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Return to Vietnam

The team’s recent mission in Ho Chi Minh City was extra special for Starkey Hearing Foundation sponsor Celine Truong and her husband, David Martin.

Truong was born in the city, formerly known as Saigon. With the fall of Saigon in the mid-70s, the Communist regime took control of Truong’s father’s brickmaking business in Bien Hoa, a city 20 miles north of Saigon. The family was forced to flee under the cover of night amid the sounds of gunfire. Her father had organized the escape of 75 people via boat along the Mekong to the South China Sea. During the escape, pirates chased the boat. The boat captain made a deal with the pirates to trade food and water for the boat’s safe passage to Malaysia. For more than nine months, the Truong family lived in a Malaysian refugee camp until a Lutheran Church, at the behest of relatives, sponsored the family’s visas for the United States. In December 1979, the six Truong children, their father and one cousin boarded a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco, Calif., to start a new life. 

Her mother did not join the family on the initial escape. Instead, she remained in Vietnam to liquidate property that had not yet been seized by the Communist takeover. She planned her own escape a year later.

Truong had not returned to Ho Chi Minh City for 38 years. Her father recently passed away. It was at his funeral that Truong learned many of the details about her family’s escape and her father’s heroic actions that saved the lives of dozens of family members and friends. Returning to Vietnam, specifically Ho Chi Minh City, was an incredibly emotional experience for Truong.

“I am very overwhelmed, but so fulfilled,” Truong said.  “I have been able to come back not as a tourist, not on vacation, but to give something back that is life-changing for these people. Had my father been alive today, I think he would have been very proud.” At the conclusion of the mission in Ho Chi Minh City, Truong and David traveled to Bien Hoa to try and find her father’s brick factory. There they met a monk who was able to connect Truong with a first cousin. Truong said the mission and visit to Bien Hoa enabled her to discover her heritage.

“This was such a magical mission. I am so fulfilled. Money cannot buy the joy and closure I've gained from this journey,” Truong said. “I am humbled by the Austins and their vision. They have truly created such a unique and satisfying experience for donors in the world of philanthropy.”

Celine in Vietnam

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