International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Refugee Journeys: Trinh Doan - Vietnam, 1979

"We were on the boat for only seven days. We sailed into Hong Kong harbor at night. And it was one of the most beautiful sights I could ever see. It was much more foreign going from Hong Kong to Green Bay, Wisconsin! We were the only Asian family. The only immigrants. The only refugees. And the people could not have been more wonderful."

- Trinh Doan

Trinh Doan, her parents and two brothers were living in Da Nang, South Vietnam, when the city, home to an air base used by both the American and South Vietnamese military,fell to North Vietnamese troops. Soon after, Doan’s father, a nationalist and university professor, was put on trial as an enemy of the people. He was found guilty and sentenced to indefinite house arrest.

The family spent the next four years planning their escape. They purchased a wooden fishing boat from a trusted family member and quietly stockpiled supplies. One evening in the summer of 1979, Doan’s parents awakened her and her brothers, told them to put on two sets of clothing and kiss their grandmother good-bye. The family crossed the South China Sea from Da Nang to Hong Kong, a distance of 550 sea miles, in two weeks.

In Hong Kong they were assigned to a refugee camp, where they were assisted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Staff members provided food, shelter and moral support and arranged for interviews with representatives of countries that were accepting refugees. After two years of camp life, they were finally accepted by the United States and were flown across the Pacific, landing on a cold day in late October 1981 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where an IRC representative was on hand to greet them. They quickly adapted to life in the United States. Doan’s parents enrolled in college and went on to successful careers.

Her father is now a retired engineer; her mother is still working. They both volunteer to help newly arrived refugees in Baltimore, where the couple now lives. A brother is a dentist who works in a clinic serving poor immigrant children.

Doan earned a B.S. (magna cum laude) in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. in finance from the Wharton school of Business of the University of Pennsylvania. She is a managing director with Bank of America. She joined the bank in 2005 after spending 12 years at JPMorgan Chase in the global syndicated finance group, working in New York and Hong Kong.

Doan is active in the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., working with women leaders in developing countries. She has been a member of the IRC Board of Directors since 2008 and serves on its nominating and governance committee.

Trinh Doan is one of 10 distinguished refugees who were honored by the International Rescue Committee at our 2010 Freedom Award Dinner in New York City.  Check back each Monday for a new story of a refugee who has fled tyranny and persecution and who has made the most of the opportunity to begin again and thrive in the U.S.   You can see all of the stories posted so far here.


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