There is a beautiful Vietnamese proverb that says; When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree, (Ăn quả nhớ kẻ trồng cây). It is this thought that sustains generations of tradition and culture, it is the thread that binds families together regardless of their geographical location and it is the substance that fuels passion and greatness, despite the challenges faced along the way.
Dandenong is a long way from Dong Anh district in Ha Noi, Vietnam, but it is here where Danny, his younger brother and parents now call home. Sprawling rice fields have been replaced with highways and the smells from his grandmother’s cooking no longer hang in the air, but for Danny, he is living a life with opportunity that he never thought would be possible.
It was an act of kindness that ignited Danny’s interest in medicine. His treasured grandmother required urgent care to remove cataracts, but medical support was rarely provided to those in the village where they lived. However, there was one doctor from the city who volunteered his time to help those living with hardship within the rural villages and upon diagnosis, he arranged for Danny’s grandmother to receive the medical help she needed to have them removed. If it were not for his care and attention, she may have lost her sight. This was a defining moment in Danny’s life; he knew he wanted to become a doctor.
Danny’s love and respect for his grandmother is evident. “My grandmother is 85 years old. She single-handedly raised her 6 children after my grandfather passed away from lung cancer, for which he was unable to get treatment due to their financial situation,” he explains. “This is testament to her resilience, courage and determination as a mother”. While her ability to read is limited, the knowledge she shared through stories, songs and poems sparked a thirst for learning and a mind for wonderment in Danny. She still lives in the same village in Vietnam and her physical absence is felt every day.
It was clear to Danny’s parents that the education he needed to follow his path in medicine would not be available to them in Vietnam and so, when he was 14 years old, they made the enormous leap of faith and sacrifice and moved their family to Australia where they are currently in the process of applying for permanent residency.
“Without residency status, my family will need to pay university fees for an International Student which is not possible regardless of the long hours they work, so my future is in the hands of the Australian Government.” These thoughts weigh heavily on his mind as he prepares himself for his upcoming VCE exams. His goal is to graduate with an ATAR score between 95 and 99.
In 2019, Danny was nominated by Dandenong High School for a position with the Skyline Program. Based on his outstanding academic record and attitude to learning, Principal Susan Ogden and her colleagues agreed that he was a stand-out candidate who met the criteria of academic excellence. They also knew that without the support of Skyline he was at risk of not completing his education and reaching his full academic potential due to the family’s social and economic challenges.
Skyline Chief Executive Officer, Jane Sydenham-Clarke remembers clearly the first meeting with Danny. “Skyline leaders were really impressed when he was initially nominated. We saw in him an immense drive and work ethic, huge potential evidenced in his academic performance, impressive leadership capacity and courage in the face of significant adversity and vulnerability. He is an extraordinary young man and so worthy of our support”.
The day he received the news that he had been accepted into the Skyline Program is one that he will carry in his heart forever. “I was sitting at my desk when I opened the letter to read that I had been accepted and I had tears of joy. It was the first time that I had allowed my emotions to show. I wanted this so desperately so that my parent’s sacrifice and hard work would be worthwhile. They had given up everything to support me to follow my dream. I remember my mother also had tears in her eyes and it was the first time I had seen my father smile since moving to Australia. He congratulated me, but also reminded me that it was my responsibility to not only do well, but to also repay the kindness that those at Skyline had shown to me.
Coming from a developing country, I never expected to receive any support from anyone but my parents. I am so honoured to have the people at Skyline believe in me and will do everything to return their generosity and spread this powerful beacon of hope. It is also my honour and responsibility to repay the immeasurable sacrifices my parents have made, and I can’t wait for that day to come soon enough.”
Along his journey, there can be several people that contributed to planting the tree that is Danny. The doctor who inspired his trajectory. His grandmother, who opened his mind to possibilities as a young boy through the stories she would tell as he fell asleep in her arms. His parents, who work seven days a week to provide for their family and gave up everything they knew to ensure their children’s lives were filled with hope and opportunity. The Skyline Education Foundation for recognising and supporting Danny’s academic excellence and potential. Most of all, it is the grit and determination of this outstanding young man who has overcome every obstacle put in front of him to achieve his goal.
“Regardless of the challenges I face, I am determined to work hard and see my plans and dreams come to fruition”.