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Vietnamese refugee reflects on challenge Afghan refugees are facing

Ty Bui.png
Posted at 5:50 AM, Sep 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 06:59:56-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the U.S. prepares to welcome thousands of Afghan refugees, a Kansas City man who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon is reflecting on his own difficult journey to America.

Ty Bui was a commander in the Republic of Vietnam Navy during the Vietnam War. He worked closely with the American troops, and he was fighting on the front lines in North Vietnam when the U.S. decided to pull out of Vietnam in 1975.

"Nobody [knew] what [was] going on," Bui said. "We had to surrender because [we had] no money, no guns, no everything."

After the U.S. left, Bui escaped to Korea for a few months before getting a visa to come to America. Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph sponsored his passage to the Kansas City area.

He was one of 125,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to America.

Bui said when he first got here, he didn't know anything. But with his limited English, he started volunteering at the Don Bosco Centers, helping other refugees navigate their new lives.

"The hardest part is the language barrier, especially with elderly," he said.

Now, with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan complete, thousands of Afghan refugees are heading to the U.S.

Mayor Quinton Lucas has already said Kansas City is ready to welcome them.

The city has plenty of resources to help them adjust, like Literacy KC's Don Bosco School of English. It provides free classes to adult immigrants and refugees from over 75 countries.

"We teach them the English skills, sort of those survival skills that they're going to need to start becoming more self-sufficient," Gillian Helm, CEO of Literacy KC, said.

Literacy KC is expecting a surge of refugees from Afghanistan. Helm said some of their partners who help with immediate needs, like housing, are already welcoming those who fled the country in the past few weeks.

"The biggest challenge is addressing those immediate needs," Helm said. "But then the longer-term needs become finding that sense of community, finding a place of belonging, and that's something that we offer here as well."

Helm said she thinks Kansas City is up to the challenge.

"I think Kansas City is such a welcoming community already. We do a really great job of welcoming in other people from other countries, other cultures," she said. "A lot of times we learn a lot more from them than they can learn from us."

Bui became a U.S. citizen in 1981. He still volunteers at the Don Bosco Centers.

For more resources for immigrants and refugees, visit the Don Bosco Centers website.

Literacy KC also offers other classes for all adult learners, from high school equivalency preparation classes to digital literacy. More information on those courses is available on Literacy KC's website.