Voices

Former child migrant: ‘That could have been me’

“That could have been me,” Dr. Vinh Chung told CNN’s Carol Costello. “The body of the lifeless toddler, face down, washed up on the beach is really chilling to me — because that could have been me.”

Vinh’s life story in some ways mirrors that of the Syrian refugee family that has been in the news this week when their desperate journey ended with the death of the mother and two sons, the youngest being 3-year-old Alan Kurdi (initially reported as Aylan Kurdi).

The body of the lifeless toddler, face down, washed up on the beach is really chilling to me — because that could have been me.—Dr. Vinh Chung

In 1979, when he was 3-1/2, Vinh and his family fled communist Vietnam. The family of 10 and 83 other refugees drifted aimlessly in the South China Sea. With no food or water, they were dehydrated and dying, he says.

“But my family had a different outcome,” he says, “because a mercy ship from World Vision found us, and we were eventually relocated to the United States.”

It was more than luck that made a way for his family to start a new life in the U.S., he says. “It was really the compassionate response of this amazing country.”

That compassion was extended to his family by individuals, Vinh says. “It’s really the individual acts of courage and generosity that made all the difference.

“I believe that Americans are a generous and compassionate people. I believe that we are also action oriented. When we see a human crisis, we want to do something about it.

“Individuals make a big difference,” he says, even with problems so overwhelming we think they can only have political or legal solutions. “Because today in refugee camps, there are organizations like World Vision that are rescuing families just like mine. Just like those we’re seeing on TV.”

Vinh is a physician in private practice and the author of “Where the Wind Leads,” the story of his family’s escape from Vietnam and life in the United States. He is also a board member of World Vision, the organization that rescued his family at sea. Learn more about his story.

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