September 27, 2023

Seated, front-left, Justin Pham, president, Heather Bergeson, Madeline Young, and Megan Eckman. Back row-left, John Borman, Kim Chau Ngo, Susan Pham, Cuong Pham, and Yvonne McElmury.


AAP staff writer

PLYMOUTH (March 8, 2010) – After visiting the homeland of his father a Twin Cities area teen was so moved at the great spirit of a people living in poverty that he inspired classmates to join him on a goal to build two schools in Vietnam.Justin Pham, 16, and about six other Wyzata High School students have succeeded in raising more than one-quarter of their $50,000 goal, despite obstacles that complicate efforts to fundraise in the school and community.

Justin’s father, Cuong Pham, was just 15 when he left Vietnam after the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. This past summer, he and his spouse, Susan, returned to Vietnam with Justin and his brother Kyle, 14. The boys saw where Cuong grew up and went to school.

“It was then that Justin was moved by the poverty and the conditions and wanted to help the children by giving them an education and an opportunity for a brighter future,” said Susan.

The Pham’s started a volunteer organization to ensure that 100 percent of funds went to the projects and would not be whittled away through various channels along the way. They looked at international organizations and said sometimes as little as 10 percent made it went to the cause that people were donated to after the rest was went to overhead and salaries.

The family decided to adopt the pre-approved Ca Mau project of Viet Hope, a licensed and approved organization in Vietnam. The Pham’s don’t send money to Viet Hope but partners with organizations and individuals

Wayzata High School students working to fundraise for DOVE include Justin Pham, Heather Bergeson, Hannah Bergeson, Megan Eckman and Madeline Young.

Wayzata High School Principal Mike Trewick said that the group was given club status and that they are allowed to fundraise – but added that during a meeting in February with Pham and his parents – the group was told that they needed to come up with a fundraising idea that did not duplicate efforts of other groups.

The group was told they could fundraise using T-shirts and donation jars at lunch time but that no other fundraising idea has come from the group as of yet. They have looked at the Penny War with another group project; selling $1 buttons that work to advertise and popularize the project with more visibility.

Outside of school the group was hampered by bad weather at a Buffalo Wild Wings fundraiser; are looking at bagging groceries at Cub Foods for donations, and they are trying to use a gambling permit before it expires on May 7, 2010, with a raffle at the Vietnam Center.

The Wayzata group wants to use the funds to build two schools in Central Vietnam, one school and a bridge in the north and one school in the south. The family has contributed much of the initial $15,000 raised, and the students run the project with adult oversight.

The group emphasized that 100 percent of the donations go to the projects in Vietnam. They want to sponsor a Vietnam veteran to come with them to the school opening.

John Boreman, a spokesperson for Vietnam through Development in Vietnam Endeavors – DOVE Fund, brought a video presentation to students on March 8, 2010, showing how high school students at Winona and Rochester John Marshall were able to successfully raise funds to build schools in Vietnam and attend the opening ceremonies.

Boreman said the teens learned first hand about politics when finding out how to create a student driven campaign. It cannot be run by outside entities or would not be approved by school administrations as a student project.

“This is a lesson for life that they are learning and hopefully they can pass that along to the next group,” said Boreman.

Boreman is a retired attorney and former U.S. Marine from 1966-68 and who was shot down as a helicopter door gunner. He said veterans who have returned to Vietnam and those who cannot for physical and psychological wounds have expressed they want to help the program.

DOVE started in 1999 after then U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Douglas Peterson, a former U.S. Air Force Colonel, fighter pilot, and Vietnam POW for nearly 8 years, wanted to bring post-war humanitarian assistance along with improved communication, education and cultural exchanges to build peace and mutual understanding.

Peterson brought his idea to veterans and the Rotary Club International and the D.O.V.E. Fund was founded. In little more than 10 years the DOVE Fund has built more than 40 schools, including 11 daycare centers, tuition assistance, teacher training, technology and other assistance for vocational training.

DOVE also builds medical clinics, conducts medical missions and emergency medicine residency programs, and has provided micro-finance programs for women in Quang Tri Province. It also works with other infrastructure improvements including five major water and sanitation projects.

Do K. Nguyen of Toledo, Ohio, visited the Twin Cities in 2005 to fundraise for humanitarian and development assistance for education, clean water, medical, and economic development in Vietnam’s Quang Tri province.

Nguyen said that when he retired from his video sales business in 1999 he went to work full-time on projects to rebuild the central Vietnamese villages of his childhood. He said that with his work and no other staff that 100 percent of donations would go directly to projects, which attracted veterans and philanthropists

Nguyen was also invited to join the Rotary and said it greatly expanded his abilities to make an impact with golf outings that could raise $30,000 per event.

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