By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The giant-sized scrapbook filled with newspaper articles about her lifesaving work in Southeast Asia is worn out. Years of adding new clippings have taken a toll on its torn and weakened binding.
Inside the scrapbook, there are photographs of large pots filled with empty baby bottles scattered on the floor. Nearest to the pots, crying orphans can be seen inside rusted, worn-out metal cribs.
Betty Tisdale wants to find some way to repair it so that it can, once again, be strong, just like her memories of the fall of Saigon during the spring of 1975.
She, along with Dr. Cao Xuan Anh and Ina Balin, attempted to rescue more than 400 children — only 219 could be saved — by military airlift from An Lac Orphanage in Vietnam to the United States. In May 1975, the 219 children were all adopted, and the “Angel of Saigon” drew media attention, particularly from newspapers around the world.
In addition to her scrapbook and countless photos of the orphans she’s either saved or visited, she has signed letters of recognition from Nobel Peace Prize winners Mother Teresa and Albert Schweitzer.
In July 2000, she founded Helping and Loving Orphans (HALO), an organization “dedicated to bettering the lives of orphans and at-risk children around the world, especially in developing countries.”
Besides Vietnam, HALO has come to the aid of orphans in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico.
Tisdale knows what she needs to do to help the orphans in earthquake-ravaged Haiti: to provide shelter for one of many orphanages desperate for help and to raise money. HALO has already sent a check for $1,000 to Orphelinat Rose-Mina to pay for needed items such as water, rice, and beans.
She will travel to Port-au-Prince on March 11 to see if a new shelter can be constructed for 80 children — 50 of them are babies — at the orphanage.
“They’re all living outside now,” said Tisdale. “I want to go down there and find who is doing all the building.” When she arrives, the Angel of Saigon also plans to distribute chewable children’s vitamins, the only items she’ll be bringing with her.
Before the devastating earthquake in January, Haitian orphanages were already full beyond capacity, and adoptions were being processed. Now, they must deal with more new orphans and Haitian authorities are no longer permitting orphans to leave the country amid the chaos.
Much of the paperwork for adoptions is now buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
The Joint Council on International Children’s Services issued a recent statement saying, “Until further notice, the best way to support the needs of the children in Haiti is to donate money to international aid organizations dealing with the disaster.”
“To be frank, I don’t play bridge or tennis,” said Tisdale. “I’m much better at speaking [about HALO], trying to raise money, and taking care of kids.”
A HALO volunteer contacted University of Washington senior Olivia Sengsi for possible fundraising ideas.
“I suggested that maybe fundraising buttons would be a good idea because they’re not so expensive to produce, and they’re eye-catching, and it’s very easy to market,” said Sengsi, who is majoring in geography with a concentration in spatial equity and politics.
Over the span of a few days, she created almost 300 buttons with two red hearts horizontally below the middle and the message: “Seattle For HAITI — 2010.” Each one sells for $2 each, and all proceeds will go to benefit Orphelinat Rose-Mina. They can be found at Peso’s Kitchen Lounge and Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge, and both are located in Seattle’s Queen Anne district. Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club in the University District will also have them available.
Sengsi, the president of the university’s Lao Student Association and a member of the Chi Sigma Alpha sorority, says her own family immigrated to the United States around the same time as Tisdale’s lifesaving airlift.
“They were fortunate enough to have a sponsor that was able to bring them here to start a new life,” she said. “As a child, I grew up hearing stories all the time of the hardships and the struggle that it took to advance the life for the family and for their future.”
She says she “definitely relates” to the gratitude and appreciation the orphans and their adopted families have for the Angel of Saigon.
“It’s really from my heart that I really wanted to contribute to such a good cause and especially to work with a person who’s so internationally well-known,” she added. ♦
For more information on Helping and Loving Orphans, visit www.bettytisdale.com.
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.