New American Media/Nguoi Viet

As the Lunar New Year approaches at the end of this month, it is a time to celebrate the auspicious start to the Year of the Dog.

For some, victims of Hurricane Katrina — who could number as many as 50,000 Vietnamese Americans — the festivities won’t be the same. The roof over their head is gone. Cousins, brothers and fathers have scattered. Jobs have vanished.

But several Vietnamese American groups have remembered that it truly is better to give than to receive. From California’s Bay Area to the nation’s capital, volunteers coast-to-coast have spent the time since the devastating Aug. 29 disaster working to help the refugees, hoping to make sure that by next Tet (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), they will have new livelihoods, new places to raise their children and secure futures.

“For victims that are not going to go back, we encourage our member organizations and communities to help them and welcome them to resettle,” said Huy Bui, executive director of the National Alliance of Vietnamese American Service Agencies, or NAVASA. “For the people who are committed to going back and rebuilding, the operation is a long-term project.”

It’s a project that this immigrant community has embraced. There’s NAVASA, a 35-member organization, which has made site visits and trained fellows to work one-on-one with victims. There’s the Viet Bay Area Katrina Relief Fund, which has raised funds and sent teams to the Gulf Coast on two trips to help with culturally and linguistically sensitive services and resources. And there’s Boat People SOS, which immediately after the catastrophe, opened satellite offices to aid those affected with applying for assistance. Other groups nationwide have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and sent volunteers.

And there is no sign of the assistance slowing with the New Year. In fact, NAVASA is picking up steam with an ambitious goal to empower the displaced families to infuse energy into their lives and communities.

It’s called Operation Community Building Project. Similar to the Peace Corps, it calls on young Vietnamese Americans to take part in its National Dan Than (“Be the Change”) Corps to assist with recovery. Bui said that last week, leaders trained 10 Dan Than fellows who are now in the hurricane and evacuation zones, where they will work with adults on transitional housing, as well as strategize to rebuild their businesses, houses and community support systems. Most of the families forced from their homes that the NAVASA volunteers have discovered want to stay in the area, he said.

It is part of the Vietnamese American nature to understand displacement, what with generations forced out of the country by war, Bui said.

“Most of them have been through the Vietnam War, and I think somehow, personally, I think they have been vaccinated,” he said. “They have the coping skills to deal with these kinds of problems.”

And they apparently have passed on what they learned to the younger generations who want to help.

In early October, Uyen Le, a senior from University of California, Berkeley, traveled with her peers to work with the families in the impacted areas. What she saw had her hooked, and she signed up to be a Dan Than fellow.

“We share the same goal that the Vietnamese community should have equal access to resources for recovery and rebuilding, and that poor minority communities need to work collaboratively to rebuild a more inclusive and equitable place to live,” she said.

Bui said NAVASA is helping the Katrina victims to the best of its resources.

“We do what we can … There are so many needs in the Gulf region.”

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