Story and photo by Carrie Carlson-Guest, American Red Cross
In November, the day before Thanksgiving, a kindly cabinetmaker named Tiet Nguyen came to our local Red Cross office in Minneapolis to help those affected by the recent typhoon in the Philippines. When asked why he brought the check in personally, he said he wanted to hand it to someone –not just put it in the mail– and to share his story.
Tiet and his family escaped Viet Nam 1989 after his brothers and father were killed fighting with the Americans against communism. Fleeing for their lives on a small, wooden boat with more than 70 people, Tiet and his family were shot at for hours as they escaped out to sea. After 10 days with very little food and water, they were rescued by a Filipino fisherman, who took them to the island where he lived. Tiet said, “The people so poor – they have no clothes, but so nice, so nice and kind. They gave us everything.”
He and his family stayed in the Philippines for years and survived even more disasters, including a volcano eruption in ’91 and subsequent deadly mudslides. Remembering the details, he said his oldest son Rung was still in a cradle. Tears welled up in his eyes as he recalled all those lost in the devastation. “The Red Cross was there – they were always there,” said Tiet, “They are always there when anything happens.”
Eventually, Tiet and his family moved to Minnesota to connect with family. They had another son and Tiet built a cabinet-making business with skills he learned in Viet Nam. Today, he and his wife, Hanh Le live in Coon Rapids. One son recently graduated from Hamline and the other is currently a student at Creighton University in Omaha. When he heard the Red Cross was helping those who had helped him and his family so many years ago, he knew he had to help. He collected donations from friends and family, including his sons, and then he and his wife matched it. “Your sons must have gotten you and your wife’s heart,” I commented. He laughs, smiles and cries at the same time, beaming like a proud papa.
“This is what I do, because of what you do – give a little bit of myself to help. I’ve been there, I know. You helped me and my family and who knows when I might need help again, we never know,” says Tiet.
Tiet shared a check for $3,000. Three thousand inspired, connected, paid forward dollars to help those in need. Because, as Tiet said, we never know. We never know when disasters will strike, we never know when it will affect us or someone we love, we never know what tomorrow will bring. But we – and Tiet – know what we can do, we can help now.
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