In The Beginning…
It was January 1, 1998, 2:30AM. Twelve members of the Vietnamese Culture & Science Association were awakened from their sleep by the same whisper, “If you build it, they will come.” Since this didn’t make much sense, these individuals went back to sleep and forgot about the message the next day.
But the next night, the same whisper awakened them again. This time, they shouted out in reply, “Build what? Who are you?” There was no response. The next morning, these individuals shared the mysterious message with the rest of their group and discovered that the twelve of them were recipients of the same message… at the same time.
As human beings, we have all heard or seen messages, but in many instances, we either ignore or misinterpret the meaning. In this case, the questions were, “Build what? Who will come? How? Why?” The answers to these questions required time and reflection. Upon careful deliberation and review of the Vietnamese Culture & Science Association’s mission statement and goals, particularly the part about “providing a multi-faceted environment where young Vietnamese American professionals can exchange ideas, share skills and participate in the building of a strong Vietnamese community overseas,” the Vietnamese Culture & Science Association resolved to build Camp Len Duong—a camp to “embark on a journey.”
The building process for Camp Len Duong was in itself a wonderful journey. During the construction phase, the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association (VCSA) designed a camp model that could be replicated for many years to come. They planned and executed the tangibles, such as having a wonderful and scenic facility, food to eat, and top notch speakers that would inspire. Most importantly, VCSA decided that the foundation for Camp Len Duong would be built from the best of the best building materials—the campers themselves, individuals who are all or aspire to be community activists or leaders in society.
Len Duong 101
Camp Len Duong enhances the mind, body and spirit. For the mind, there are development opportunities in the areas of leadership, communications skills, problem-solving, time management, interpersonal skills, and learning to appreciate the beautiful culture of Vietnam. The camp holds discussion sessions (formal and informal) that delve into issues of what it is like to be a Vietnamese American in today’s society. Campers relate to each other and further their understanding of relationships, dreams and aspirations, challenges and struggles, as well as achievements.
For the body, Camp Len Duong allows an opportunity to get away from city life and out to nature. Some exercises during Camp Len Duong are physically rigorous, but they’re offset by less strenuous activities to relax. All of the activities help attain and sustain a high spirit. This is accomplished through building new friendships, lots of laughter, reaffirming one’s strengths while learning to overcome deficiencies, encouragement between camp members to contribute to building our future, and the indescribable sense of “Rah! Rah!” energy of great teams that have shared and learned so much together in just three days.
Pessimists may say, “That’s impossible! How could this be accomplished in just three days?” The fact that Camp Len Duong will be in operation for the fifteenth year in May 2012 illustrates that this is very much a reality. The truth is that campers get as much out of it as they put into attending Camp Len Duong. It may be that many campers of Len Duong received the same calling (either implicit or explicit) to attend, as did the organizers to build.
And so once it was built, they came…
Meet the Campers
Sponsors, volunteers, speakers, educators, leaders in corporate/civic/government arenas, and campers all form a part of the Len Duong experience. The result is something that lasts and extends far beyond the activities of the three-day camp. Camp Len Duong has been the source, the network, and in some cases the gentle nudge, to encourage young Vietnamese Americans to learn more about their roots and to go out and further contribute to the community.
The list of special guests and speakers that have participated in Len Duong Camp over the past 14 years has been impressive. However, the true testimonies to Len Duong’s success have been the remarkable campers themselves. Some of these extraordinary campers that continue the purpose of Len Duong Camp by leading and contributing to community service include:
Tuong Vu Nguyen: A wireless systems architect who first attended Camp Len Duong in 1998, he joined VCSA shortly thereafter and has been active in various organization and community projects. He led the organizing team of Camp Len Duong in 2001 and also led the team to deliver a successful Len Duong camp in 2003, the first time the camp was held outside of Texas. Tuong currently serves as a board member of VCSA.
Vanessa Khanh Van Bui: A pharmacist who first attended Camp Len Duong in 1999, Vanessa has since led and participated in numerous VCSA and community projects, including speaking to thousands in attendance during the Vietnamese-American evening vigil to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the the end of the Vietnam War. She has organized and led dozens of volunteers during the Vietnamese American Youth Excellence Recognition Luncheon and special performances illustrating magnificent Vietnamese culture during the Asian American Festival. She’s currently based in Houston, Texas with a family of three little children—and yet she still manages to be active with the community when she can.
Hong Ly La: A scout master and student activist who first attended Camp Len Duong in 2002, Hong Ly La later founded an organization for all local Vietnamese Student Associations in the Maryland, Virginia area and launched a special leadership development and cultural camp program to serve 150 youth in the area. She has taken what she learned from the camp and made it into a reality at the local community. Hong Ly La was the founder of Ket Doan camp project in the DC Metropolitan area.
Phieu Le, Jaime Duy Diep, and Christine Yen Xuan Nguyen: Phieu, Jaime, and Christine are a trio of community activists from Toronto who first attended Camp Len Duong in 2003. After the camp, they brought back what they learned and delivered a great camp program for 300 youths in Toronto, helping instill in Canadian Vietnamese youth the same spirit of volunteerism found at Len Duong. The very first Camp Len Duong Canada took place in 2006. With the help of 12 other Len Duong alumni, Phieu, Jaime, and Christine helped established VCSA’s Canadian chapter. Jaime became the president of the Vietnamese Association of Toronto (VAT), the largest community organization in Ontario province. Christine also served as VAT’s president for a term before that.
Hung Phung and Liem Vu: Two community activists attended camp Len Duong in 2007. Inspired by their experience, they stabled established a VCSA chapter in Minnesota two years later. In 2012, VCSA-Minnesota will be the host for the 15th Annual Leadership camp right at their city. Hung Phung currently serves on the Board of VCSA and Mr. Liem Vu will serve as the Camp Master for Len Duong 2012.
Cindy Dinh: A recent graduate of Rice University, Cindy will enroll in law school this fall. Cindy first attended Len Duong in 2007. She came back in 2008 and again in 2011. The three experiences helped shaped her into who she is today. She became an activist promoting human rights in Vietnam and served as one of the 3 speakers at the White House Briefing session among 300 delegates from the Vietnamese American communities in the most recent petition to free Viet Khang, a young singer in Vietnam. She was the only America-born female delegate that spoke on behalf of her own generations.
Vinh Ngo, Bao Tran Huynh, Nam Nguyen, Bao Ma, Bao Tran Ma, and Tina Au: After camp Len Duong 2011, a group of camp Len Duong alumni in Houston got together and established the Len Duong Bonfire Passion Group. This year 2012, they will bring at least 30 campers to the camp in Minnesota. They have worked throughout the year to raise $15,000 to cover the air fare for these campers from the city of Houston. They have continued to live out the theme that was featured at camp Len Duong 2011: Be the Change! They are Len Duong Bonfire Passion founder Vinh Ngo, a second university student studying arts; Vice President Bao Tran Huynh, a senior at University of Houston; Vice President Nam Nguyen, a young financial auditor and state employee; Bao Ma, a senior at the University of Houston; Bao Tran Ma, a freshman at University of Houston; and Tina Au, a sophomore at Texas A&M.
As a former Len Duong camper myself, I am thankful that the twelve members of VCSA paid attention to the message that they received. And based on the dedication of past campers to Len Duong’s cause even after they left the campgrounds, I’m sure they’d say the same. I’m delighted that Camp Len Duong was built and that so many young Vietnamese Americans like me came to exchange ideas and learn from each other. I will always have the experiences of those three days in my pocket wherever I go.
About Camp Len Duong
Camp Len Duong is an annual event that occurs over Memorial Day weekend. It is organized and hosted by the Vietnamese Culture and Science Association. This year, Camp Len Duong will celebrate a very special milestone—Len Duong’s 15th anniversary. Len Duong 2012 will be held from May 25 – 28 at Camp Courage, Maple Lake, Minnesota. Campers 18 years and above, particularly those who are or aspire to be community activists or leaders, are invited to attend. Space is limited and registrants to Camp Len Duong have exceeded the available space in previous years. Campers are highly encouraged to register early so that they have time to complete the admission essay. For more information about Camp Len Duong, including pictures from previous years, special speakers, directions, fee schedule, and online registration, please visit VCSA’s website at www.lenduongcamp.org
Several scholarships and contests are available for those campers who have financial need to cover transportation and camp fees. Visit www.lenduongcamp.org/scholarships for scholarship information.
Written by Elena Tran in 2012 (former LD Campmaster in 2019)