The first seeds for LEAD Vietnam were planted when I visited Vietnam in late 2014 as a high school junior. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Baltimore City and the only child of Vietnamese refugees, the connection I had to my Vietnamese heritage was oftentimes tenuous. Following that chance trip to visit my homeland in high school, I was fixated on a reality mixing blatant wealth with extreme poverty permeating through Vietnam’s urban slums. As I rode in a taxi to visit Lasan Tan Hung, a charity school located in one of Ho Chi Minh City's urban slums, I saw children searching through trash along the riverbank and running through the rugged streets without shoes. At the school, I saw a student haphazardly trying to use a cloth to care for another student’s wound. These realities seemed innocent at first glance but were gentle reminders of deeply rooted disparities and suffering that continue to this day.
After I returned home, LEAD Vietnam, then called "The Heart for Vietnam Children's Initiative", started off with aiming to build sanitation systems, help enroll more students, and repair classrooms for Lasan Tan Hung. Without a clear plan and lofty goals, the project took a long while to raise money and was more complicated than expected. After months of failed fundraisers and limited interest from those around me, I decided to take a step back, think about my model for service, and more clearly my story to my high school and family friends. Fortunately, after a year since my visit to the Lasan Tan Hung, I was able to raise the funds and was happy to see the results of the project when I revisited in summer 2016.
After that project, I spent time volunteering on medical/dental missions with other non-profits and exploring different regions of Vietnam. This exploration exposed me to ethnic minority groups in remote areas in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, in particular Kon Tum Province, where the needs were more pronounced and yet the people were grateful, loving, and caring from the first encounter I had with them. By working and getting to know these communities on a deeper level since 2018, I saw that their pains have been exacerbated for decades and that their voices and health are often forgotten. To give them a voice when no one else would, LEAD Vietnam reoriented its vision and focus to support these groups over a long-term basis. With the kind support of family members, generous benefactors and NGOs, and hard-working volunteers, I am grateful to have the structure and tools to generate more impact than I could have in the past.
With the current long-term goal to become a globally-minded physician and open a tertiary care facility in Kon Tum Province, I am driven by the preferential option for the poor and the need to encourage talented Vietnamese-Americans to serve their homeland. Now, I am excited to work with my friends from all around the world and find ways for bright-minded people to engage in global health and the poor. There is still much to learn, but the last seven years are just the beginning of a life-long journey. With your support and the grace of God, I believe that the outcomes-based and culturally-sensitive community health model we are developing and implementing will save lives for generations to come.
Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope one day we will cross paths!
Founder and Director of LEAD Vietnam