by Minh Le
To escape the hard-line communist regime, many Vietnamese people left their home country in pursuit for freedom from 1975-1995. I left Vietnam in the summer of 1979 by boat. I was supposed to leave with my dad, but the plan did not go well, so I went by myself.
I was 12 at that time. There were no familiar faces in this boat, and I did not know that I would never see my dad again after that day.
About 36 people were hidden in the bottom of a small wooden boat without much air circulation, no food and limited water. After three days at the sea, everyone was starving, sea sick and exhausted. The boat was not designed to be used in the sea, so it started to leak. We all thought we would die that night. Luckily, around 5 p.m., a small fishing boat found us and helped transport us to the shore. Our boat sank soon after that.
I arrived in Thailand and stayed at Songkhla United Nations refugee camp. I was young and did not think too much. But I could feel the worries from adults around me. They did not know what country would accept them, when they could start a new life, what their future looked like or when could they see their family members again. At that time, the hope to see family members who were still in Vietnam was very dim.
After nine months staying at the refugee camp, the Canadian government accepted my application. Everyone at the refugee camp congratulated me and told me that Canada was a great country. I was transferred to another camp in Bangkok for one month before flying to Canada.
I clearly remember the night I stepped onto a 747 aircraft. I had never been in an airplane before so it was quite an experience. I was so happy and so excited to go to the second largest country in the world and believed it is one of the most beautiful and happiest countries in the world.
I arrived in Edmonton in May 1980 and stayed at a military camp. The thing I remember the most is how cold the air was. I could see my breath! The volunteers gave me warm clothing and food. I felt very blessed by the new country. I eventually settled in with a relative’s family, who came to Canada a few years before me. The relative’s family was able to take care of me without government assistance.
At that time, many more refugees came to Edmonton every week. I remember that year, the relative’s family hosted a welcome party almost every week to welcome newcomers. At the party, people shared their stories, asked questions, and got help with many issues to help them to settle in. Many of these “newcomers” now became good friends to the relative’s family.
In 1991, I graduated from University of Alberta with an engineering degree. Then I moved to Whitehorse, Yukon to start my adult life. Things were difficult at first. I used to stand trembling under the winter cold to wait for my bus, used to live in a small basement with little heat, and used to take a second job as a dishwasher or a janitor.
But all hard work was paid off. With some money saved up, I went back to Vietnam to visit my mother and my sister for the first time after 13 years apart. But it was too sad that my dad could not wait for me and had passed away a few days before.
On this trip I also met my future wife. I sponsored my wife to Canada, and with hard work, we were able to put down some money to purchase our first house in Whitehorse.
Our first son was born in 1996. I was so happy. I have fulfilled my dream. I now have a home-sweet-home, a stable job and a happy family.
Minh Le now lives in Kelowna. This article is submitted by Yukon Cares, a group working towards bringing a Syrian refugee family to the territory.