By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
When Trong Pham was young, he wanted to become an educational ambassador, so he could help raise the standard of living in Vietnam. He worked hard to achieve his goal, becoming an active member and leader of organizations such as the Boy Scouts of Vietnam, Catholic teen groups, and associated student bodies. Unfortunately, the Vietnam War happened, the new communist government cracked down on Catholicism, and Pham was forced to flee the country in 1980 for the United States.
He was completely alone.
“I was basically on my own when I came here,” he said. “I didn’t really have anyone to help me out.”
But that challenge didn’t stop him. He didn’t forget his dreams. In 1986, he graduated from Washington State University with a computer science degree and began to help bring his family to the United States.
“It took me over a decade to bring my family of 9 brothers and sisters, their individual families, and my parents out of Vietnam,” Pham said. “Only when the last member of my family left Vietnam in late 2002 was I able to mentally break free of my obligations.”
His family safe and together, Pham was able to turn his attention back to his childhood dream and help the community.
“I left engineering in late 2003 when I no longer had to be the primary caretaker of my extended family, so I could work closer with the community,” Pham said. “I involved myself in many Seattle organizations and charitable causes, such as Tet-in-Seattle, Seafair, the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce, and ACRS. I believe that each of us has a calling in life, and we can significantly influence the world if we follow this calling.”
Forgoing engineering and pursuing service was an idea that Pham had long thought about, but had not been able to follow. The idea planted itself into his head in 1992, but it wasn’t until 1997 that he thought about it seriously. Though the transition was difficult, Pham was not deterred.
“[Leaving my career] was a very difficult first step at the time, but everyone was eventually able to adjust to it and now everyone is doing quite well,” Pham said. “I was able to devote my time with the community and help the elderly who were struggling with their new lives here the same way my parents had… We all share our challenges in life, and the differences are in our attitudes. When I face tough challenges, I remind myself that I only need to live through today, one day at a time.”
Pham refocused his energy, becoming exceptionally skilled at finance, climbing the ladder at UBS Financial Services and Morgan Stanley, and now uses his skills to aide community organizations.
“Trong is one of the most generous and authentic community leaders I know,” said Julie Pham, co-owner of the Northwest Vietnamese News. “Although he’s really busy as VP at Morgan Stanley, he still dedicates many hours to community service. He brings his business savvy and extensive networks to his non-profit organizations, and he helps elevate them to the next level.”
Despite his community work, Pham has not been involved with a health organization until recently, when he became one of Komen’s Pink Tie Guys for 2013. As a Pink Tie Guy, he pledged to use his visibility in the Vietnamese community to help spread breast cancer prevention. He has been proactive on that mission, traveling to Vietnam last week to speak with U.S. Consul General An Le and share the importance of the issue.
“Breast cancer is still a taboo subject in our community,” Pham said. “You don’t hear about it in newspapers, blogs, or in group conversations. People are afraid to get check-ups. Husbands don’t understand the disease or how to support their wives after the diagnoses… I want to be a messenger to uncover these myths and bring peace and hope to the families who are dealing with these tragedies.”
Like his other work, Pham took on this project to strengthen his community.
“The community is important to me,” he said. “Meeting different people gives me a chance to reflect on who I am and what is important to me. It gives me a chance to improve myself, and to help improve others, too.” (end)
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.