Author: Gross, Suzanne
Date published: November 15, 2010
With the retirement of Thanh Nguyen, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers celebrated the end of an era on Oct. 7.
Created in 1980 as a joint effort of Edmonton's Mennonite churches and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Alberta, the newcomers centre offered services to help settle Vietnamese refugees known at the time as the "boat people." Among their number was Nguyen, who went on to work for the centre for 26 years.
A man of high standing in Vietnam, Nguyen possessed a strong academic background in public administration, journalism and taxation policy. He served as a chief deputy minister for three years. His integrity eventually landed him in a concentration camp for two years after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975. Upon his release, he chose to come to Canada as a refugee, sponsored by his brother, in large part because of his direct experience of the American policies during the civil war in Vietnam.
When it became clear that the newcomers centre was to become an ongoing project, given the new waves of refugees coming to Edmonton from other parts of the world, Thanh was hired for his ability to help other newcomers navigate their way between the way of life they came from and the new world in which they found themselves. Nguyen saw in his work with the centre the possibility to do what he believed in: offer professional services to newcomers while interacting with the Canadian political world, in an effort to promote humane immigration policies and provide the needed funding to assist newcomers.
Under the theme of "History, heart and hope," Nguyen's retirement celebration reflected much of what he sto od for o ver the past quarter-century.
Don Baergen of Holyrood Mennonite Church, an original - and still current - staff member, spoke of his memories over the years of work they did together. Randy Gurlok of Citizenship and Immigration Canada recalled with great respect the role Nguyen played in training immigration workers in the area of cultural understanding and sensitivity during the 1980s and '90s. Members of the centre's Global Voice Choir performed a Vietnamese folk song, "The Rain on the Leaves," in both English and Vietnamese.
BY SUZANNE GROSS
Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers