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Campus parent grows up in orphanage, escapes Vietnam

Despite a now seemingly normal everyday life, FC parent Noi Duffy faced an escape from Vietnam, as a refugee, at only age seven. Duffy, parent of Sierra Duffy, ’16, and Austin Duffy, ’19, escaped from Vietnam along with 82 others children and staff members.

Noi Duffy grew up in the Cam Ranh City Christian Orphanage in Southern Vietnam. It was not until March of 1975 that the director of the orphanage, Nguyen Xuan Ha, decided to take the children to America, due to the impending threat of the war. Duffy escaped Vietnam with the help of American missionaries and Ha.

“The Cam Ranh City Christian Orphanage was established by Protestant Men of the Chapel at Cam Ranh Air Force Base in 1967,” Duffy said. “Baptist Churches helped to support it and Southern Baptist missionaries filled the roll of pastor to the children. In late March of 1975, Nguyen Xuan Ha, director of the orphanage, received news that his country was falling to communist forces from the north. He decided that he must somehow get his children out of Vietnam and, hopefully, to America.”

The children left the orphanage on April 2, 1975. Duffy, all 82 children and the staff left, hoping to reach America safely, but encountered many difficulties.

“On April 2, Ha, his staff and 82 children left their orphanage in three tiny busses, bound for Phan Thiet {capital of the Binh Thuận province}, in hopes of boarding a boat to Saigon,” Duffy said. “They encountered the first of many harrowing experiences before reaching Phan Tiet. On the road, fleeing soldiers boarded the busses. At one point, Mr. Ha said that other South Vietnamese troops blocked the vehicles from crossing a bridge, and fighting erupted between the soldiers.”

When the group eventually arrived in Phan Tiet, their next move was to board a boat that was going to Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam.

“After getting his group through this near disastrous experience, they arrived in Phan Tiet,” Duffy said. “The city was jammed with refugees, and boat owners were demanding exorbitant fees to rent a boat. For the first of many times it seemed God was intervening on their behalf: an erroneous report was circulated that another road had been opened up to Saigon. Many refugees left the city, hoping to get to their destination through this road. Director Ha was then able to get his group on a boat for considerably less money.”

Due to complications with the boat, they had to travel from Vung Tau to Saigon, by bus. Once in Saigon, they bought a boat in hopes of reaching Singapore.

“They went as far as Vung Tau by boat and the rest of the way to Saigon by bus,” Duffy said. “Thousands of refugees crowded this city too, and everything was in turmoil. It was a frightening situation, and Mr. Ha took his children to the Baptist Refugee Center for several days to decide his next move. Worried about their safety there, he again moved them further south to Rach Gia, a port city. There, he bought a leaky old diesel boat, 4500 liters of fuel and food supplies.”

Duffy explained that the people on board lacked the knowledge required to guide the boat to their destination. Within a couple days, the boat lost power and left its passengers stranded in the water.

“They soon learned they had an inexperienced crew, as the boat rammed several other vessels getting out of the harbor,” Duffy said. “After two nights and a day, the wheezing old engine gave out, and they were adrift. God?s hand was evident again when a Taiwanese merchant ship came by, first ignoring their pleas for help, but then turning around and coming back. They tied their small craft to the big one and were towed for two more night and a day toward the Singapore Harbor.”

Though they had been picked up by the merchant ship, Duffy said that the ride made them anxious and fearful.

“The help was not a mind-easing experience though,” Duffy said. “‘We were nearly frightened to death,’ Mr. Ha said. ‘The ship would travel slow during the day and speed up at night.’ They had to hang on for dear life and weren?t able to sleep at night. Instead, they squatted and kept watch, with an axe in hand, ready to cut the tow rope if it looked like they were going to be dragged under by the moving force of the larger boat.”

Due to the route the merchant ship was taking, they had to cut the rope and let the boat full of children float into the Singapore harbor. Duffy stated that the children sat in the harbor for five days before a message had been sent for help.

“As the ship neared Singapore, the crew motioned for Ha and his men to cut the tow rope,” said Duffy. “The larger ship was bound for Hong Kong, and this was as far as they would take them. Again the boat was helplessly adrift. This time God sent a rescue plane which spotted them, and later three fishing boats. The refugees were taken off the leaky boat and carried to harbor. But more waiting, weariness and anxiety beset them. They sat in the harbor for five days, scared and hungry, until finally a friendly policeman took a message from Mr. Ha to a Southern Baptist missionary, Bob Wakefield.”

Duffy explained that help arrived soon and after layovers in Switzerland and New York, they arrived safely in Dallas.

“Help came almost immediately,” Duffy said. “They were all put aboard a landing craft and taken to an island for quarantine. For five days they rested and tried to recuperate from their terrible ordeal. Meanwhile, Southern Baptist missionaries were working to get them air passage to the United States. The group was taken to a Singapore army camp and put on a jet, bound for New York, via Switzerland. From New York, they were flown to the refugee center in Ft. Chaffee, AK. After a brief stay at Ft. Chaffee, and the Paul Martin Ranch near Houston, TX, the children were brought to Buckner Baptist Children?s Home in Dallas, {TX}.”

Duffy stayed in the orphanage for about a year until she was adopted by her parents, both of whom had served in Vietnam. Her daughter, Sierra, told us what her mom has done since leaving the orphanage.

“My mom basically grew up in Montana,” Sierra said. “She went on to study at Fresno State University where she met my dad. They got married, she had me and then my younger brother, Austin. My mom’s story has really inspired me and reminded me to always be thankful for what I have.”

Duffy said that she was able to meet her family for the first time, about 14 years ago. It was a very emotional experience for her and her family.

“About 14 years ago, I was able to meet my family for the first time since I left in 1975,” Duffy said. “This was a very life-changing experience for my family and I. To think that all those years I had family out there that I didn’t even know.”

Duffy said that if it were not for God, the children of the orphanage would have never made it. She thanks God for everything he has done in her life, knowing that he has a hand in her journey.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for all he has done for me,” Duffy said. “There’s no way that things just happened for us to be rescued every time we encountered trouble back in Vietnam. I was all God. And now he has given me a great family in a great country.”

For more features, read the Nov. 2 article, Science teacher welcomes new addition, first born.

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    Laura CasugaAug 17, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Yeah girls! Way to go!

    Reply