Vietnamese Scouting Part 2: The Journey to the US

After last month’s Family Scouting Webinar Committee Chair Huy Vu of the LĐ Gia Định Scouting Group of Annandale, VA shared some great information about the history of Family Scouting in the Vietnamese community. When he started telling his own story it got longer than expected so we decided to break it into three parts. In this part Huy shares his personal experience of his journey and introduction to Scouting in refugee camps along the way to the United States. Part Three will be about his Lien Doan Scouting journey to the present.

My story is a tame one in comparison to thousands who embark on similar journeys in search of freedom, many of whom perish at sea, die on land routes, encounter piracy, or wind up being adrift for months at sea. I was born in 1973 so I do not remember much from the Fall of Saigon in 1975. However, I do remember the many challenges our family faced when my father was sent to “re-education camp” in the late 70’s. Re-education camps in reality were torturous attempts at brainwashing by the new government. The targets were mostly their perceived biggest threats: the old officers of the disposed regime. My father, like many other officers, was tortured in this campaign. The Viet Cong hoped the experience would be a warning to anyone who dared dissent against the ruling government (including any non-sanctioned organizations, like Scouting). At one point he got so sick he was brought to a local rural hospital where a few of the doctors were still sympathetic to the old regime. They not only treated him, they also assisted him with the escape from the re-education camp.

For the next two years, he took on a new identity – his cousin’s. Through a network of contacts, my brother and I were smuggled to be with him while my mother and grandparents provided monetary resources for the three of us to leave the country. This was made possible by the United Nation refugee program set up after 1975 that ran through the late 80’s at refugee camps in nearby countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines for those escaping political persecution.

As one can imagine, the struggle to just get by and the policies against non-sanctioned organizations resulted in the hiatus of Scouting activities in Vietnam after 1975. Officially, that is still the current policy.

Back to my journey, we tried to escape the country many times but were conned on nearly every trip. Finally, on the Holy Week of 1983, our family of five plus 14 other refugees took a dangerous sea voyage toward Malaysia on a tiny fishing vessel. If all went as planned, the 5-7 day journey of about 300 nautical miles would take us to Malaysia where we would seek political asylum. By then I was 10, my brother was 8, and my sister was 5.

Through many challenges along the way, we arrived in Malaysia on Good Friday of 1983. We stayed there for six months, then another six months in the Philippines. There I had my very first experience with a Vietnamese youth group with a program like the Vietnam Scouts Association (HDVN); this one was a religious youth group derived from the Scouting concept. There were other Scouting groups active at the refugee camps but my parents decided that the youth groups with religious backing were better for us at the time. It was on a camping trip with them (pictured below) that I got hooked on the concept and ideals of the patrol method, comradery, adventure, and outdoor programs.

When our family finally settled in the United States in 1984, the very first thing that I sought out was a group providing that Scouting experience.

To be continued in Part Three.