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"˜Forgotten children' of Operation Babylift remember their nativeland

Ever since she was 10 years old, Kim Browne has nurtured the dream of meeting her birth parents in Vietnam.

That dream has not been realized for 25 years, but that has not stopped Browne from gathering other people in the same boat as hers to help disadvantaged children in her native country.

When she founded the Vietnam Volunteer Network in 2007, Browne said she believed "the big love for the motherland" would bring back people who left Vietnam in 1975 on flights under Operation Babylift, a US-initiated mass evacuation of children at the end of the Vietnam War.

Most of her organization's members are people who were brought up in US, UK and other countries following the evacuation and have achieved success in life and work. Now they are working together to provide medical assistance and other support for disabled and sick children in Vietnam.

On Friday nearly 100 network members gathered in Ho Chi Minh City to attend a Brown-initiated unification program under which they would visit orphanages and centers for disabled children as well as places where they were raised before having to leave Vietnam in their infancy.

The visit would help them learn more about their backgrounds and continue the search for their birth parents.

"[Their love] brings them back to do something meaningful for their country," said Browne, who was adopted by a British couple after coming to US on one of the operation's last flights.

The 35-year-old woman is also working to connect voluntary organizations in Vietnam's orphanages to establish an international network involving people who have done voluntary work in Vietnam as well as those who want to help the country in all fields, especially healthcare and education.

The pull

Living in the UK since she was a baby, Browne said she wasn't aware that she was different from the people around her until she was about nine years old.

It was then she was told about her background and little by little, the urge built up to learn about Vietnam.

"For me, my motherland is amazingly beautiful. I felt increasingly that I want to live among the Vietnamese community."

As she grew up, she tried to make friends with Vietnamese people in UK and taught English to the Vietnamese community. She kept wanting to come back to the place where she was born, and even nurtured a desire to marry a Vietnamese man so she could live like a real Vietnamese, Browne said.

In 2001, Browne made her first trip to Vietnam, where she was charmed by the ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress) and streets crowded with motorbikes.

Since then Browne has visited Vietnam frequently, visiting children at the Go Vap Center for Rearing and Sponsoring Children, where she lived before leaving Vietnam. She has supported the children with her own money and by raising funds from her company Danone UK, apart from other sources.

During her visits, Browne learnt how to connect with adoptees of Vietnamese origin in the world through voluntary groups where she was a member, which later prompted her to establish the Vietnam Volunteer Network.

"Although I'm sad that I couldn't find my birth parents, I still felt very happy to come back to my home country. I feel much close [to the country] and blessed."

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