Orphan’ finds real family in Vietnam
By Liz Monteiro, Record staff
CAMBRIDGE — For most of his adult life, Thanh Campbell thought he was an orphan.
He was blessed to have been adopted by a Cambridge family when he was almost two and never felt unloved. But he always wondered why he had been abandoned and left in a Vietnamese orphanage with no one to love him.
Today, Campbell knows that Nguyen Ngoc Minh Thanh, Orphan No. 32, wasn’t really an orphan.
He was among 57 orphans rescued out of Saigon in April 1975, two in a cardboard box, in the last days of the Vietnam War in Operation Baby Lift. He recently learned he had parents and last June was finally reunited with his father and brothers in Ho Chi Minh City.
“I can’t believe this is happening. Here is my birth father and I’m standing beside my (adopted) dad. I have a deep bond with this man (birth father) and this man raised me and I also have a deep bond with him,’’ said Campbell, as he recalled the moment he saw his birth father –Nguyen Minh Thanh – in the airport of Ho Chi Minh City.
“I thank God for making this a possibility,’’ said Campbell, 36, who lives in Hamilton with his wife and four children. His adopted father, William Campbell, a retired Presbyterian minister, went to Vietnam with Campbell for the reunification.
Campbell said his personal journey gives him the ability to understand the plight of orphan children and their needs, like that of all children, to be part of a loving home.
“My (adopted) parents had a willingness to open their hearts, their home to me. It takes love to sponsor a child from somewhere else,’’ he said.
Last June, Campbell took on the job of director of development for the Cambridge-based Kids Alive International Canada, an orphan rescue agency that gives children homes within their own countries. Campbell works with donors and sponsors.
The agency establishes homes in 17 different countries with host parents providing food, shelter and love. Children also attend school. Some of the countries include Peru, Zambia, Kenya, Guatemala and Haiti.
The agency, located on Fleming Drive, has a budget of about $2 million. The organization has existed for about 90 years and has been in Canada for 12 years.
Campbell said the homes usually have up to eight children living with two parents.
“It’s a web of support to ensure the stability of these children,’’ he said.
As a toddler, Campbell and two other brothers were in the Vietnamese orphanage because his father was a general in the South Vietnamese army and the family felt the children were safe there during the turmoil of war.
Campbell said American soldiers came into the orphanage and began taking babies.
“They swooped me up and put me in a Jeep,’’ he said. “A woman began pleading with the soldier saying ‘he’s not an orphan’ but they didn’t know or understand.’’
On April 13, 1975 he arrived in Toronto. Five days later he was adopted by awaiting parents, William and Maureen Campbell.
Campbell’s biological parents went to the orphanage on April 30 to take their kids home. His two brothers were there but Campbell was gone.
Campbell lived in Cambridge and later moved to Moncton, NB with his family. He came back to Ontario to attend Redeemer University College in Ancaster.
Working as a motivational speaker, Campbell spoke to a group in Sarnia in 2003 and met another orphan. Soon the pair began looking for other orphans and in 2006 a reunion was held in which 42 of the 57 orphans gathered together.
The story was picked up by a journalist in Saigon and Campbell’s biological father saw the story. A flurry of emails and phone calls began and Campbell asked to see a copy of his birth certificate. It was the same as the one his mother showed him when he was 13 years old.
In 2006, Campbell had DNA testing and results later confirmed that 75-year-old Nguyen Minh Thanh was his birth father.
Last June, Campbell took his family to Ho Chi Minh City to visit his birth family.
“My birth father kept thanking my father endlessly for taking care of me. He kept saying ‘I wish my wife could be here’,’’ Campbell said.
Campbell’s biological mother died of pancreatic cancer in 1987. On her death bed, she pleaded with her husband to never stop looking for “our little Thanh.’’ His adopted mother also died of cancer in 2000.
While in Vietnam, Campbell visited with his siblings and their families, went to his mother’s gravesite and went to the orphanage.
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