Grantee Profile: Van Nguyen, Boat People SOS/Camden, New Jersey
Van Nguyen is a refugee from Vietnam with a story, she says, like that of many other Vietnamese refugees. Van's father was a member of the South Vietnamese Navy. After the Vietnam War ended, he was persecuted for his former status in the military. Knowing his family faced a bleak future in the new Communist Vietnam -- children of former soldiers in the South Vietnamese military were routinely denied access to schools and jobs -- Van's father made the decision to leave the country. In 1985, Van and her family fled Ben Tre, a city in the Mekong Delta, to a refugee camp in Malaysia . For 11 months, they were shuffled between three overcrowded refugee camps in Malaysia and one camp in the Philippines . In 1986 at the age of eight, Van and her family were approved for resettlement to the United States . Since her arrival, she has lived in Rhode Island , New York , New Jersey , and Pennsylvania .
Van says that the most important goals Vietnamese refugees who are living in the United States set for themselves are to get a job and learn English. Van feels that she personally has been helping people in her community to reach these aims her entire life. Entering the U.S. as a young child, she quickly learned English. Like so many children in her position, she began helping her parents and their friends navigate their way through life in a new country, assisting them to access social services, fill out job applications, and adjust to and understand the American way of life. Somewhat to her surprise, she discovered that helping her own community was something she was not only good at, but it was something that gave her enormous personal satisfaction. “I suddenly thought, why don't I do what I love and get paid for it!”
Today, Van manages the Camden , New Jersey branch office of Boat People S.O.S . When she first read the job description for her position she thought, “The job sounds like what I already love to do….helping other Vietnamese people.” The Camden office sometimes serves up to 400 clients per week. As the Branch Manager, Van enjoys providing immigration counseling on green card applications and family reunifications. She realizes that she was lucky to be able to flee Vietnam with her all members of her immediate family, and strongly believes families should be reunited. She says, “I guess you have to be in our shoes to know what we go through.”
In addition to her responsibilities managing the day to day operations of the Boat People S.O.S Camden office, including programs the elderly and for Vietnamese women who are isolated in this country because of language and cultural barriers, Van runs an after school program at the center that serves kids – mostly teens -- who are members of Vietnamese refugee families. She says that they love her and she loves them. Van sees inter-generational conflict between refugee parents and their children as one of the major problems in the Vietnamese community and committed to bridging this gap. While meeting IRC's project officer, Van said, “I have my very own culture. It's my own mix of Vietnamese and American cultures turned into one culture. It's a culture of my very own.”