About Father Founded
It all started in 1992 when I first met the Amerasians in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon ). I was doing my tour of duty as a backpacker, off from my time as a student. I had never heard about Amerasians, only about the war in Vietnam, with movies and stories. Other backpackers in Bangkok told me about Vietnam--that it was a country with very few tourists and cheap hotels and food. So it sounded like an exotic place, not a tourist trap.
So there I was! I found myself in the middle of Ho Chi Minh city, in front of the old French Cathedral and in the middle of a human market. I saw young people of all colors of skin, eyes, and hair. Some looked Caucasian, some African, some Latino, and some even more mixed. For me it was a wonderful, weird mix and a big surprise. Coming from a small town in Denmark, I was seeing something special; something out of the ordinary.
So I went to ask these youngsters, "Who are you?" They told me they were Amerasian. "Amer what?" I’d never heard that before in my life. But after a few words, I found out that I had met some very unique people. I asked them where they lived. Some lived in Ho Chi Minh City; some moved there from the countryside and lived in the street. Others lived in a camp named Amerasian Transit Center (ATC) in the Damn Senh area.
Amerasian Transit Center—hmm, it sounded like a prison to me, but worth trying to take a look at. I went out there with my new friend and future partner in this mission, Hung, who at this time was working as a cycklo driver. The whole area around the center was filled with people making a living from the Amerasians, selling food, bars, paperwork, copies -- anything that made money.
The ATC had an entrance with guards. The main street had smaller side streets with small homes where the Amerasians with families were living, plus offices, shops, and workshops. The center and area were full of people all over. I became fast friends with the Amerasians. They were so friendly that I started to work in the camp doing volunteer work.
After 4 months in Southeast Asia it was time to go home; no more money, no more funny. But the memory of the Amerasians wouldn’t leave me! I had made a good Amerasian friend named Arnold; he and his friend had shown me a great deal concerning humanity, something that I wouldn’t get in my own country, where "everything was working fine."
1993. I had enough money for living abroad and did some searches for my Amerasian friends before leaving. I found no word on their whereabouts. So I took the cheapest airfare to Bangkok and went on living back in the hood on Khao San Rd. Armed with the refugee number of my friend, I went to the main office of ODP (Orderly Departure Program) based in Bangkok. It contained at that time all files of Amerasians, former South Vietnamese military personell, and former South Vietnamese government politicals--all those that applied to leave for the US or other western countries.
In the office they told me that my friend had left Vietnam for the Philippines. Philippines--for what? He was supposed to leave for the USA. But the nice people in the ODP told me that all people going to the US were supposed to stay in the Philippines to learn English and wait for a final destination. Back on the Khao San Rd, I went to a travel agency to get a ticket to Manila with Air France via Hong Kong. Sounds OK, doesn’t it! After a hairy trip, I made it to Manila and stayed in a Malate pensionne (a cheap hotel), closer to my friend. But I had no idea where he was, just that he was in a refugee camp.
In the pensionne, I met a Philippine lady that used to work at the Philippine Refugee Processing Center in Balanga, Bataan. I didn't know about the center, but when she saw the photos of my friend and the other Amerasians she told me she knew my friend. She used to teach him English, and he was a good man--a man people respected. Besides that she gave me the address of the center and how to get out there. It sounded like a trip to the moon.
After waiting for 2 hours in a hot minibus for it to be filled up with people and then getting bashed between a chicken and human being for 6 hours, we were finally at the big gate that said "Welcome to Philippine Refugee Processing Center."
The camp, a country inside a country, had 11 areas--shops, offices, small housing, and everything you need for a normal life. After registration, I was off in a police car to my friend's address. The shock of seeing each other was big, the same with the happiness.
During my time in this special world of madness, I met so many new Amerasians. I had the time and space to talk to people. So when one Amerasian lady asked me to help her, I felt why not? What’s the problem? What can I do? She told me that her friend from the village wanted to look for her American father. She needed to find him to leave for the US, but she had no idea what to do. So I promised to do whatever I could when I went back to Vietnam, knowing that I had no idea when or if I would go back to Vietnam again and how to help her friend if I did.
Time passed and in 1994 I was still in Europe trying to live what you might call a "normal" life. Some Amerasians from Vietnam had contacted me and asked me to help look for their fathers. But I had no idea what to do, and I wasn't really motivated to do it at that time.
1995. It was time to return to the battlefield, fighting for the heart and mind. Off for Ho Chi Minh City via good old Bangkok. The sight of the Amerasian Transit Center in 1995 made me both sad and happy. A few Amerasians had left for the US, but those left behind were in a miserable mood. They knew they didn't have a chance to leave; they lost their chance for leaving for the promised land. All they had was a broken dream in the Amerasian Transit Center. Most had no other place to go, and they didn't know what to do with their lives.
After a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, I went by minibus uphill to a small village between Bien Hoa and DaLat named Tan Phu. A shabby, poor village, just a stop on the way to DaLat, but with a fairly big Amerasian population at that time. I went to see the friend of my Amerasian friend from the Philipines, the one I had the address of. With the help of my friend, we did a house-to-house search for the Amerasian lady, who was supposed to live there.
Finally after a long search, we did find her. She looked really surprised and happy that someone cared to help her. After some days with her and her family we had all the information we could squeeze out of her.
Home in Denmark, I contacted the US Embassy and they gave me the address of the Records center in St. Louis (Missouri ). We sent them a nice letter with all the information we had. (We were lucky; we had his SSN and military number.)
Six weeks later I got a letter back with his DD 214 and with that I got the name of the father. Using Yahoo, I got an address for him. We sent a letter for him and waited again. Four weeks later he wrote me back telling me he was so happy; he knew he had a daughter in Vietnam, but he didn't know what happened to her. So with my help they started to write to each other.
The news about that spread fast, like a fire, and soon many Amerasians started to write me. Lighted up by my success, I created a Missing Persons Agency, but soon after changed it to Amerasian Relief Agency, and made my first Home page. From 1995 to 1999, I kept working on cases but didn't go back to Vietnam for economic reasons.
1999. Back to Vietnam again, armed with the papers from the first case and with a dream of getting her and her family an exit visa for the US. The center was closed and the remaining Amerasians were scattered around Ho Chi Minh city and in the countryside.
I met with the Amerasian woman and her family outside the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) office.
We had no appointment; we needed to meet the American officials and talk to them directly. Many people were waiting, a mixture of Amerasians with their families and people that had relatives in the US.
1 hour turned into 5 hours and then 7 hours without anyone saying our name. So here we were, 3 adults and 3 children in a huge, hot room without air conditioning and nothing happened at all.
So I had enough of waiting and went though the doors in to the long hall where the doors for the interview rooms and the American officials were. I grabbed the first American, a guy named " Lawrence." I forced him to see all the papers about the father, and he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, which meant that my Amerasian case got a "Yes. " Filled with that success, I started to look up the remaining Amerasians, a task harder than before because they had no meeting place.
2000. I was back again in Vietnam and the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) was history, the office closed. It had become the Amerasian Resettlement Program, based in the newly opened American Consulate. It was placed on the ground of the old American Embassy.
Basically, every Amerasian that applied for a visa for the US had to pass through the gate in the wall of the consulate. And the people working at the gate could blackmail the Amerasians for money. Outside the consulate, there were many cafe shops and small bars. In those places, a small industry was working to sell false papers and false marriages. Many Amerasians were hanging around those places trying to apply again and again to leave for the USA, but in vain.
Meeting so many Amerasians made me feel more alive than ever in my life, and at the same time sad, because they were still in Vietnam. During my time in Vietnam, I was doing interviews around the clock, so many Amerasians needed help. But so few had information about their fathers. So little I could do.
2002. I was in South Carolina, USA, visiting a Viet Nam veteran. I received an email from a Viet Nam veteran named Clint. He wanted to help the Amerasians, so I asked him to call me at my friends place. He did ! It was the start of a new agency, a new direction. We created a new agency named Amerasian Childfind Network, Inc, and we are getting better and bigger results in finding the fathers.
2005. After 5 years I was back in Vietnam with my family. It was a changed Viet Nam and a changed me, with a wife and a child. Meeting up with Amerasians that I hadn't seen for a long made me feel like a veteran. I had been doing this for so long, a life story.
2007. I had started the new Home page and was in my 15th year of helping Amerasians. I still feel I need to do it. Amerasians still need my help and as long they need me, I have to be there for them.
At last I would like to thank all those that have helped me during that long journey, especially my best Vietnamese friend Hung. Without him, I couldn't help the Amerasians.