Vietnam Vets Return To Base To help Preschoolers

A refurbished kindergarten has sprouted on the site where Australasian troops were headquartered for the 10 years of the Vietnam War, following a three year campaign of diplomacy and fundraising by veterans.

Nui Dat Kindergarten
Nui Dat Kindergarten, South Vietnam

The new facility will accommodate 50 pre-school children and includes extensions and renovations to the original class rooms built in 2002 for the rural community at Nui Dat by the Australia Vietnam Volunteers Resource Group (AVVRG).

The Group, made up of ex-soldiers and people from the business sector, generated $55,000 in donations to complete the project – including $5,600 raised by Year 10 students from Epping Boys’ High School.

Construction of a new long day care centre, kitchen, dining and activity rooms, washrooms and staff rooms was completed earlier this month and will be officially opened by Australia’s Consulate-General to Vietnam on 19 October.

The AVVRG assistance works grew out of the Australian war mission and have continued ever since as part of the “healing” process for many soldiers.

The projects include a rebuilt primary school, the Baria Orphanage, the Long Tan Dental Clinic, English classes, annual education of nurses in hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City, and the earlier kindergarten.

Nui Dat was the ‘spiritual home’ to the 59,000 men and women who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 72 – Australia’s longest ever commitment to any foreign conflict to date.

A Commander at the iconic Battle of Long Tan and Medal of Gallantry awardee, Dave Sabben, today saluted the persistence and perseverance of the organising committee led by Vietnam veteran Kerry Phelan.

Speaking at a function in Sydney to mark the success of the project, Mr Sabben said: “Kerry, his colleagues and supporters stuck to their guns, so to speak, and worked their way through long consultations and agreements with various departments of local People’s Committees on the design requirements and intended use of the kindergarten.

“At the same time, they never let up on their efforts over three years to raise the required funds – an effort boosted by the tremendous contributions from many willing sponsors, including Epping Boys’ High School, the Heights College in Rockhampton and Bluescope Steel.”

Mr Sabben, who spent more than a year at Nui Dat as an officer of Delta Company 6RAR and was lauded for his role in the bloody Long Tan conflict in 1966, will attend the official opening of the kindergarten next month as the honorary leader of a tour group of Australian veterans and non-veterans.

Kerry Phelan, a Vietnam War conscript in the late 60s and President of the NSW branch of the AVVRG, said: “The Kindy project, like other projects undertaken by the group over the years, is all about a desire to give back to the people of Vietnam as well as to give added meaning to what we did as soldiers.

“For me and many others, those experiences in Vietnam are something we and our families have to live with, but also something that drives us to want to help build relationships and go on trying to make a small difference.

“This project is a significant and meaningful gesture of friendship from Australian Vietnam Veterans and their supporters to the community of Nui Dat.

“It is worth remembering that Nui Dat, at the height of the conflict, was the base to 5,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers at any given time.”

Mr Phelan said the AVVRG, with the help of the Union of Friendships Organisation at Vung Tau, contracted the project work directly with a local builder, thereby creating jobs and contributing to the economy of the region.

He paid special tribute to the tireless contribution of Sydney businessman Dennis Wood, who made two self-funded trips to Vietnam to follow-up the early consultation work of honorary consultants, Sydney Barrister Liz Olsson SC and Architect Dr Phillip Briggs, and to oversee the construction phase.

Long Tan Veteran Dave Sabben at Epping Boys High School
Long Tan Veteran Dave Sabben and Col Joye at Epping Boys High School. 16 September 2010

The Principal of Epping Boys’ High, Mr Peter Garrard said” “The School is very proud to be involved in this most worthwhile project. The school takes community service very seriously and is one aspect of our ‘Boys To Men’ program which looks to increase social awareness and connectedness along with community responsibility at both a local and global level.

“The Year 10 Form has made a four year commitment to raising funds for the Nui Dat kindergarten project as part of the broader contribution of the AVVRG initiative.

“In raising these funds the boys have increased their awareness of the needs of children in another country with very few educational resources. They have also learnt that $5,600 can be invaluable in assisting others and that we should not take our excellent resources at Epping for granted.

“It has been a real privilege to work together on this fundraising activity so that children less privileged than ourselves can be given better educational opportunities.”

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