“My parents suffered the greatest pain any parent has to go through, and that is not being able to provide the basic needs of their children; we were crying out from hunger and thirst,” said Dr. Vinh Chung. “We were completely helpless, and there was no hope in sight. Some mothers talked of drowning their own children to end their suffering. This is what it’s like to be a refugee.”
More than 200 guests came to hear Dr. Chung recently at a Women of Vision Orange County Partnership and Men’s Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach. He spoke about his family’s escape from Vietnam, their rescue by World Vision and his new life in America. He also urged his audience to help with the global refugee crisis.
Dr. Chung was three years old when his family joined hundreds of thousands fleeing communist oppression in Vietnam in the late 1970’s. His family of 10 and 280 other “boat people” crammed in an unseaworthy boat, hoping to find safety in another country. Instead they were met with cruelty in Malaysia.
“We suffered slow and painful degradation of basic human dignity,” Dr. Chung said. “We were herded like cattle and forced to march on burning sand. Eventually we were placed in four small boats, towed out to sea and left to die. Our boat was rescued; the others drifted back to Vietnam. I will never forget where I came from or how I got here. I’ve seen what life could have been like if things had gone differently.”
After six days without food and water their boat was rescued by a World Vision mercy ship, and taken to a refugee camp in Singapore. They were later sponsored by a Lutheran church in Arkansas.
Dr. Chung’s father, a successful businessman in Vietnam, lost everything to the communists. In America he endured long days of manual labor to support his family.
“Hope in God sustained my father through three decades of that,” he said. “Faith in God took us through the most challenging times of being a poor, refugee family living in the Deep South. Somehow we had enough; it was a miracle.”
Today among Dr. Chung and his siblings, there are six doctorates and five master’s degrees from schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Pennsylvania and NYU. The next generation is excelling too. His story is captured in his book “Where the Wind Leads.”
“Right now there are millions of people packed in unseaworthy boats experiencing what my family did 40 years ago,” Dr. Chung said. “My story has a different ending because a small group of Americans learned what was happening and did something about it. Unfortunately, children are victims. Each child has a story that has often been tragic and devastating up to this point. However, the rest of the story remains to be written. We can determine how it ends.”
According to World Vision, The Syrian Refugee Crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, affecting more that 12 million people. That is more than those affected by Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, and the Indian Ocean tsunami combined.
“There are more refugees than ever before in history, and one half are children,” said Melissa Johnson, Women of Vision Orange County Chair. “World Vision has been helping Syrian refugees since the inception of the war; they’ve helped two million people with relief supplies such as food, clean water, sanitation, hygiene support, and psychosocial support. Three hundred and twenty thousand lives have been lost and half the population has fled or been displaced.”
Johnson encouraged attendees to donate to the global refugee crisis.
“One child can impact an entire generation,” she said.
For more information, visit womenofvisionorangecounty.org.
Cindy can be reached at [email protected].