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From Da Nang to Dandenong

17 July 2019, Impact of Our Work

Like all our volunteers Vu Ho has a story to tell

There are times when Vu has to take some control over what he is thinking.

‘Sometimes the past, it suddenly appears in your head,’ he says. ‘And you feel horrible. It affects me. But I can control it.’

Vu fled Vietnam in a fishing boat in 1982. He spent about eighteen months in Galang refugee camp in Indonesia before being accepted for resettlement in Australia – and later by Melbourne University to study science. 

He remembers learning English from Save the Children staff in the Galang camp. 

“Language was a problem. I could read and write well but listening and speaking was difficult because we didn’t have a chance to practice. So I struggled, even now I’m still struggling.” 

He isn’t really. Vu speaks and listens just fine. Quiet and eloquent, he shares stories of his childhood and his journey to Australia. 

Now 63, Vu volunteers twice a week in a Save the Children op shop in Victoria’s Dandenong store. He sorts books and writes descriptions for Save the Children’s online book store. He has mixed feelings about selling books so cheaply and wonders if they would hold more value in the hands of young readers. 

“We sell books for a few dollars regardless of their true value,’ he says. “Having nearly starved in two orphanages over 5 years of my childhood, I understand the importance of the most fundamental needs for children, but books can help children more than just the fundamental needs.”

“In the orphanage, someone recognised I had some ability. They gave me books of various types to learn for myself. When I read those books, I learned a lot about real life and I realised that my future does not depend entirely on what people are giving me but also on what I can do for myself. That is the true value of the education that books can bring to children.” 

The village where Vu grew up in central Vietnam was something of a flashpoint for various warring parties during the Vietnam War. His entire village was decimated, family and friends seriously injured. Vu himself is not quite sure how he got out of there alive. 

The memories are clearly still vivid. Their impact was tragically too much for others in his family to bear. 

“One younger sister was a doctor in Vietnam,” Vu reflects. “She was quite successful and built her own medical centre, but her mental demons finally caught up with her. She took her own life. One of my older sisters also took her own life. She was one of the most beautiful young women that I had ever seen.”

Outside of volunteering for Save the Children, Vu continues to tinker with science research. The memory of his sisters and of his journey to Australia never too far from his mind. 

Vu is happy here. Happy to be working with books in the Dandenong store for the organisation that had a role in his education all those years ago. Today, he leaves its head office with some parting advice.

"If you want to save the children...get rid of the technology. The young people, they’re too much on their phones!”

Since being interviewed, Vu has been investigating the opportunity of working in a more permanent capacity for Save the Children, Vietnam.

Images: Sam Aiton/Save the Children

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