In 1995 I was volunteering at the International Institute of Boston where I had been trained to teach English as a Second Language. I was assigned to Kleng, a Vietnamese refugee woman. Her husband and four older children were attending classes in ESL but she was at home with a small child.

I went to their Dorchester apartment twice a week for three years. Often the entire family would sit around the table and participate in the lessons. We became great friends and have remained good friends since.

Although Vietnamese, they were members of the Montagnard, a tribal group from the Central Highlands. The Montagnard are Christian and have long been persecuted in Vietnam, especially after the war because had they sided with the Americans.

Dong, the head of the family spent time in prison after the war. As Kleng learned English she told stories of unimaginable hardship. She is a tiny woman, who would climb into the mountains to gather bundles of wood for fuel to cook and then carry them home on her back. When her husband was imprisoned, she carried an infant daughter and ten pounds of rice to visit him weekly. A lengthy bus ride and then a walk of several miles.

Last weekend Max and I were delighted to be invited to the wedding of their daughter Lyia. Lyia was in middle school when the family moved to Boston. By the time she graduated from high school she had become proficient in English and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to college and earned a degree in Graphic Arts and recently graduated from college with a BSN. She and her husband, Dustin, are both registered nurses now.

I’ve been enriched by my relationship with this family and am grateful that they’ve been part of my life.

Kleng with daughter Lyia and her new husband, Dustin

Kleng is wearing a Montagnard traditional dress made for her by her oldest daughter who lives in Vietnam