January 30, 2014

Return to Aranyaprathet, 2010 - Photos courtesy of Stéphane Rousseau

The refugees at the border camps knew the name of the places where the volunteers departed each morning to come to the camps and returned at night:  Aranyaprathet, Tapraya, Banthai Samart...but we really never had a chance to go there, never envisioned what the towns look like.

Until now. These are photos of Aranyaprathet (know as Aran by refugees)  taken by Stéphane Rousseau, an UNBRO camp officer during our refugee time, to show the town many of us only know by name, and the organizations we remember by heart, when he revisited Aran in 2010

Thanks Stéphane for sharing these photos.

The photo album could be viewed here:

This used to be the location of the former UNBRO Warehouse.
Now occupied by Lotus, KFC...

And this, on the other side of the street, used to be the UNBRO Office

This was the very last office of UNBRO-UNHCR which I opened in 1994 and occupied,
as the Last of the UNBRO Mohicans..

What used to be the COERR office, from where Monta and all her COERR Medical Team friends used to leave every morning before heading to Site 2

The street across the Thalat Thorung (in front of Ploen)

The famous recognizable clock of Aranyaprathet's entrance, now lost in the middle of an intense traffic.

The photo album could be viewed here:

January 25, 2014

My Biography - Sieu Sean Do

Our friend Sieu Sean Do (aka Do Chi Sieu) is writing his biography and needs friends' support. Below is information Sieu has created to raise fund for this book. 

Click on the link below to find out how 

 * * *

Dear Friends and family,

As many of you may already know, I am a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide and of the war between Cambodia and Vietnam. At the age of eleven, I was forced to leave my country and moved to Vietnam. After living there for seven years, I fled to a refugee camp in Thailand where I joined the International Red Cross and trained as a physician’s assistant. 

I was considered a young medic among the team and my language abilities gave me an opportunity to help doctors and delegates to bridge communication gaps. From 1982 to 1985, I served over 8000 refugees at the Thailand border. In 1985, the Danish Red Cross selected me to study in Denmark, where I lived for five years until my arrival to the United States in 1989. 

Currently, I am fundraising for the writing of my autobiography. This project will require tremendous commitment, time and energy. It will take about eighteen months to complete the book. Your contributions will allow me to retell an unsung history--my experiences of living through the Khmer Rouge genocide, my witnessing medical volunteers, and many other non-profit organizations selflessly dedicated their lives for our survival. I hope these stories can be passed down to our younger generation and to others who have yet to know how refugees lived at the border between Cambodia and Thailand. 

Sieu Sean Do


Hình ảnh trại tị nạn biên giới Nong Samet 1984 - set 9 Photo courtesy of Do Chi Sieu

Hình ảnh trại tị nạn biên giới Nong Samet 1984 - set 9
Photo courtesy of Do Chi Sieu

January 10, 2014


(As promised, here is the draft in English....sorry for the overdue!)
Vietnamese Land Refugee fellows who once sheltered at Site 2 north and South camps along Thai-Cambodia border between 1984-1986, may recall of a little boy, but active and smart, mince and polite who every morning and any time of the day, used to loudly call people name on the speakers of the camp in order reaching all patients who had been elected to transfer to Khao I Dang hospital, where they were treated , followed up and or got surgery (i.e Cataracts, tumor removal, or those medical procedures that was unavailable at the border). That was the little boy named Luong Chuong Thong AKA Wah Chay , he was only 12 years old at that time. Perhaps and almost certain that he was the youngest refugee volunteer at the border camps.

The day Wah Chay applied to work at the OPD/Hospital made surprises to lot of people, some even concerned and being nervous of his age…Especially Dr. Robert Brand, acting as general director and chief of staffs at the COERR Site 2 hospital (now living in the Netherlands). Because to let or hire someone at the minor age, even as volunteer, is an issue and in view of labor law is not imperative (for the western culture, this is a no-no). However, an agreement without signature, no paper, no ink…a mutual contract that engaged this boy became a volunteer for the OPD/Hospital…as volunteer, we did not receive any redemption for our work or time…but as a reward we each received from COERR and WFP/UNBRO a weekly ration of rice,bean, canned fish…our work is the labor of passion. After all, to have opportunity to serve our people was a privilege. Next to have a chance to learn and interact with “farang” or NGO’s volunteer was a big initiative.

Wah Chay could speak as many languages Vietnamese, Chinese, English, Thai and Khmer. He was happy to be part of the team. And to the team, he was a plus for us, where communication at that time was limited, no internet (?) no email, no social network, not even a phone, only NGO’s had the luxury access to Walkie-talkie Motorola channels but not the refugees. Wah chay was a messenger as well. After school (which was nearby), he ran to the hospital and waiting for order of duty. It seemed he spent more time at the hospital than at his shelter. Almost every medics and staffs returned to their huts, but we had seen Wah Chay was overtime around the hospital…sometimes till late 1 or 2 AM , whenever we got special case needed to transfer to Khao I Dang or to Rythisen ARC hospital.

Despite of the hot, the cold and dry of the border climate, Wah Chay with his “limousine” bicycle of the hospital, moved back and forth between the hospital and the MSF laboratory with all kind of samples from patients (blood, smears, stool, urine, sputum, bofy fluid…) like a professional medical transport, then waited for results back for MD or nurses to diagnose and treat patients as quickly as possible.

Fleeing out of Vietnam due to the oppression of the Vietnamese communist regime against to the minority ethnic in 1980’s like many million other citizens , and because Wah Chay’s family natively are Chino-Vietnamese. He was too young to understand the meaning and the essential of Freedom perhaps, but the hardship and ordeal life in Vietnam is definitely having a negative impact for his life. He and his mother, like everyone else, exchanged their dignity for freedom. Arrived at border camp after a long and hard journey, they stayed in the camp for another 4 years prior to reunification with his brother in Australia. 

Wah Chay is non-Christian, but he gained the most sympathy and love from many NGO’s. Especially those Catholic priests like the late Fr. Jean Houlmann , Fr. Pierre Ceyrac, Fr. Thomas Dunleavy and even the Thai task force rangers. Because to those, serving others while you are suffering yourself is as good as serving to God’s willing indeed.
Besides the hours dedicated at the hospital as volunteer, Wah Chay also participated with many other youth friends in the Boy Scout family.
By 1986, He and his mother left the camp for Australia….Another new journey, new life began…He’s now known as Nelson Thong.

Recently Nelson determined to trace his old friends those once with him, shared and worked together in serving their folks in the camps….for him those days taught him lot of precious lessons, for surviving in both physical and spiritual ways….and those who to him, like his family members.
His voice on speakers in the camps 27 years ago now echoed again in some of us, who ever been treated at the hospital, whose name ever once called by Wah Chay in a morning for a medical procedure or treatment or transfer to inside of Thailand, Khao I Dang for advanced medical treatments. To Wah Chay, we appreciate his work, his time for helping us. He really made our daily task certainly more easier.

Wah Chay now is living in Sydney, Australia with a beautiful family. He is working at Department of Family and Community Services Housing Agency of Australian government in NSW to help locate and look for shelter for others.
We are delighted to re-connect with Wah Chay after quite somes of almost 28 years apart…Our story has been recounted …with joy in tears. This draft is nothing could describe his entire story, we hope one day he will tell us his side of story in his own words. I am not a writer but I write those with my adoration to a little friend of us , with hope illustrating some portrait so his work is remembered along with others as well. I have to admit my English is not sufficient to convey all what I meant.

Thank you Wah Chay again for what you had done for your fellows and we are happy to hear from you again.

ID Badge for Medic at COERR VNLR Site 2 hospital

ID Badge for Medic at COERR VNLR Site 2 hospital

With Martine Bourquet ICRC delegation at Site 2 North OPD

Wah Chay was under oath to be a good BoySCout at Site Two Camp...from that day... He has been "Be Prepared" as Baden-Powell famous motto ...

Bà con cô bác trại tỵ nạn ̣đường bộ năm nào....còn nhớ một chú bé nhỏ con nhưng rất lanh và thông minh...cứ mỗi sáng hay bất cứ lúc nào OPD hay bệnh viện COERR của Trại cần thông báo phát thanh trên loa...gọi bà con có tên đi Khao I Dang để giải phẫu ...hay phải gặp bác sĩ chuyên khoa, theo dõi sau khi có kết quả xét nghiệm...vv và vv....ĐÓ LÀ cậu Lương Chương Thông AKA Hòa Chảy...lúc đó chỉ có 12 tuổi mà thôi...Có lẽ và duy nhất Hòa Chảy là một thiện nguyện viên nhỏ tuổi nhất tại biên giới và trong lịch sử tỵ nạn đường bộ VN....Ngày Hoà Chảy xin vào làm, không ít người sửng sốt và lấy làm "Sợ" ...nhất là Bác sĩ trưởng bệnh viện COERR lúc bấy giờ Dr. Robert Brands ....vì theo luật lệ quốc tế , cho trẻ em dưới vị thành niên làm việc, bất luận là volunteer hay salary đi nữa, là không hợp pháp...nhưng sau cùng vì Hòa Chảy rất hoạt bát và thông thạo sinh ngữ < ở tuổi 11, 12...Hoà Chảy nói được Anh, Thái, Khmer, Hoa, Việt...> cho nên vị director này không thể từ chối được....Từ đó Hòa Chảy, sau giờ học tại trường Site 2 VNLR, là chạy về bệnh viện và làm cho hết việc chứ không hết giờ....

Thậm chí các bác, các chú, các cô làm chung OPD hay Bệnh viện làm xong giờ thì ra về...nhưng Hòa Chảy lại quấn quít tại bệnh viện overtime....luôn có khi đến 1 , 2 giờ sáng khi có những case phải di chuyển ra "sằn cách" hay đưa đi Khao I Dang khẩn cấp....Hòa Chảy luôn túc trực...
Không ngại khổ cực...những ngày nắng gay gắt và lạnh buốt của Biên giới Thái-Miên....Hòa Chảy phải chạy "Limousine" hai bánh của OPD đem những mẫu nghiệm máu, nước tiểu, phân , đàm....ra ngoài phòng laboratory MSF nằm ngoài "sằn cách" 4,5 km....rồi chờ lấy kết quả về giao cho Bác sĩ, Y tá...rồi sau đó lại đi kêu bệnh nhân lên để được chữa trị một khi kết quả cho thấy bệnh lý rõ ràng...

Bỏ nước ra đi trốn chạy Cộng sản vì bị ngược đãi do có gốc người Hoa, gia đình Hòa Chảy cũng như những gia đình Hoa kiều khác, chỉ có hai mẹ con mà thôi...bán sống bán chết đến được trại tỵ nạn, có anh ruột đi trước định cư tại Úc Đại Lợi, nhưng cũng phải mất gần bốn năm sau mới được chấp nhận định cư đòan tụ tại Sydney, Úc...

Hòa Chảy không có đạo công giáo, nhưng các cha lại thương Hòa Chảy...vì trong giới nhân viên thiện nguyện ai ai cũng biết Hoà Chảy , nhất là Cha Jean , Cha Pierre , Cha Tom...không kể đến các Bác sĩ , y tá ngoại quốc đến làm việc cho trại...rồi ngay cả mấy chú lính Thái cũng thương Hoà Chảy.

Ngoài những giờ làm việc cho OPD/hospital , Hoà Chảy còn tham gia hoạt động sinh hoạt với các bạn của mình trong gia đình Hướng Đạo.

Năm 1986 , Hoà Chảy và Mẹ lên đường đi định cư....từ đó cuộc sống mới theo năm tháng....Nelson Thong begins his new life...a new journey....

Mới gần đây, Nelson Thong, hay Hòa Chảy ngày nào, đã lần mò tìm lại anh em bạn bè, những người mà Hoà Chảy đã từng chung lưng, làm một việc gì đó cho bà con cô bác ở nơi, ở lúc cần nhất....Ai đó trong chúng ta cũng có lần bệnh, hay cần chữa trị tại bệnh viện COERR Site two south...chắc còn nhớ chú bé nhỏ con....đạp chiếc xe đạp lên xuống...tiếng kêu lanh lãnh " OPD xin mời bà con có tên dưới đây hãy lên gặp bác sĩ gấp...." " bà con có tên dưới đây hay đem theo giấy tờ....để được chuyển lên Khao I dang ngày mai lúc 8 giờ sáng...".....

Hòa Chảy hôm nay, dưới mái ấm gia đình cùng hai con , một trai một gái....cũng đang theo làm cho chính phủ Úc trong chương trình giúp đỡ về gia cư cho mọi người.

Cảm ơn Hòa Chảy ngày nào...đã bỏ công sức và tuổi thơ của mình để giúp cho đồng bào mình tại trại tỵ nạn Site two....

Thank you Hoà Chảy...

We are happy to hear from you again.

Hòa Chảy...with red shirt in the middle of Vietnamese Land Refuggee paramedic and Canadian Nurse Luc Payant, Thai Nurse Phi Yoou ...posed together in between of hospital pharmacy and main ward..

Hòa Chảy with Parinya , A Thai Nurse at OPD site two north, Peter Chuong Opd and Ngô Kinh

Chảy with other paramedics and George Town residents...Dr. Ann, Dr.????in front of COERR site 2 south hospital 


January 04, 2014

Unbroken Bonds of Love - By Thomas Dunleavy, M.M.

After three decades, a Maryknoll priest reunites with friends he had served as refugees 
By Thomas Dunleavy, M.M.
The original article could be read here:

It had been 30 years since I had seen most of the 400 people gathered for a special reunion in Montreal, Canada, last June. I had served them when they were refugees struggling for survival in camps in Southeast Asia. Now they are living happy, productive lives, many of them business professionals and educators. As I greeted them, I was overcome with joy.

My mind flashed back to 1980 when I landed in Bangkok, ready to meet them. The Vietnam War had ended and the Khmer Rouge had fled Cambodia, but the war and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge had left thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians homeless and desperate to escape their countries. Many who tried to flee by boat drowned at sea. Countless others, who didn't have the money to buy a seat on a boat, took the treacherous journey on foot, walking through mine fields, across Vietnamese army lines, through Khmer Rouge territory and around Thai security forces. Those who survived became known as the "Vietnamese Land Refugees."

Recognizing their dire needs, Father James Noonan, then Superior General of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, asked me to go and help them.

Initially I worked with Catholic Relief Services in the refugee camps, which were all inside Cambodia except for Khao-l-Dang, which was in Thailand. The camps, housing 50,000 to 60,000 refugees, were under constant threat of being overrun by the Vietnamese army, the black-clad soldiers of the Khmer Rouge or bandits. The Thai military provided some security in a very dangerous situation.

Eventually I became part of a team that included the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Red Cross, and an assortment of volunteers and non-governmental organizations (NGOS). Each day we rode to the camps in a convoy of trucks led by the Thai military. Our mission was to bring to the refugees food, water, medical supplies and bamboo for their housing. My official role was to provide pastoral care to the refugees and NGO personnel. Performing baptisms and marriages, hearing confessions and blessing the dead were part of my daily life in the camps. Much of my time was given to bolstering spirits.

Refugees despaired of ever being able to return to a normal life. They thought they would die in the camps. Many of the youth contemplated suicide. I tried to cheer them up with whatever candy and ice cream I could afford. Listening to their fears and problems, I became part of the fabric of life in the camps. At any given time I could be arrested by the Thai authorities for speaking out on human rights or sneaking mail from home to the refugees. At the reunion I found out how much they feared for my safety when one man told me, "Every time I saw the Thai police approach you, my legs gave out."

Our team helped the refugees fill out their papers when they applied for resettlement in other countries through UNHCR and/or foreign embassies. Most of the older refugees could not read English, which was the language of the camps, the United Nations and embassies.

When a list was posted with the names of families to be resettled, we tried to give comfort and hope to those who remained. Sometimes that meant stretching the truth. I remember telling those not on the list that a new list would be coming soon. In fact, it took up to seven years for some to be resettled.

Each evening when our team members returned from the camps to our headquarters in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, near the Cambodian border, I offered Mass for them. On weekends I offered Mass in at least five camps. I trained the Catholic refugees to put their faith into action by assisting their fellow refugees in filling out resettlement applications, reading notices and helping the elderly get their share of the food. They were to help all, regardless of their faith. Once, after delivering food to a Muslim refugee, the Catholic refugees were upset because the woman had gotten down on her knees to thank Allah. I reminded them we all worship the same God.

Attendance at Mass in the camps ranged from 100 participants to as many as 3,000. Many non-Catholics attended. I felt privileged to proclaim the kingdom of God to refugees as well as Thai authorities, guards and soldiers, even if they listened for different reasons.

Last summer, the Vietnamese Land Refugees celebrated their freedom by holding a reunion in Montreal, where many of them had been resettled. During the banquet following a special Mass, they tearfully gave witness to their experiences in the camps.

They were lavish in their expressions of gratitude to me for anything I had done to help them. The most beautiful and moving testimony for me was when they said they had continued throughout the years to think of me as their parish priest. When they presented me with a plaque in gratitude for my dedication to them, I could feel the love that has for three decades sustained our bond of friendship.

I continue to work with refugees in Thailand. Some are Vietnamese Hill Tribe people; others Tamal people from Sri Lanka as well as Christians from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Muslims from the Middle East and victims of violence from West Africa.

And the former Vietnamese Land Refugees now help me. They have given me more than $20,000 for my current work and the assurance that they will continue to support my ministry to today's refugees.

Irish-born Father Thomas Dunleavy, from Baltimore, Md., served as a Maryknoll Brother in the Philippines for 12 years before becoming a Maryknoll priest in 1975. He pioneered the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers' missions in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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