We are so excited to introduce you to one of our most enthusiastic Love Club hostesses who has been involved in our work to empower women from the start. Nghia is a Director of Marketing for a high-tech startup based in the Silicon Valley. She makes fresh juice every morning, works as a Barre3 fitness instructor in the evenings, and loves anything Christmas. Nghia is also a refugee. On the surface, you would never know about her difficult past, but the story of how she and her family came to America is one of hardship, perseverance, and success.
Nghia’s family fled from Vietnam after the war in 1982 when she was only 6 months old. They left in the middle of the night with no possessions other than the clothes on their backs. They jumped aboard a boat that had the capacity for hundreds, but held thousands. For these parents with three young children, that meant standing room only.
“There were five of us—my dad, mom, sister, brother, and me. Many did not survive the trip as the conditions were unsanitary and dangerous; and there was always a high probability that you would be captured by the North Vietnamese army and sent back to the country, arrested, and sentenced to hard labor.”
There was no food, no clean water, and no medicine on the boat. In these harsh conditions, six-month-old Nghia came down with fever. Because the risk of spreading disease was so high, anyone that died or was sick beyond the point of saving was thrown overboard to prevent the risk of disease to the other people on board. Other passengers noticed Nghia was ill and pressured her mother to let her go. But Nghia’s mom did not give in and she held onto her daughter even more tightly.
They finally reached Malaysia where they were sent to a refugee camp, nothing more than tents pitched on dirt. This is where Nghia and her family lived for approximately one year. They were later moved to a refugee camp in the Philippines where they remained for another six months. Eventually, Nghia’s aunt, who was living in Oklahoma at the time, worked very hard with her local church and was able to get her family a sponsorship to come to America.
“When we finally arrived in America, the year was 1984. I was 2 years old and a healthy baby, too. Ronald Reagan was president and in 1986, he signed the amnesty bill for immigration reform. While this law was seen as an utter failure by his administration, this bill meant everything to us. It meant survival. It allowed us to stay, build a life, and thrive in America. In 1994, my family was officially and legally granted status as US citizens. I was 12 years old and no longer a green card holder, but forever a refugee.”
When Nghia learned about our current project with One Refugee Child, providing books to Syrian refugee children displaced in Turkey, she knew she had to be a part of it. We asked Nghia what this project means to her.
“Because of my own personal experience, the word ‘refugee’ has a profound meaning to me. It stands for a lot of pain and suffering but also a lot of perseverance and accomplishment—knowing that, through all the hardships, we made it. But it wasn’t without struggles: going to school in a country where you did not speak the language and living in a town where your skin color was dramatically different. We had to entrench ourselves in our education. The focus was to not be different, but to understand, to speak, to communicate—and to do so, we would read and learn. For these Syrian children, all they have are their hopes for a better future. They need to be given the tools to have a fighting chance, and nothing is more powerful than knowledge. While it is a small piece that I’m contributing, there was no way that I could sit by and do nothing.
Their story is my story.”
Nghia’s mother taught her that if you can help, you should.
“The Love Club model is simple: no rules, just get creative and act. I love it because you’re applying skills you already have in a way that helps others. As my mom always said, ‘We’re only here because of the goodness of others, so we have to pay it forward.’”
What an awesome privilege it is to have Nghia as part of the Somebody’s Mama community. We hope you will join us in providing education to Syrian refugees who are walking the road to a new life.