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Kairos Catholic Journal

THE Vietnamese Catholic Family Mutual Assistance Network provides a strong example of the power of community.

Before 2011 there were various services in Victoria for the Vietnamese community but there was a lack of a central organisation and many Vietnamese were still disadvantaged in society.

A group of 12 in the community saw the need and held a meeting at St Ignatius in Richmond to discuss ways to bring together social services for the Vietnamese in Victoria, estimated in 2008 at almost 60,000 by the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The result was the formation of the Vietnamese Catholic Family Mutual Assistance Network.

The group elected Hoang-son Nguyen as president. A worthy choice, Hoang-son is himself an immigrant who came to Australia first by boat to Indonesia in 1983 then by plane to Melbourne in May of 1984. It was his own experience with the isolation, fear and loneliness he experienced upon arriving in Melbourne that compelled him to start work as a migration agent and help others like himself settle in Victoria. He now also works as a pastoral worker at St Ignatius church, the main office for the network.

Although the Vietnamese Catholic Family Mutual Assistance Network is firmly grounded in Catholic beliefs, the organisation aims to help all Vietnamese families achieve a peaceful and happy family life. The services range from social events for the elderly to pastoral training and spiritual retreats. They also include marriage services and visitation in hospitals and nursing homes. Hoang-son himself recently visited an elderly woman in St Vincent’s Hospital.

“Many of our members are isolated with no family here in Australia,” says Hoang-son, which is why the network also helps with migration and reuniting families. The purpose of all services is to enhance the members’ faith, family, and social life.

So far there are more than 700 members in the network. Recently, when a member of the community died, all the members were notified with a letter and many of the members donated $10. The result was that the family of the departed had $7000 to cover funeral expenses. “Imagine what we could do if we had 1000 or 2000 members,” Hoang-son said.

The Vietnamese Catholic Family Mutual Assistance Network is different from other social service organisations as its main source of support comes from within the membership.

Being member-supported creates a strong sense of accountability and togetherness, which empowers the Vietnamese community. Though anyone is welcome to join, Catholic teachings and principles form the foundation for the work. As Hoang-son says, “It’s about love. We may have different histories, languages, or skin colour, but love brings us together and commits us to action.”

In regards to last year’s Bible seminars and spiritual retreats, Hoang-son says, “We hold them to increase people’s knowledge about God and the Gospel. We have to understand someone to love them.”

Hoang-son stressed the importance of this as the network looks to add youth spiritual retreats and Bible studies to its services next year. “How can they love what they do not know?”

The future looks promising for this organisation in its infancy. The network’s main focus for 2013 is to expand its range of services. It has also opened offices in St Albans, Springvale and Meadow Heights to reach Vietnamese throughout Victoria.

Kairos, December 2012