The Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese, through the generosity of its staff, volunteers and supporters has obtained a historic building in Cleveland, Ohio, which has become the new headquarters of the Foundation. The building, now named The Sai Gon Plaza, is a community center which welcomes both people of Asian backgrounds and those of non-Asian backgrounds. The building has already been used by various community groups and has hosted a number of very successful community events.
When Sai Gon Plaza first opened in November 2005, some seven hundred people attended the ceremonies for cutting the red ribbon and listening to the congratulatory speeches. Present at the opening were the Mayor of Cleveland, a number of councilpersons, Congressperson Dennis Kucinich and his lovely wife, several judges, business people, and other community representatives. Since that opening, the Sai Gon Plaza has hosted a Job Fair for the unemployed; an Asian Open Market; a number of sessions open to the public on topics such as building financial wealth, income tax filing duties, and home mortgages; and a weekend Exhibition for Children's Art. During Asian American Heritage Month in May 2006 the Sai Gon Plaza and the Foundation hosted a display of artwork by seven Vietnamese artists as well as various handicrafts for embroidery, wood carving, and marble sculpturing. The local civic clubs have sponsored events at the Center and their members have enjoyed our facilities.
Besides these events, the Sai Gon Plaza is also home for a number of Friendship Foundation activities. These include the Low Income Tax Clinic which serves ESL taxpayers (English as a Second Language), the AT&T Telephone Lifeline Program which helps eligible families obtain and retain necessary telephone service; and other social services and counseling programs. Foundation volunteers and supporters are invited to visit the Sai Gon Plaza at 5400 Detroit Avenue whenever they are in the Cleveland area.
Everyone is especially invited to the upcoming First Annual Celebration in November 2006 which will also include another Art and Handicrafts Show, Vietnamese Music and Movies, and a banquet of traditional Vietnamese Dishes.
Every year we participate in various events including memorial services by American Vietnam War Veterans as well as by Vietnamese Veterans. We always ask everyone to pray for all the soldiers and all the families on all sides who suffered so much in that bloody conflict.
The Foundation has accomplished much work in Vietnam over the past fourteen years. At the same time, the Foundation has sponsored a number of Projects in Kampuchea (Cambodia). These include presenting scholarships, supporting radio broadcasts on citizenship, and helping local villages. Our Foundation works especially in conjunction with Star Kampuchea which is an outstanding local NGO in that country staffed by very dedicated and generous staff.
The World Premiere of the Play, "Touch the Names," was celebrated at the Cleveland Playhouse during April and May of 2000. This play is composed of letters, poems, writings, and other materials left by people at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. Ever since this impressive memorial first opened, families and friends of those who died in the Vietnam War have visited there and left behind remembrances for their loved ones.
The play presents a selection of these sometimes funny, sometimes sad, but always deeply-felt thoughts and memories. We participated in the opening ceremony for the play which featured the "Traveling Vietnam Wall," a huge half-size replica of the Washington one. We also sent out hundreds of letters informing people about the play and encouraging them to attend.
Many people from the Vietnamese-American community attended the final performance and we made presentations to all of the actors, stage workers, and playhouse staff. The children from our community presented bouquets of flowers as a thank-you for all the hard work by the playhouse personnel.
In June of every year, we participate in the day to remember all Vietnamese Veterans. At our remembrance in 2000 Special awards were made to eight people (including members of our Friendship Foundation) by Robert Taft, the Governor of the State of Ohio. In June 2006, we invited American Vietnam War Veterans to join our Vietnamese War Veterans and pay tribute to all who fought so bravely. We conducted a special session of prayer during which each person present composed her or his own personal message. This was a very moving ceremony. Our prayers also covered all who suffered in that bloody conflict.
Our Foundation has participated in many community events throughout our history. In June, 2000, for example, we participated in the huge ten-day long International Festival held in Lorain, Ohio. The festival, which commemorates all of the many ethnic groups who have settled in Northern Ohio, celebrated its thirty-fifth year. In the Festival's Princess Pageant, over thirty talented and beautiful young women competed to be the Queen. One of these was a young woman student from our Vietnamese-American community who proudly represented her family, community, culture and traditions.
In 2004 we helped the City of Cleveland welcome the International Children's Games to our city. We sponsored a Booth about Vietnam and passed out thousands of pamphlets and flyers about the history, culture, and traditions of Vietnam.
These are only a few of the community events that we have supported.
We recently sponsored a Vietnamese doctor from the Philippines who came to America on a professional visit for a month long stay. During that time she met many doctors, visited various hospitals including those serving neighborhoods as well as the internationally renowned university hospitals and Case Western Reserve University Campus, and discussed the medical needs of third world countries like Vietnam.
We have sponsored doctors from Vietnam as well. They have visited and participated in medical conferences and seminars; witnessed operations in our major hospitals; discussed "hard cases" with American medical experts; and visited medical campuses and classes to compare the American medical educational system with Vietnam's.
Recently we sponsored a two year visit by Dr. Thanh--a brilliant psychiatrist from Vietnam-- so that he could attend the nationally renowned post-graduate psychology school program at Cleveland State University. Dr. Thanh not only completed the program at the top of his class, he also conducted a major psychological testing program for Vietnamese veterans concerning Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). His work has been published and he has spoken at various medical seminars both in the United States and overseas.
These are some of the medical activities of the Friendship Foundation in meeting our goal of "building bridges of friendship."
Recently, Northern Ohio hosted the Saigon Water Puppet Theater Group who presented some twenty performances of their thousand-year-old art at a huge family festival.
The performances take place on the surface of a large pool of water as the puppets of animals, farmers, and mythical figures act out various legends, historical stories, and scenes from the daily lives of the people. "How do they do that?" many in the audience asked as they marveled at the puppets dancing on the water surface. Of course, we will never tell the century-old secrets of this art.
Accompanying the performances were Vietnamese musicians who played the traditional instruments. Cleveland newspapers featured the entire theater group in an excellent article including beautiful colored photographs of the performers. We hosted the eighteen-person group on two separate nights, providing traditional Vietnamese foods and sharing in songs, music, and late night discussions on many, many topics. "We have been received well everywhere we have visited," said the tour director, "but yours was the best welcome of all. Here we feel like we are home." The theater group has toured the United States several times, giving successful performances before many audiences.
Our Asian Community Mental Health Project, originally founded by Gia Hoa Ryan who is our Foundation's Executive Director, continues to provide mental health and other assistance to families in our community. The following story illustrates the excellence of this program: Several years ago, the County Mental Health "umbrella" organization held its annual meeting and dinner at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Cleveland. Over 700 people from the general community and all the various organizations attended. Our Asian Community Project, which is a joint effort of the Friendship Foundation, the Ridgecliff Foundation, and the West Side Community Mental Health Center, was presented the top award of the year for its work in helping people. Over 200 projects had competed for this award. We are very proud of this achievement.
We are making plans for our next Children's and Education Project in Vietnam. December will mark the fourteenth year in a row that we have sponsored volunteers to do charitable work in Vietnam. Already people are signing up for this Project XIV during which again we will visit and help at hospitals, orphanages, schools, homes for the handicapped and poor rural villages.
Last year's group enjoyed many successes in their work. (Currently, we are completing the newsletter composed of articles written by last year's participants. If anyone wants to be certain of receiving a copy, please provide us either your email address or your snail mail address. We also have copies of the newsletters written by the participants in other past Foundation Projects which we can send to anyone who requests a copy.)
We ask you to remember some people and say some prayers for their work.
Elaine Mew who volunteered in several projects including as a Coordinator is currently working for an NGO in Vietnam.
Foundation volunteer Boyd Bauman has completed his teaching assignment at the Van Lang University in Saigon. Boyd participated in three of our projects to Vietnam and served as a hard-working Assistant Coordinator for one of these. We are very proud to have helped him realize his dream to teach long-term in Vietnam.
Our Foundation has worked with Prosthetist Roger Marshall who for over thirty years has volunteered his time, talents, and resources to help the handicapped and disabled in Vietnam. Currently, the Foundation is assisting Mr. Marshall in his dream to build a clinic to serve the disabled in Quang Ngai province.