Back in Vietnam, I grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. The foundation of our house was covered with leaves, not bricks. At the time, my father was a “xich lo,” which is like a taxi driver, but on a three-wheeled bicycle.
My mother raised the entire family through farming, earning a few cents each day. We didn’t have enough food to survive every day, so our neighbors generously donated food to us. That is how we lived in my hometown. We were raised by everyone in our community. And we, in turn, assisted others. My family gave back even though they had nothing.
I have great appreciation and deep gratitude for my parents. Although we were poor, my parents always reminded me that “a gentleman keeps his integrity, even in poverty.” Our family’s philosophy is to share what we have. For example, if we earn $10, we share $5. We save $2 and have $3 left to spend.
My parents’ hard work and dedication allowed me to travel from Vietnam to New Zealand and later to America as an international student.
I was lonely at the beginning with no friends and family. On campus, I tried to find a club that matched my values and passion for community service and environmental work. One day, I attended Discoverfest and met Sarah, the president of the Student Recycle Club. I went to the kickoff meeting and found that it was the perfect organization for me. Their mission is to truly care about the environment and community.
In the SRC, we combine education with hands-on stewardship to make our communities cleaner, greener, safer and more liveable through community improvement activities. Here, volunteers learn how to take personal responsibility for improving their local community environments. We have been concerned about the rapid global climate change that is affecting our environment. Each month, we hold a restoration day at Peters Canyon Regional Park in partnership with OC Parks.
SRC also collaborates with Stop Hunger Now to help feed children from countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. Last year, we provided 10,000 meals for Vietnamese orphans through Stop Hunger Now events. We have used the proceeds from donated recyclables to, in turn, donate to people in need. Every Christmas, we distribute more than 200 sleeping bags and toiletries to the needy in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
Our experience working with the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa, especially with Kim Haina and Craig Duran, has been the most inspirational experience to my fellow SRC members and me.
In the beginning, we helped out at the kitchen only once a month. But then we realized that they needed more help since there were only a few people volunteering and on staff.
We learned that Kim and Craig were once homeless. Desperately searching for something to eat, they discovered a nearby soup kitchen. Once they ate a hot plate of food, they started to regain not only energy but also hope and dignity within their lives. They began volunteering at the soup kitchen on a daily basis. Then the founder gave them the opportunity to become supervisors of the kitchen, given their experiences and services. Knowing this, we promised to help change the lives of the homeless, just as Kim and Craig have done.
I was honored to have served as president of the SRC in 2013-14. Under my leadership, we volunteered in the soup kitchen every weekend, a practice that continues this semester, with help from other campus organizations. At the SRC, we believe that no one should go to bed hungry or be on the streets. Since 2009, we have fed nutritional meals to not only the homeless, but the unemployed, the working poor, the mentally and physically challenged, senior citizens and most important of all, children.
Leading the SRC was not easy. When I became president, there was only $50 in our account, and it has since grown to $2,000. We earned this extra money through recycling bottles and cans leftover from people’s parties and in general, by cleaning up messes. This was not possible without the help from my family, friends, community and other members of the SRC. I always believe that we are small in the size, but big in actions.
Trinh “Sky” Pham is a junior majoring in business administration-finance and serves as director of administration for the CSUF Community Service InterClub Council.