Table of Contents
by Dawn Degenhardt
Last week (5-16-06) Joy and I were in Cam Ranh once again. As I will be spending the next 24 hours flying back to the U.S. I felt it important that I use this time wisely and capture my thoughts of the latest part of this incredible adventure that Joy and I have shared.
A little history – In 1970 we were in the process of adopting a boy from Saigon and wanted to adopt a little girl. Somehow we were introduced to Father McCausland who had just returned from the Cam Ranh area where he was in the Air Force. He said he and his troops were very involved with Sister Mary Lieu and the Catholic Orphanage there – helping with the children and providing food and many needed items and as far as he knew they had never processed adoptions. But he would be willing to contact Sister and he did – and she said yes. Sister sent a photo of Joy MyLien and the process began. She was the first child to be adopted from that area - it was the beginning of over 300 children being placed in the U.S. The story of how the first group from Cam Ranh were processed and transported to Saigon is an adventure unto itself - that is another chapter.
On August 11, 1972 Joy arrived in the U.S. along with seven other children from Cam Ranh and five from other orphanages. Eight of these children were coming to Cleveland where we were living at the time. You may want to read “The Joy Story” which tells more about Joy, the evolution of our family, her childhood and the evolution of her work helping the children and families of Vietnam. The story was written ten years ago – after she had been living in Vietnam for four years.
Joy was raised in a small town in Northern Maine – on the Canadian border. She is the middle child (fifth) in a family of nine children – five girls and four boys. She was a good student and enjoyed and participated in girl scouts, summer camps, softball, basketball, soccer, horseback riding, swimming, piano, chorus, ballet and jazz dancing. She excelled in flute, piccolo, soccer (state champs two years), downhill skiing and tennis. She attended the University of Southern Maine for two years and transferred to the University of Hawaii where she graduated with a degree in Japanese and international business. The summer before she graduated she met a small delegation of officials from Vietnam in New York City and was invited to return as a guest of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs. I had always told her that I would take her back if and when it was possible - to connect with her roots – this was before normalization and very few Americans had been permitted to visit – there were no Vietnam Embassies or Consulates in the U.S. or U.S. embassies over there. It was on that first trip in 1991 that Joy knew that she had to do some
thing to help the children. The orphanages were very different then. She was invited to return and develop an adoption program.
She was the first adoptee to return to develop programs to help the
children. She graduated in December and in January 1992 said she
would volunteer for a year to develop the program and then return to
the U.S. Then it was one more year and then one more year. It has
been 14 years that she has been developing humanitarian aid
programs and adoption programs and she is still there. During that
time she adopted her first daughter – Vanessa Ha Thu age 4 ½ -
now 14 years old. She married and gave birth to two more daughters -
Chelsea now 6 and Isabelle now 2.
From the time of her return – she had talked about her dream of rebuilding her orphanage in Cam Ranh. After we visited there and saw the buildings collapsing in the sun – and talking to the nuns and knowing the need for the children it was so apparent that more than one orphanage was needed. But Cam Ranh was off limits to foreigners so the first orphanage that was developed and built was in Hue. The second orphanage building developed was in Hoa Binh, then there was Mam Non 2, the Danang OB/GYN wing, Hoi An, the HIV center, the Nha Trang orphanage – and so many other buildings and projects. But somehow we were not allowed to develop an orphanage in Cam Ranh.
Pictured right is one of the few original photos of the orphanage where Joy spent her first4 ½ years– it appeared to be a typical series of orphanage buildings. Although we have visited the area and met with the nuns in their convent – they were no longer allowed to develop orphanages. They did develop a day care program and feeding center for kids after school program. This allows the mothers to find jobs to support their families. When we first visited the old buildings only the walls were left standing – that is the way the way they are today.
This was the first time Joy had arranged a meeting with the officials –
in the past we have met with the nuns and supported their development
of the nursery school and after school feeding program for poor
children in the community whose mothers were working to provide
a living for their families. The plan was to present the idea of allowing
the Degenhardt Foundation to begin the dialog to be allowed to rebuild
the orphanage on the same land as before. We were graciously welcomed by all levels of government – they were so pleased to meet Joy – she was the first adopted child to return as an adult. They were so excited to hear of the many good works and projects that have been accomplished under her direction. They explained that Cam Ranh had not had an orphanage since this one was closed. They were aware of the nuns helping the children. They gave us the statistics on the hundreds of identified homeless orphans, and the hundreds of unidentified orphans, two officials disappeared and returned with the Chairman of the People’s Committee (the equivalent to the governor) who came to greet us. They then requested that we accompany them to the grounds of the old orphanage – since this was an official visit we would ride in their official car. There was a small caravan of cars as we drove about 15 minutes to reach the site.
The land consisted of two hectares – bordered on two sides by shrimp farms, one side by a school and one side by land with trees. After walking, talking and reviewing the possibilities – IT HAPPENED - what Joy had dreamed of for many years – she was asked to if she would rebuild her orphanage! They would give her the land to be developed into an orphanage complex and children’s center.
We have begun the process and may have one donor who will build the first building. We need your help to furnish and administer the program and to build additional buildings as needed.
|The Other Maine on Facebook
Send check or money order to:
Aid for Kids
18 Market Square
Houlton ME 04730
or Donate online using PayPal.
Visit our Donation page.
Vietnam Photo Journal
by Don Funk