Vietnam Trips Open Hearts for Growing 'Family'

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Bihn Nguyen Rybacki's "family" doubled in size this year.

She began 1996 with about 350 children; she ended it with nearly 850. She's hoping that 1997 is an even better year.

On Dec. 30, Rybacki left once more for Vietnam to visit with "my kids," as she calls the hundreds of Vietnamese orphans she supports through her 3-year-old foundation, Children of Peace.

When the Denver Post profiled Rybacki last March, she was preparing to leave for a three-week trip to her former homeland. When not traveling, Rybacki works full time as an information technology specialist for UNIX services at Hewlett-Packard in Fort Collins and lives with her family in Loveland.

"On my last trip we, literally, honest to God accidentally, tumbled into adding 300 more kids," said Rybacki. Her homegrown charity helps Vietnam's poorest of the poor - the children called "bui doi" literally "dust of life."

Her work supports orphanages in southern and northern Vietnam run by Catholic nuns.

"The past year has confirmed for me that most humanitarian efforts in Vietnam concentrate on big cities," Rybacki said. "On my trip the danger was very, very close to me. But humanitarian folks have got to go where no one wants to go. Because it is a lopsided deal right now."

Individual donations filter in, but so far her only steady support comes from a church in Sandy, Utah, with a commitment to overseas humanitarian aid. The foundation's seven-member board now is registering as a nonprofit organization so that future donations will be tax-deductible.

Rybacki plans to return to northern Vietnam next summer to renovate a donated building. The building is a gift of Vietnam's socialist government - a sign that her work may be opening hearts and winning respect in official circles. During that visit, she plans to bring a delegation of almost 20 people to help with construction. The orphanage will serve children of the ethnic Hmong minority group whose parents are ostracized because they have leprosy.

"This isn't a BYOB party," Rybacki joked.

"This is a 'bring your own M&M party.' Money and muscle: money to buy materials and muscle to build.

"Whenever I go back now, I don't dare set out an agenda anymore. I just go, keep my head low, and do whatever it is that comes naturally."

Credits: Michelle Mahoney

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