TOP bottom

Expatriates Organize to Send Humanitarian Aid to Vietnam

September 04, 1992 |THUAN LE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GARDEN GROVE — Braving a potential conservative backlash, a group of Vietnamese-Americans has formed the first nonprofit organization in Orange County to collect humanitarian aid for Vietnam.

Joining forces gives the 10 expatriates who have formed the Social Assistance Program for Vietnam "more strength and power to help our people more effectively," said Bang Cong Nguyen, the group's chairman.

Social Assistance members hope to help people in Vietnam who are suffering from poor medical care, a lack of decent housing, undernourishment and substandard education.

Nguyen said the members expect some criticism, primarily from conservative refugees who have attacked actions or comments deemed sympathetic to the Communist government in Vietnam.

The conservatives "have no problem with Westerners going in as groups to help Vietnam, but if Vietnamese do it then they don't like it," Nguyen said. "Well, there's something wrong with that. We want our own people to get help from us too."

Individually, Vietnamese-Americans have been donating supplies such as medicine, books and money, but only four other groups have been formed by Vietnamese-Americans, said Jim Spencer, program assistant for the U.S.-Indochina Reconciliation Project, based in New York.

Locally, some leaders in the Vietnamese community expressed doubts about the new group.

"The government system over there is so corrupt you can't trust anybody to deliver the goods to the people who need them," said Chuyen Nguyen, a member of several Vietnamese organizations in Orange County.

He expressed suspicion of any Vietnamese organization that deals directly with the Communist government.

"We'd still have to wait and judge this group by their actions, words and results (as to) whether they have any motives other than humanitarian aid," Chuyen Nguyen said. "I'd hate to see them use these unfortunate people as bait to bring more businesses (into Vietnam) or help strengthen the war machine that rules the people there."

Mai Cong, chairwoman of the Vietnamese Community of Orange County Inc., said Vietnam still makes things difficult for Vietnamese-American visitors, and that that might hinder the success of Social Assistance.

"Our situation is still too complex when it deals with Vietnam," she said.

Bang Cong Nguyen said a trip to Vietnam last month led to the group's formation.

He displayed photographs from the trip, one with rows of disabled children leaning on crutches and another depicting youths sleeping on concrete in a camp for the homeless.

That visit, Nguyen's third, served as a fact-finding mission for Social Assistance. He met with people who ran medical clinics, schools and social service agencies. Based on his report, the group will decide where help is needed and raise funds.

"Everything is needed, and we can no longer afford to stand by silently watching American groups going there to give aid," Nguyen said.