“Why I Serve”: Han Pham, Vice Chair of GVP’s Board, Shares Her Story

Han and her momAsset 95

by Guest Contributor | March 18, 2021

The story of why I serve on the board of Global Village Project begins with my mother. 

1 332x332 1My mother and father were just 18 years old when Saigon fell in April 1975. Running for their lives, they each ended up, through their own long and circuitous journeys, here in America to start a new life. But unlike my father, my mother began this new chapter of her life with an education that had been cut short far too soon. My mother’s education had ended at the 2nd grade when her parents told her that she had to stay home and take care of her siblings. More siblings were born after she stopped going to school – eight in total, with the youngest arriving in 1974 just a few months before Saigon fell. Unfortunately, my mother couldn’t bring them all, but she carried that last baby, my aunt, in her arms across Vietnam through minefields both literal and figurative as a refugee.

My mother has often told me about the day she was told she couldn’t go to school. As the oldest girl, it was her duty to take care of the other kids. Her family couldn’t afford to keep sending both her and my uncle to school, and because he was a boy, his education was more important. My mother loved school and loved learning, and she has always felt the intense loss of her truncated education—that something special was taken out of her hands.

3 332x332 1“Education is a prize and you should never take it for granted,” she’d say. She first told me this as I was entering into 2nd grade and starting at a new special school for the gifted. It was a bittersweet moment for her; she was both proud of my achievement and mournful that she never saw school beyond that grade. She reminded me of this lesson when I entered high school, when I entered college, and again when I entered law school. I pursued advanced education for her as much as I did for myself.

My mother’s story is one I have heard echoed by many women around the world. I see my mother in the girls that GVP serves, and I serve to honor her by giving them the education that my mother could not have.

But that is only part of why I serve. The other half of it is that I see myself in these girls. We share a story as children of immigrants, navigating America for the first time on behalf of our parents and ourselves. From calling the roller rink to book my own 4th grade birthday party, to setting up the utilities at our new house when I was 14, to researching colleges and filling out the FAFSA myself, I’ve had to figure things out on my own. I’ve been my mom’s translator at doctor’s appointments. I’ve signed my little brother’s permission slips. I’ve lived the dual life of kid and adult that many children of immigrants must live – the dual life that many of our students live.

I am so proud of the wraparound services that GVP provides to our students and their families to help make their new lives in America just a little easier. Even the smallest of gestures can make a huge difference in the life of an immigrant, and I am proud of GVP staff for continuously striving to improve upon an already robust program of student and family support. I know firsthand how much this support can help, as my own path through life has been paved with the compassion and generosity of so many people. Many of them I have never met and may never meet. However, the best that I feel I can do is try to pay forward the immeasurable support that has enabled me to become someone my parents are proud of, someone who made their journey and sacrifices worth it. So when Pia Ahmed introduced me to GVP and asked me to join the board, I ecstatically accepted.

During my tenure on the board, I have served on the Development committee, recently served as Vice Chair, and have been active in a number of special committees and projects. I have never hesitated to provide extra support to GVP wherever I am able, whether that means speaking on behalf of the school, attending events and cheering on our girls, or even supplying community members with a hundred pounds of our homegrown honey. Over these past three years, I have seen GVP grow tremendously, and I am so thrilled to continue this work and see what GVP becomes in its service to refugee girls.

Han Family 1 332x332 1But my service means much more to me than the list of things I’ve done. I feel deeply in my heart that what I’m doing is paying back decades of help that my refugee family received when my parents left Vietnam. Each day I reflect on and give thanks for how my life has been helped along by both big and small kindnesses—ones I never expected from people I did and did not know. I would not have achieved anything close to what I have now without those many kindnesses.

And so, I hope these girls will experience the same (or better) kinds of opportunities that I have. I hope that they’ll one day find themselves in a similar (or better) position than I have to help others like us. This is why I serve.

Han Pham
Vice Chair, Board of Directors