the process of life to slow repair the damage of trauma. Talk with your own family and friends to process your own feelings. You are having a real experience yourself; don't disconnect from your emotions. Find safe spaces to release and process your emotions. Eat well and try to maintain your health. Exercise and keep moving; don't be too sedentary. Do something to relax and "escape"; read a book, listen to music or meditate to recompose your energy. Let go of judgments and resentments. Ultimately, everyone is doing the best they can. Appreciate each individual and his or her own offer of support. Trust the process. Life goes on; every day can improve. Breathe. Breathe again. Keep mindful of your breath. Over the next two months, our foundation will assemble an experienced team of mental health care professional who have an expertise in the area of trauma. We intend to travel to Japan to train caregivers there in a series of five carefully designed, very specific play exercises that anyone can use in Japan. If you know someone in or near the affected areas or are in touch with groups who plan to go there, please share the resources here and feel free to put them in touch with us. All methodologies that support children to release trauma held in their body can be among the most valuable of all.
by William Spear

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Support MeySen Academy in Sendei, Japan

About MeySen Academy:

Over its 40 year history, MeySen has become one of Japan’s premier educational institutions specializing in Early Childhood Development and English as a Foreign Language. Over the last thirty years, many of the MeySen students (7th grade students) have visited the U.S through the Homestay Program.

Friday, March 11th, 2011:

Sendai was hit with the largest earthquake in Japan’s history which triggered a tsunami that devastated the surrounding area. Thankfully, school buildings are still standing. Teachers bicycled to work in the following days and were able to contact each family. Most of the children have been accounted for, yet through these phone calls the school was informed of how the scope and reality of the disaster has affected each family. In addition, MeySen spared no expense to evacuate its foreign staff and to become a base for aid organizations who are distributing basic necessities to the immediate community.

MeySen Schools in Sendai, Japan have been extremely blessed amid this disaster. However, there is a huge task at hand starting with providing the basic needs in the community, supporting teachers, students and families who have been affected, and ensuring the safety of the school. Friends of MeySen ( was launched to coordinate the efforts of worldwide Friends of MeySen and to provide the avenue which people can donate directly to this effort.

The Friends of MeySen project is sponsored by Kids Without Borders. 100% of contributions will go to support this project. To make your online contribution, visit:

For more information, please visit:

Make Agent Orange History


There are people around the world who have devoted their time and energy to understanding the legacy of Agent Orange and coming up with solutions to address this problem. These champions come from all different backgrounds and levels of expertise, but all are true humanitarians that are helping make Agent Orange history.

Read about one of these Champions:

Teach Me To Fish

March 2011
Images of the orphans of Kids Without Borders Teach Me To Fish (TM2F) Program in Viet Nam

Go Vap Orphanage

March 2011
Images from the Go Vap Orphanage (Saigon, Viet Nam)

Hoa Phuong Orphanage

March 2011
Images from the Hoa Phuong Orphanage (Hai Phong, Viet Nam)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Viet Nam Miracle Baby

January 15, 2011 - Sammamish, WA

Singapore Sunday Times comic artist Lee Chee Chew continues to raise funds for medical treatment for Thien Nhan, Viet Nam Miracle Baby. Lee made a donation of US$14,000 today to Kids Without Borders. The entire amount of this donation (less bank fees) will be send to the hospital in Bologna, Italy to cover a portion of the costs for Thien Nhan's surgeries. Thien Nhan will leave Hanoi on January 25, 2011 for Italy to begin his medical treatment.

On behalf of Thien Nhan's family, THANK YOU Lee and so many generous Singaporeans.

To learn more about the Miracle Baby, visit:

To view Lee Chee Chew's work, visit:

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - Saving Lives

January 5, 2011
Happy New Year ... today 200 cribs were delivered to Kids Without Borders warehouse in Sammamish. KWB, through Kids In Distressed Situations (KIDS), has been supporting the Seattle Children's Hospital as in-kind partner of the Bedtime Basics for Babies campaign. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the goal of this program is to influence infant sleeping pratices and save infant lives. To learn more:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Agent Orange - A Humanitarian Concern We Can Do Something About

January 5, 2011
FACT: Dioxin (the toxic contaminant in Agent Orange) is found in Da Nang at up to 365,000 parts per million. This is more than 300 times what the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry considers to require immediate remediation.
In a more-than-welcome announcement for thousands of Vietnamese families, the United States and Viet Nam has signed an agreement to clean up the toxic 'hot spot' in Da Nang. The United States appropriated $16.9 million toward the $34 million project in 2010 and work will commence in July 2011. There are still lots of work to be done, Da Nang is only one of the hundreds of 'hot spots' still left throughout Viet Nam and millions of disabled Vietnamese (many are children) affected by Agent Orange.
To learn more and to join our effort, visit .
Below: photos from our recent tour (October 2010) of the 'hot spot' located in the Da Nang Airport (former U.S Airbase during the war).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Serving children in our community

December 22, 2010
Our final service act of the year: we delivered new gloves, socks, warm hats, and scarves to one of our most favorite place - the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle.

Serving our community

December 8, 2010
This morning at the North Bend Food Bank, KWB founder Son Michael and board member David joined members of the St. Clare's Episcopal Church and the Rotary Club of Snoqualmie serving free breakfast to clients of the food bank.
We handed out surprise Christmas gifts to a few families with newborn infants.

KWB board member David Dean (right)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Miracle Baby

December 2010
Latest news on our Viet Nam Miracle Baby: Thien Nhan is scheduled to travel to Italy for his medical treatment in late January 2011. Our best wishes to Thien Nhan and his family for a successful trip. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.
You can make contributions online ( to help with medical expenses for Thien Nhan.
Read more:

Thien Nhan is in the middle in this school photo (Christmas 2010, Hanoi).

Be the change, become a volunteer

December 4, 2010
Kids Without Borders Clothing Bank Work Party (Tukwila, Washington)

Make Agent Orange History

America is at its best when it responds to humanitarian concerns and works to promote hope among people in need. We have an opportunity to do this in Viet Nam today, closing wounds from the past.
Thirty five years after the war, harmful effects of Agent Orange/dioxin are still being felt by millions in Viet Nam, including children. But this is a humanitarian concern we can do something about. MAKE AGENT ORANGE HISTORY seeks to raise awareness about this problem, highlight the solutions and connect people with ways to get involved.
Please join Kids Without Borders supporting MAKE AGENT ORANGE HISTORY. Learn more: