Canada's virtuous cycle



(Refugee expert Mike Molloy, left, speaks to Ba Duong. RONALD ZAJAC/The Recorder and Times)

I ran into an old friend the other day.

I was covering Sunday’s Refugees for Brockville fundraiser featuring Mike Molloy, whom a different media outlet has called “the man who delivered the ‘boat people,’” when I caught up with Ba Duong.

Ba, now 75, and his wife Thuy lived in Hue, in central Vietnam, during the traumatic years of the Vietnam War and later, in 1979, they and their children joined the migration – deadly for many – that would give us the term ‘boat people.’

He is, as I’ve said, a friend.

When my wife and I hosted the leader of a Vietnamese Canada World Youth exchange group in 1999-2000, it was Ba who invited us over to his place for a Vietnamese meal I will never forget.

Here was a man who fled the communists two decades earlier, hosting for dinner a young member of that same communist party and the young people under his care.

This is reconciliation of sorts, I thought. And this is Canada.

On Sunday, Ba was Centennial Road Church, in part, to meet Molloy and thank him for the crucial part the then government official played in his family’s life.

It was Molloy who coordinated the influx of Indochinese refugees here, the one that brought Ba and his family to Brockville.

Molloy was also overseeing a newly-minted private sponsorship program that allowed groups of individuals to bring in refugee families.

That program is what allowed another local family, the Hoogendams, to join in an effort by Brockville's Bethel Christian Reformed Church to sponsor a Vietnamese refugee family.

The other time I enjoyed the exquisite pleasure of the Duongs’ Vietnamese cooking was almost exactly a decade ago, when I interviewed members of both these amazing families for a feature that would be headlined “Paying it forward.”

The Hoogendams were not refugees, but they understood the plight of migrants. Rita and William Hoogendam came to this area in 1951 from Rotterdam, Holland, part of the wave of Dutch migration that followed the Second World War.

What they did mirrors a pattern of which Molloy spoke: Newcomers to Canada who later join in subsequent efforts to assist people displaced by global trauma.

The Hoogendams and their fellow Bethel worshippers, who first benefited from Canada’s welcome, then added to Canada’s wealth, helped this country repeat that virtuous cycle with another family.

And now, it’s happening again.

The Duongs, like the Hoogendams before them, became hardworking and proud Canadians; and like the Hoogendams before them, Ba Duong is stepping forward to help newly-arrived refugees from Syria.

We know what happens when you come here,” he said, referring to the trauma of the initial uprooting.

The first year is very difficult.”

For Ba and Thuy Duong and their children, people like the Hoogendams made that first year less difficult; now Ba is helping make the first year easier for the latest wave of refugee families.

In an interview before Sunday’s event, Molloy told me he has seen this happen across the country, and not just with Vietnamese-Canadians, but also Canadian communities that were part of previous refugee arrivals. Their gratitude leads them to step forward when the cycle repeats itself.

He said he has no doubt the process will repeat itself in future global crises, with Syrian-Canadians stepping up to help the next afflicted community.

On Sunday, I saw the first part of that happening in front of me.

This, too, is Canada.