How One Little Girl Inspired Help for Thousands

Xuan – The Charitable Journey of a Vietnamese-French Doctor

Xuan is a charity founded by Vietnamese-French doctor Tran Tien Chanh. It has supported thousands of poor and homeless children in Vietnam. Officially launched in 1994, Xuan has brought the doctor closer to his roots during its 25 years of operation.

The Honesty of a Little Vietnamese Girl

Born in Da Nang, Chanh accompanied his parents to France at the age of 10. Vietnam was at war as he was growing up. Not until 1992, when he was a 31-year-old doctor with his own clinic and two children, did he return to his dear homeland.

“I intended to go to Ha Long Bay. While buying a ferry ticket from Hai Phong to Cat Ba, I met a little girl selling paper fans for 500VND. I gave her 5,000VND without noticing. It was a small amount of money so I did not think much about it. Then I had lunch in a small eatery on the street. When I finished, the owner of the eatery told me that a girl named Xuan had paid for me. I saw the little paper fan seller sitting far away. She smiled at me, and I smiled back.”

Xuan was 10 years old then. Chanh thought she paid for the meal as he had given her excess money. “I was greatly moved. Vietnam was very poor then. Everyone lived in poverty. But Xuan left a good impression of my fellow countrymen. They were poor but had high self-esteem and honesty.” His encounter with the 10-year-old girl and many poverty-stricken, hungry and ragged street children urged him to do something. As soon as Chanh got back to France, he called his friends and clients to set up a charity to support children like Xuan.

That’s how the Xuan Charity was founded. As a doctor, Chanh was widely trusted. Many fundraising activities such as selling spring rolls in the market or printing postcards were held in France to support the charity. In 1993, along with a group of French students, Chanh returned to Vietnam and launched his first project targeting homeless children. “At the Da Nang Supporting Center for Street Children, I met a guy named Nguyen Ran and the caregivers. They helped the Xuan Charity build a common house for street children in Da Nang called Xuan”, recalls Chanh.

Daddy Chanh of Xuan House of Compassion

The children at the Xuan House of Compassion in Da Nang often call him Daddy. Over the last 25 years, the number of children brought up here has always been maintained at between 30 to 40. They come at different ages, from different backgrounds. In this place, generations of children have been raised. Many of them are now going to university or have their own business or family. “Some people who live in Saigon visited me last Tet holiday. They came with their children and asked them to call me Grandpa. That really surprised me and warmed my heart. Now I have many descendants,” recalls Chanh with a gleam in his eye.

“The children affectionately call him Daddy. I think they love Chanh as much as their biological fathers,” says Ms. Tran Thi Ngoc Tuyet, coordinator of the Xuan Association in Da Nang. The story of Chanh’s children at the Xuan House of Compassion is long. The greatest happiness for Chanh and members of the Xuan Association is to see the children growing up. They now live in various places including Da Nang, Saigon, and Da Lat.

Chanh acted as godfather to Hiep who was admitted to the Xuan House of Compassion at the age of six. When he met Hiep, her family was so poor they slept together on the ground of a fish market in Da Nang. Hiep entered the Xuan House of Compassion when she was a 1st grader. Thanks to her French proficiency, she was granted an accounting scholarship in France. “Hiep is working in France. She is married with a daughter and is the key supporter of the activities of the Xuan Association in France,” explains Chanh. Duc and Dat Dang were brothers from Da Lat who were taken to the Xuan House of Compassion more than 20 years ago. “Their parents had four children. Because of poverty, they were sent to the Xuan House of Compassion. When the brothers grew up, they returned to Da Lat to build their careers. Now Dat owns a hi-tech farm in Da Lat,” says Chanh.

More than 5,000 disadvantaged children supported

For 25 years the Xuan House of Compassion has been a loving home not only to generations of disadvantaged children but also to Chanh.

Graduating from the Universite Paris Rene Descarte (Paris Descartes University) with high distinction, he worked in his clinic for 14 years, from 1985 to 2003. In 2003, he co-founded Ideal Protein, a nutrition and weight loss company based in Canada, targeting the Canadian and North American markets. He has written four books on nutrition and weight loss and given lectures to many doctors in the United States. Despite his heavy workload, every year Chanh manages to travel to Vietnam five or six times and spends a total of four or five months there. “My three siblings and I followed our parents to Paris when we were little kids. Despite growing up in Paris, I always considered myself to be a Vietnamese in France. The Xuan House of Compassion has tightened my bond with the homeland. If it hadn’t been for the Xuan House of Compassion, I wouldn’t have traveled to Vietnam that much and understood it that thoroughly. Now I feel more connected to my dear homeland,” says Chanh.

In the last 25 years, the Xuan Association has supported more than 5,000 children in difficult circumstances in Da Nang, Saigon and many other disadvantaged areas. In that time, Chanh has witnessed Vietnam rise from being a poverty-stricken country to a more dynamic and modern one. 27 years ago, when he first returned, he saw many street children vying for the leftovers in his bowl of pho. “Vietnam has been through dramatic changes. It has great potential for further development,” says Chanh. He can even see such changes at the Xuan House of Compassion. “The Xuan House of Compassion used to be very crowded. We receive fewer children nowadays. That makes me glad. I long for the day when the Xuan House of Compassion is empty,” he notes.

The Xuan Association has expanded its operations to other cities and provinces to reach more children in need. It has launched clean water projects, built toilets for schools in rural areas of the Mekong River Delta, helped other charities with their activities, and granted scholarships to children from poor families in Kon Tum.

“Thanks to the Xuan Association, six schools in Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and some other places of the Mekong River Delta now have access to toilets and clean water. We plan to expand our operations beyond Da Nang, to Hue, Quang Tri,” explains Huynh Thi Kieu Trang, ambassador of the Xuan Association.

Doctor Tran Tien Chanh never saw Xuan again, but the inspiration she provided for his charitable journey in Vietnam is still strong and continues to be spread.

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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