Charity chords of an unsung swan
Updated : 02/24/2012 14:09 GMT + 7
Young, beautiful, and talented, Tina Thien Nga Nguyen dedicates most of her free time, apart from family responsibilities and running her own business to her tireless charity work.
Anyone who has seen and talked to Tina Thien Nga Nguyen will find themselves reflecting on the time they have allowed to waste away.
Tina, a mother of two, and a business owner, has led a busy life packed with family responsibilities and tight work deadlines. Yet she still finds time for her own charity work, with which comes myriads of phone calls, e-mail exchanges and field trips.
An unusual Tet holiday
Tina knew of Duy Hai, My Dung and Sa Ly and came to help them by chance. The Faifoo Boutique Hotel - Restaurant which she owns was suggested to Dr. McKay Mckinnon and his team, together with the Morningstar Entertainment film crew, for their first visit to Vietnam last November. The hotel is located near Ho Chi Minh Oncology Hospital, where Hai was staying.
But it was not until December 2011 that she became fully involved in the case, as by then the stories of Sa Ly and My Dung had been widely covered by the local media. Sam Ottawa and his network decided to help, and Tina with her wide connections at home was asked to locate their families and search for more information regarding their personal and medical records to send to Dr. McKinnon.
Despite the tight year-end deadlines of her newly founded hotel business, especially when Christmas and the New Year were approaching, Tina spent hours calling people she knew and exchanged countless e-mails with Sam.
Finally getting in touch with Ly, Dung and their families, who live in quite rural areas in Lam Dong and Soc Trang, Tina then had to talk and persuade them to believe in the “miracle” that would happen. Poor and having already given up on their daughter’s illness a long time ago, the parents could not believe one of the best surgeons in America was going to save their daughters.
“It felt really strange when friends abroad introduced their friends or connections in rural areas. And in those weeks [before Dr. McKinnon came back to Vietnam on January 2012], I had to rush communicating with different individuals and groups to get more information about the patients for the doctor,” Tina recalled.
Luckily, Tina has very supportive friends who are also passionate about charity works, like Mr. and Ms. Huyen Nguyen, an overseas Vietnamese couple who run the private Kid’s World school in Vietnam. Huyen Nguyen used to be a doctor at the HCMC Oncology Hospital, therefore her ideas were always insightful. Besides, there was Mr. Le Thanh An, the current American Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh and his wife, who also cared about and visited the three patients.
Even after the three surgeries were finished successfully, Tina has continued her volunteer work with Sam to help other patients in Vietnam and abroad as well.
Tina said she had full support from Mark Huynh, her husband, a Vietnamese-American who runs a consulting firm on business management and information technology in Vietnam. “He has got so used to my endless social and charity work ever since we were in America that he never says no to me on these things. We only try to arrange our own work to have more time for the kids. Usually I talk to him to find the best way to do charity.”
It runs in the family
Although her father is the famous architect Nguyen Huu Thai, Tina chose to follow a music career. Since the early 1990s, when she was a student in Montreal, Canada, Tina has always wanted to promote Vietnam’s traditional music, the beauty of which she had come to appreciate through the teachings of her famous music teacher, the professor Tran Van Khe.
She founded her own traditional music band in Montreal, and performed in many events to raise charity funds for local poor people, regardless of their religion or race. “I find charity is a natural thing to do. I am luckier than others to be able to study music, why should I not bring music to help them? It was as simple as that. I also asked my friends and students back then to join me as well.”
Tina is performing with her 16-chord zither (Photo: Tien Thanh)
After each of these shows, especially big ones, “losing a few kilograms” was normal for Tina then. Touring with dozens of band members was not a piece of cake and it took her a lot of time to prepare the music, direct the shows, and practice with other members, most of whom were amateur musicians.
There were shows when they had to move and carry dozens of heavy musical instruments - from zithers, monochords, gongs, drums and boxes of performing clothes, to stage props or hangers in heavily snowy weather. “In these shows, these amateur artists from 7-8 to 70-80 years old were all very happy and proud that they helped to introduce Vietnamese traditional music to both a Vietnamese and foreign audience”.
Tina said she inherited her selfless spirit from her parents, who have been involved in charities for dozens of years now, raising funds to help children and poor people in flooded areas in Vietnam.
“It can be said that we have been greatly influenced by our parents. My brother [the singer] Thai Hoa has produced a number of CDs and held shows both in other countries and in Vietnam to help Orange Agent victims. So wherever we are, we love socializing and networking, getting to know people, forming bands and performing to help people and fundraise,” she concluded.
To the best of my ability
In her opinion, “charity” simply means helping the needy within her ability. And it doesn’t mean giving money, but helping in a long term way, such as improving the public health care system, and devising long-term education plans for orphans or the poor to give them jobs to support themselves.
Tina said she still has many plans ahead. Besides helping the Virtual Medical Miracle Network founded by Sam-Ottawa, she has also joined the Board of Directors of the Global Village Foundation, set up by Le Ly Hayslip. The foundation has brought many volunteer student groups to Vietnam to help build bridges, schools or teach English in rural provinces. They also host the Mobile Library project, which was used successfully in Thailand to help erase illiteracy. Tina admitted that after coming back to Vietnam and setting up her own business here, the way she sees life has changed a lot. She is especially passionate about health care and education. “If we have good education projects, we will not only help individuals but a whole future generation.”
The hotelier said she believed she can influence people with her work. She and her husband, with their friends, have made their usual gatherings into volunteer trips and taken their children along so they know the values of life. Her eldest son plays the piano, but also happily learns the traditional T’rung to accompany her in charity shows for orphans, or children with HIV.
Some of her customers, most of them foreigners who stay at her hotel, know of her work and have agreed to join and support her in her coming projects, she said with an unhidden happiness.
Tina Thien Nga Nguyen