Saigon man helps separated families reconnect

By Quynh Nguyen   July 11, 2022 | 05:03 pm PT
After helping a French woman find her birth mother three years ago, Do Hong Phuc started to help others too reconnect with relatives back in Vietnam.

One evening in HCMC in late June, instead of going home after work, Phuc rode his motorbike from Go Vap District to Binh Thanh.

He had agreed to help a woman living in France get information about her birth mother from who she has separated more than 20 years ago, using the address she had provided.

Unlike other cases where he only had the name of a father or mother or the area where they lived, Phuc believes he will be successful this time because the information in the residency book the girl gave him is very detailed.

But he was mistaken. No one in that neighborhood knows the woman named in the residency book because she had sold her home and moved elsewhere a long time ago.

There was no other lead.

But he is confident nevertheless: "This is my second unsolved case this month. But if she's still in Saigon, I strongly believe I will be able to find her."

Over the past three years the 27-year-old architect has faced numerous dead ends in his searches.

But he says he never gives up, saying the joy of helping overseas Vietnamese find their parents and relatives in Vietnam is "priceless" to him.

Hong Phuc (L) poses for a photo with a member of a family whose daughter was separated 24 years ago on March 27, 2022. The family has been reunited. Photo by courtesy of Phuc

Hong Phuc (L) poses for a photo in March with a member of a family whose daughter was separated 24 years ago. The family has since been reunited. Photo by courtesy of Phuc

In 2019, he assisted a Vietnamese woman in France who had created online posts asking someone to help her look for her biological mother in HCMC.

Based on the information provided by her, he managed to track down her mother after a few days of searching.

The moment he connected the phone for mother and daughter to speak for the first time after many years was an epiphany: he knew what he was doing was meaningful and should be continued.

After that on his personal page he shared his desire to help reunite families, and many Vietnamese in France, the U.S. and elsewhere began to contact him for assistance.

He explains, "Most of these people moved abroad after being adopted in the 1990s for a variety of reasons, but when they grow up they want to return to their roots."

The cases have been of all kinds: some people still had their parents' address and other information, but in many cases they only knew their neighborhood, district or orphanage, making it very difficult for him.

On average, he receives two or three requests for assistance a month. Depending on the difficulty level, each takes a few hours to several weeks of work, but he prioritizes cases with clear addresses.

Phuc makes sure this does not interfere with his day job but frequently spends his free time searching.

He is often accompanied by friends who assist him with his searches and interpretation.

Besides searching in Saigon, he also drives down to places like Dong Nai, Long An and Ba Ria-Vung Tau provinces and sometimes even further to the Mekong Delta to gather information.

The worst part he says is traveling a long distance and then discovering the information is inaccurate.

"But the thought of giving up never occurs to me. I'll keep doing this as long as I have the energy and others ask me to."

Asked about the quickest reunion, he mentions the case of Lisa, birth name Ngoc Lan, who moved to France after being adopted in 1998.

She contacted him in February 2021 and asked to find her mother in HCMC.

Based on the registration book information she provided, Phuc went to her grandmother's address, but the family had relocated. Fortunately, a neighbor in that alley knew their new location and he was able to locate the woman within seven hours.

"Though there was a language barrier, the emotions and expression on the mother's face when video calling her child after 24 years of separation said it all," he recalls.

However, some reunions do not have a happy ending.

In April he received a request from a girl living in France to locate her parents in HCMC.

She had herself visited Vietnam in 2018 to search for her family, but was unsuccessful. She approached Phuc for help after being introduced by friends.

"I was able to track down her family. Sadly the mother had been killed in a car accident in 2016."

The girl was nevertheless grateful to Phuc: "I didn't get to see my mother, but I'm glad I found my family."

Phuc poses for a photo with Pham Van Duoc (white shirt) and Pham Thi Ngoc Hue (second right) during his trip to Long An Province in March 2021. Photo courtesy of Phuc

Phuc with Pham Van Duoc (C) and Pham Thi Ngoc Hue (2nd R) during his trip to Long An Province in March 2021. Photo courtesy of Phuc

Phuc has successfully reconnected 20 families in the last three years.

Many people ask him to locate families from which they had been separated before 1975, but this is usually a big challenge since there is no clear address or the persons they were looking for had died or moved away.

Phuc says: "I don't mind if my efforts go in vain. I am just afraid of not being able to find people or inform my interlocutors about the good news at the end of the day."

Pham Thi Ngoc Hue, 54, of Long An Province, is one of the 20 lucky people Phuc managed to reunite with a missing relative, in her case a lost son who was in France.

She will never forget the fateful day in March 2021 when a stranger came to the house and inquired about her son from whom she had been separated in 1996.

"I did not believe him at first because I was afraid of being cheated. However, when he showed me my son's picture and told me about him, I was taken aback."

The 54-year-old and her son have maintained contact since then, but have yet to meet in person due to Covid.

"My mother and I were able to reunite thanks to Phuc," he says, choking with emotion.

Pham Van Duoc, 53, the head of Hamlet 6 in Long An Province's My Thanh Dong Commune, says this was the first time he had seen someone like Phuc.

"The young man helps whole-heartedly," Duoc said.

While some people praise Phuc, others believe it is madness to spend so much time and effort on something that does not benefit him.

Some also believe he gets paid a lot of money for his efforts, but he rejects this.

"I do not accept money or thank you gifts from others. When I see the family members reconnect after many years apart, the only thing I receive is joy and happiness."

He hopes to get more support from the authorities in finding information about separated families.

"Documents sent back include old ID cards, household registration books and birth certificates, but I can't track people with them. But if I get help from authorities, it will be easier to locate them.

"[But] as long as I have the right information, I will look myself.

"I hope many more families will be able to reunite."

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