Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

REPORT ON 2015 FRIENDSHIP FOUNDATION HUMANITARIAN MISSION

Since 1993 our Friendship Foundation has been active with assisting the poor and vulnerable people in Viet Nam and Asia. While Viet Nam is doing better now, there are still many people in Viet Nam who are in need. Remember that there are almost one hundred million people living in Viet Nam. So while many are doing well, there are still many who are in need, especially people living in remote villages and rural areas.

We have conducted over fifty Humanitarian missions to Viet Nam in the past twenty years. This has included sponsoring over one thousand volunteers to join us on these missions. This year we welcomed ten who participated in various ways on this mission. (By the way, every member of our Mission team pays all their own expenses, including travel and lodging. All donations from anyone are used for direct help and aid to the needy and poor.)

Our 2015 mission took place in October and early November. This also allowed us to participate in the annual LAWASIA legal conference which was held in Australia. We have been members and participants in the LAWASIA Conferences since we first participated in the conference held in Sai Gon in 2004.

For this year’s Humanitarian Mission, we had four major goals: provide assistance for the Mental Health Hospital in Khanh Hoa province; sponsor scholarships for young students whose families are low-income; host programs and activities for senior citizens; and help rural villages.

We did send out a charitable appeal letter. Donors were very generous. Although we were a little short of our fundraising goal, we did raise over $17,000.00. (Some contributions are still coming in.) We thank all of you for your generosity.

Here is a listing of our major humanitarian and charitable activities for 2015:

(1) We once again visited the large Mental Health Hospital in Khanh Hoa Province, met extensively with the Executive Director, and provided funds to help the patients. The Director showed us all around the facilities which included the large gymnasium for patients, the socializing areas; and freshly planted gardens and plant nursery maintained by the patients.

The Director gratefully accepted the funds we gave and outlined his plans for the future. He wants to expand the garden program which is very helpful therapy for patients. Secondly, he continues to work on an outreach program that would help patients who live full-time at home with their families. This would be much like our own community mental health activities.

We promised that our Foundation will raise funds to help with this. Note that the garden program and the outreach program are outside normal government funding and the Director must find other non-governmental ways to finance these. (The Vietnamese mental health facilities have come a long way since our first visits twenty years ago when we found patients chained to huge iron rings in the center of the floors and locked in grimy jail cells. Today the cleanliness of the facilities, the sparkling white walls and ceilings, and the comfortable patient rooms would match the best you would find in America.)

The Director did tell us as we left that we should pass along his thanks and the gratitude of his staff and patients to all of our Foundation members and supporters for your donations.

(2) We visited one orphanage at a well-known pagoda as well as other facilities that house children whose parents cannot support them. We provided funds for scholarships and for the facilities. We assisted 18 children and the agency at this one place. They all asked us to thank you for your support. We visited another large orphanage with over one hundred children in North Viet Nam where we are providing funds for their work.

We also conducted informal English classes at 24 different sites. Most of these were for children and students, while a few were for adults. While the Vietnamese students study English grammar in school, they rarely have opportunities to practice their oral English. That is where we help so the young people can practice their oral skills.

(3) We helped with a number of senior citizen activities. We sponsored a community meeting for about forty seniors and family members in one remote area. This included a healthy dinner for them. In Sai Gon we attended an event and dinner for local seniors and people; and we provided aid for this. We also visited the homes of various senior citizens and presented small donations for them.

(4) We attended various village celebrations. This included two local weddings where we added our congratulations and prayers for the new couples and provided gifts for them.

(5) We attended four meetings with attorneys in Viet Nam. This included attorneys who had been practicing law before 1975; two law firms in Sai Gon; one social gathering with ten attorneys whom we sponsored several years ago to come to the United States and Cleveland and who want to come here again; and an all-day seminar and meeting with legal personnel, businesspeople, and government officials to discuss law and trade activities. This included mutual educational information about the U.S. Eb-5 process and other immigration procedures as well as overseas trade and development. We also are acting as consultants on five different immigration cases.

(6) Work for Vietnamese Cultural Garden in Cleveland: We did research on the following: Seeking ideas for the garden’s design; purchasing marble and other stone from Vietnamese sources for our garden; searching out local artists in Viet Nam; discussing this project at various meetings with people in Viet Nam; and reviewing shipping procedures and costs to transport materials by sea from Viet Nam to Cleveland.

(7) We worked on various veteran related activities.

a. For over sixty years our Vice Director Joseph Meissner has wanted to visit the battlefields at Dien Bien Phu and to honor all who died in the 1954 world renowned battle. Since such a visit is not a “normal tourist activity,” we had to arrange a special tour with a very knowledgeable and experienced guide.

Our Vice Director visited two cemeteries at Dien Bien Phu, the huge modern museum, a French Remembrance memorial site, the death memorial for the French artillery commander; and the eight sites of the former French strongpoints at Dien Bien Phu. He provided prayers and ceremonial offerings at each of the eight main battle sites. One site was dedicated to the involvement of the Thai minority people in that battle. “I visited local Thai villages, met with village leaders, and purchased memorial items at the markets, stores, and roadside stands.”

As usual, Attorney Meissner drank toasts (home-made brews) with village leaders, bought such items as buffalo and deer jerky, and talked with the village children who acted as guides. “The children are all quite smart,” he reported, “and their English is good. I especially remember one ten-year-old named Minh who reached out to grab me from falling off a narrow two-log bridge across one of the streams.” Vice Director Meissner provided some funds for Thai village activities and to the children.

b. Meissner visited one memorial site with two large bronze remembrance plaques and a center statute for the Thai women, children, and elderly who lost their lives at Dien Bien Phu. “The villagers,” Joseph reported, “believe that French bombers dropped bombs on them in retaliation for what the Thai soldiers had done in leaving their French strongpoint.

“Earlier the French had fled from the Thai capital some twenty miles away from Dien Bien Phu, taking out the women and children by air as well as the French soldiers, but telling the Thai men that there were not enough airplanes and these male soldiers would have to walk out from this threatened area which meant thru heavily invested Viet Minh jungle areas and through numerous Viet Minh ambushes. Some 80% of the men never got out alive to rejoin their families.

“It is understandable why the Thai might not have been the most willing of soldiers to defend the surrounded French strongpoints. Because of the alleged French bombings, Thai men and women joined up later with the Viet Minh in the battle against the French and their allies.

“Did the French actually bomb and kill some 450 Thai? I have promised to research this more. But it is true that when the French President visited Dien Bien Phu in 1994, he ran into protests by the Thai villagers telling him, ‘Go Home! Go home !’ The President’s only response was, ‘We are sorry, we are sorry.’”

c. Many people do not know that many Vietnamese fought along- side of the French against the Viet Minh Communists. At the end of the battle at Dien Bien Phu, 4,000 of the 11,000 prisoners captured by the Communists were Vietnamese who had bravely fought together with the French. These Vietnamese soldiers were taken away and never heard from again. “I indirectly asked about this from our guide as well as from others at Dien Bien Phu. I also searched carefully through all the exhibits in the extensive Dien Bien Phu Museum, but found no answers to this, and hardly any mention that Vietnamese had fought beside the French.”

d. We conducted a prayer and memorial service for all who fought and died in Viet Nam during the wars. This was near the grave of one soldier who was in the South Vietnamese military service for some thirty years. We prayed for Attorney Patrick McLaughlin and all the Old Timers in his legal group; for Sean Ennis, Jim Quisenberry, and Ray Saikus; for all the Special Forces soldiers including Shaun Darraugh, Roger Parkinson, Michael Carey, Tom Wilson, Mike Beebe, Dan Fitzgibbons, and all the others; for all the Viet Nam veterans; for all the French soldiers and their Vietnamese allies including the French Artillery Commander Lieutenant Colonel Piroth; for the Viet Minh, the NVA, the NLF, and the Viet Cong; for the Montegnards especially the Thai people; for the forces of South Viet Nam and for ARVN; for all the American soldiers who fought in Viet Nam and especially for the 58,000 who died there, for all our Allies; and for all families of all these soldiers who suffered so much from the wars here.

(8) Work in Australia

a. We journeyed to Australia where we spent some ten days in various activities. Australia was this year’s site for the annual LAWASIA Conference.

b. Our main activity was participating in the 28th Annual LAWASIA Conference. Attorney Joseph Meissner, JD, made a well-received presentation on Intellectual Property and Cross Border Protection of IP. He was assisted by Director Gia Hoa Ryan. This was the eleventh year they have been invited to make a presentation at the Conference. We once again met old friends we have known for years as well as made new friends. One old friend was our law professor and counsel from Japan as well as an old friend and his family from Singapore, and an old friend from Germany who comes every year.

c. Once again we were invited to participate in the LAWASIA Moot Competition. This was the 10th such Competition which brings together the top law students from all over Asia. Note that the students argue in English and write their briefs in English. Attorney Meissner was the Chief Judge in one round and an associate judge in another round.

d. We visited and were provided a tour of the beautiful and impressive Opera Facilities in Sydney. This is a well-known world attraction which could be an inspiration for our city. Even the very woods used throughout this architectural wonder were chosen for their sound resonance qualities.

e. We spent a day visiting the Asian settlements and market area which are about an hour’s train ride from Sydney. We met with local Vietnamese community leaders, visited their offices, and shared our mutual resettlement experiences. The Vietnamese area is a thriving community with many local businesses and restaurants.

f. We traveled to Melbourne (pronounced “Mel-bun” by the local people). This is a beautiful thriving city of some four million people with its own Vietnamese quarter filled with businesses and restaurants. There is a special dedication area with sculptures and large plaques celebrating the Vietnamese people and their ancestry. We again met with local community leaders, visited their headquarters, and we were pleased to meet a local Vietnamese attorney who has been helping his community for two decades after having served as a legal counsel aiding the aboriginal people of Australia.

g. Here were some of our impressions about Australia: This country is very open to immigrants and welcomes them from all over the world. Our Turkish taxi cab driver told us about the 175,000 Turks who have settled there and who continue to hold dual citizenship so they can vote in Turkish election. We met a Philippine woman who helped us at the airport; our initial taxi cab driver was from Kashmir which he visits every few years; two students, one from Thailand and one from China, served us our first meal in Australia; driving us around on other days were two taxi cabdrivers from India, two from Pakistan, one from Nepal, and one from China (which he had to leave in 1989 because of his activities); our hotel personnel were from India; and we met one woman from Mali. We also met many people born in Australia with longtime roots there that were helpful in providing us directions and guiding us about the city. The museums are very comprehensive which includes a special “Immigration Museum.” The city features lots of restaurants of all nationalities. Our only complaint was that everything is quite expensive in Australia. (9) Next year’s LAWASIA Conference will be held in Sri Lanka in the capital of Colombo. We met the sponsors and planners for this Conference. “Please tell everyone in Cleveland to come to our great country and first-class LAWASIA conference,” urged the head of Sri Lanka’s Bar Association. “God willing,” promises Director Ryan, “we in the Friendship Foundation plan to journey to Sri Lanka for this Conference and we invite all of our legal friends to join us.”

Yours in friendship,
Gia Hoa Ryan
Founder and Executive Director
Friendship Foundation of American-Vietnamese



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