Bachyen Nguyen’s life has been marked by her dedication to community service and, particularly, by her work with and for children. That is one of the reasons she was chosen as the resident of the month at Belleville Assisted Living in Algiers Point.
Between 1990 and 1998, Nguyen helped bring 26 needy children from Vietnam, where she was born, to the United States, where they were adopted. For her services, she didn’t accept a dime. She even paid for the travel and international calls that paved the way for the adoptions.
This was when the tensions between Vietnam and the United States had cooled, and trade and communication between the two countries had started to open up. Even so, when Nguyen made her first trip to Vietnam in 1990 in an effort to arrange the first adoption, she was scared.
It had been 15 years since she had fled Vung Tao, a coastal town in the southernmost part of the country. She had run a clinic for nurses and midwives, and had been an affluent and important citizen. Then 1975 happened, the year Saigon fell, and the country fell into chaos. Her cousin, an OB/GYN with whom she worked, had a small recreational boat, and he, his family, and Nguyen jumped into it and launched out, having no destination or plan. They only hoped to reach international waters.
They made it. They were picked up, and Nguyen was eventually sent to a refugee camp in Arkansas before being moved again to Minneapolis-St. Paul by the Catholic charity Our Lady of Grace. On the way there, she had been told to expect snow, which she had never seen. Her only idea of snow, that it was beautiful, deep and impossible for someone as small as her to navigate, came from the movie “Dr. Zhivago.”
The make-good immigrant story is so common as to be cliché, and many of those with whom Nguyen arrived in Minneapolis-St. Paul worked hard and became doctors and wealthy professionals. Like them, Nguyen started at the bottom, went to school. But guided by her desire to help, she earned her RN and master’s in social work, and she got a job with Child Protective Services.
“I didn’t mind getting paid less,” she said. “I was more concerned about how much I could help people.”
That desire led her to partner with organizations such as the Children’s Home Society, Crossroads, and Lutheran Social Services to build a pipeline so that parents wanting to adopt in America and children needing parents could find one another.
International adoptions, especially between such disparate economies, are fraught with difficulties — this Nguyen knew well. She fought to keep fees down, as low as $3,500. She warned the government of Vietnam about how these adoptions should be marketed. “We don’t sell the children,” she said. “Children are not merchandise.”
Yet, suspicions that more profit-motivated organizations were creating market of babies that weren’t being properly regulated caused the end of adoptions from Vietnam. Only this year has the possibility of adopting from Vietnam opened up again under The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.
When told about this, Nguyen nods. She is still in contact with many of the families she helped adopt and the children that were adopted. Before her stroke, she had participated in yearly reunions.
After her stroke, her brother Viet Hoang Nguyen helped her move into the Belleville facility. She enjoys visits from him and from her niece Lynh Bui and cousin Nam Le.
Nguyen is 69 years old, as life is measured in Vietnam, beginning not at birth but in the womb. And she is not done. With Claire Stansberry, the director of nursing and resident services at Belleville, she plots out how she can give back.
“I don’t want to waste time,” she said. “I want to use my time being meaningful for other people.”
Article written by J. Scott Farrin. Article sourced from nola.com.