by Vera Tran

“Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” These truthful words were not only uttered by President John F. Kennedy, they have been repeated time and time again by my beloved father. As we have the duty to pay taxes to the government to help it carry out its social services, we have the duty to contribute our time to those whom the government cannot help. As we have the duty to voice our concerns by voting, we have the duty to aid the indigent, the disabled, and the ill that lack a voice. As inhabitants of this generous land we call home – a second home to some of us – we have the responsibility to help those incapable of helping themselves because the longevity of our prosperous nation depends on it. My father always encouraging says, “Con giup do duoc gi cho xa hoi thi cu lam di con.”

Like a dam impeding the natural flow of a river, our lack of volunteerism could terminate the cycle that is so crucial to the well being of a society. In return for the services we receive from the community, through government officials, medical care personnel, and educators, for example, we should contribute our time and efforts to those who do not have access to life’s necessities. In other words, professionals in service industries are capable of benefiting the fraction of the community who can afford service or simply who is within their reach; however those are disenfranchised need assistance. When I translated for Vietnamese flood victims of the almighty and ruthless Hurricane Allison, I witnessed the smiling face of a distressed, but relieved, mother once I told her that she would receive vouchers to buy school supplies and clothes for her seven year old soon who would start the new school year soon. The altruistic Red Cross volunteers who flew into Houston from various other states embodied the spirit of volunteerism that could not be defined but could be respected and appreciated. Volunteers helped provide for clothes, shoes, mattresses, furniture, building materials, medical care – bare essentials we often take for granted but many unfortunate families lack, whether due to natural disasters or just the challenges of living.

Unfortunately, some aspects of life could not be simply replaced by vouchers. When I made beaded jewelry with a nine year old girl at the Adopt-A-Kid headquarters, I knew that her excitement and happiness blanketed a more profound hurt and loneliness she suffered. I tried to be the mother who was never there for her, the sister she never had, and the father who she has never met. It may be selfish, but I could not imagine living without the love of my parents, who have been the foundation for a life-long project, a skyscraper of accomplishments. Dedicating time to help, to care, and to nourish others is an investment in our future, or any one individual could became the next Physics professor, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or even President of the United States.

Volunteerism is priceless because it cannot be replaced, timeless because no amount is enough, and unconditional because it does not discriminate. It is the dedication to something or someone in whom I believe. It is the devotion to a cause for the benefit of humanity. It is the optimism I have for the future. Without spending time to help others, they could be left behind, and the growth of a society, and nation, and the individual community depends upon the advancement of each individual. The cycle must continue as we invest in our future. Ba, con chi co gang duoc mot ngay mot lan thoi.

[Vera Tran was a role-model, an inspiration, and a friend to all who met her. She fearlessly took on life armed with only love and compassion. Vera greeted everyone she met with a smile – a smile that could light up an entire room. She had an immaculate soul and a song in her heart. This is how Vera will be remembered by her family and friends, as well as the Vietnamese community at large.

Among her peers and friends, Vera was the shiningest star. Her future was beautiful and bright. She was on the fast-track to becoming a skilled and caring doctor, having already been accepted into the UH-Baylor Medical program, after graduating as salutatorian of her high school class. Yet, this was not enough. It was not enough that Vera toiled to secure her future and her personal dreams.

In whatever little time Vera could call her own, after completing her studies and fulfilling her role as a dutiful daughter, granddaughter, and sister, Vera fought for the rights and future of others. She relentlessly gave of herself and encouraged her friends and peers to do the same. Vera raised funds for disaster victims, fed the homeless at soup kitchens, and worked to benefit her community.]