A Legacy of Love

Inspired by her late father’s immense resilience and kindness, UCalgary alumna Vien Huynh-Lee, BA’00, finds peace in seeing his legacy grow.

by Vien Huynh-Lee, BA’00 on behalf of my mother, Lanh, and my siblings, Vinh, Kim (BA’98) and Tran (BComm’99)

When I was a baby, my parents spent their life savings to buy our passage out of Vietnam — along with nearly 200 other refugees — on an 18-by-two-metre-wide fishing vessel. After five very difficult days of travel, we were forced to dock at a deserted Malaysian island.  

For weeks, my family and the other passengers foraged for food: snails, little fish — anything that would help us survive. Eventually, we were located by the Red Cross and given a place in a refugee camp.

And then, for six months, we waited.

One day, my dad — Ninh Huynh — heard our family’s names read over the camp’s loudspeaker. We’d been accepted into Canada!

We arrived in Birtle, a small town in western Manitoba, with $100 to our name and one small bag each. With the support of the 30 sponsor families who brought us to Canada, we started to settle into our home.

For my parents, the most important of our new opportunities was education. My dad and mom were forward-thinkers. They knew a good education would pave the way toward fulfilling and challenging futures for us.

My siblings and I have fond memories of piggyback rides through snowstorms to our English tutors; lovingly prepared snacks that magically appeared on our study tables; and how every extra penny my parents earned in our family restaurant went into our education funds.

True to his forward-thinking nature, when he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in 2015, my dad focused on what was most important to him. He spent more time with his family — especially his seven grandkids — and reflected on what his legacy would look like.

My parents’ journey to Canada and their commitment to our education served as inspiration for their legacy. Together, they left a gift in their wills to establish an endowed bursary at my alma mater, the University of Calgary, where my older brother and sister also attended.

Who would have thought a man who arrived in Canada with $100 in his pocket would have the means to help others earn their university education, long after his death?

Now, their generosity is opening those same doors to refugee families for generations to come.

Vien Huynh-Lee, BA’00

My parents’ legacy gift acknowledges the challenges refugees face as they struggle to build new lives and the important role education plays in allowing them to do so.

The Ninh Huynh Memorial Bursary, established following my dad’s passing in 2018, is a perfect embodiment of what my parents went through. They started with nothing. They worked tirelessly. They supported me and my siblings and made sure every door was open to us.

Now, their generosity is opening those same doors to refugee families for generations to come.

One day, my own children will be old enough to understand the lasting impression their granddad has left, not only in their lives, but also in the lives of many others. My mom, siblings and I have decided that our whole family will contribute however we can to this bursary. In that way, we’ll keep my dad’s memory alive, pass along his passion for education, and make sure our kids, their kids and their kids’ kids know how wonderful Ninh Huynh was.

We’re so thankful to be able to carry on his legacy in this beautiful way.

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