Vietnamese American finds his dream in giving

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Tony Dang and children at an English class he taught in Thailand

A Vietnamese American volunteer has given up a normal life to travel around Southeast Asia devoting his time and efforts to helping the poor.

Tony Dang, 25, is the son of a once-wealthy family in California. His family owned a large nail salon in Little Saigon.

Dang used to dream of making a lot of money to buy a big house and a nice car. But his father then got into gambling debts, forcing his family to sell the nail salon and their house to pay off creditors.

Six years ago, his father left the family. He told Dang he was leaving because his children did not love him anymore. He said they didn't love him because he couldn't make money.

Dang became obsessed by what his father said and he soon realized that money could not buy happiness.

He started working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) - a national organization of local chapters that provide after-school programs for young people.

Although he could not speak English fluently, he volunteered to help Vietnamese newcomers integrate into US society.

When he asked these students about what they dreamed of, the students were usually confused. Some said they did not have dreams, some said they just wanted to make enough money to live.

He soon realized that he too did not have a dream for his future. Something was lacking. Eventually he filled that void by deciding to travel around Southeast Asia to help underprivileged people.

"Many said I am a dreamer, but I think I'd rather chase my wild dreams than have none at all," he said.

The wanderer

Prior to taking off early this year, Dang held various jobs in the US to make ends meet. He worked in a nail shop, and then a tattoo shop he opened. The last job he held was as an assistant for US$22.5 per hour. 

Early this year, he sold his car and other possessions and called on his friends and relatives to support him to fundraise around $5,000. Once he had enough money, he quit his job and traveled to Vietnam.

Here, he worked as a volunteer for Viet Artisans, a non-profit project providing jobs for underprivileged and disabled people in Vinh Long Province's An Binh Commune.

He was tasked with helping poor people produce embroidery products and bringing the products to Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang for sale.

He worked without being paid. He also gave a local woman VND10 million ($474) to repair her dilapidated house, according to To Lan, a coordinator with Viet Artisans.

After two months with Artisans, Dang traveled to Da Nang. Several months later, he traveled to Thailand. During his stays, he taught English and drawing and spent his earnings buying food and clothes for orphaned children.

He will travel to the Philippines later this month to help people in areas affected by super typhoon Haiyan with several thousand US dollars he collected from his friends.

Dang plans to return to Vinh Long Province and open a small coffee shop there to earn money for his charity work. He wants to open drawing and English classes for children and give them free books.

He said he will have to borrow money from a bank to open the coffee shop; therefore, he will work six months in the US to make money, and spend the other six months of the year in Vietnam.

"I've finally found my dream," he said.

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