S. Whidbey's Basil Café, Friendship Force team up for Vietnam benefit

Whidbey’s Friendship Force is working to help educate children in the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam to keep them safe from land mines. - Photo courtesy of Laura Strehlau
Whidbey’s Friendship Force is working to help educate children in the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam to keep them safe from land mines.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Laura Strehlau

A South Whidbey group is fighting land mines and boosting literacy in Vietnam and they now have found an ally in Bayview.

The South Whidbey Friendship Force is raising money to build a library that will keep children in Vietnam safe. Friendship Force members are teaming up with Chef Chung Tran of the Basil Café at the Bayview Cash Store.

He will be serving cuisine from his native Vietnam at the café from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 24. The special dinner will raise money for the Friendship Force Peace Library Project.

Several members of Whidbey’s Friendship Force visited the Quang Tri Province in Vietnam last November. They were impressed with the work being done by Peace Trees Vietnam, a group based in Seattle, to clear unexploded ordnance from the area and replace them with trees.

The Whidbey group wanted to help, and the group initiated a plan to raise $17,500 to build a library in the province to help people understand how to avoid land mines and unexploded ordnance, and to provide educational materials for citizens.

Langley resident Laura Strehlau traveled with the group to Vietnam.

“All of us on the trip grew up before or during the Vietnam era,” she said.

“None of us served in Vietnam. We most likely were busy attending college, raising families or working. We knew little more about the war other than what the six o’clock news relayed to us. Yet, we were surprisingly affected by the war.”

Strehlau said they went to Vietnam to not only make friends, but to learn more about the history of this war.

“We went to see the places reminiscent of that era: Danang, China Beach, Hue, Hanoi to name a few,” she said.

“Vietnam is unlike anyplace else we have traveled.”

The library project came about when the travelers examined the long-term effects of war.

“Whenever a country pulls out of a war, the citizens of country where the war took place are left with much more than putting their lives back in order,” she said. “In the case of Vietnam, unexploded ordnance, land mines and residues from Agent Orange remain a reality today — over 30 years later.”

It was something the visitors saw time and again during their trip.

“Quang Tri is home to indigenous people who are mostly illiterate and speak only their own dialects,” Strehlau said. “The children of these people are often maimed or killed when they see a metal object and try to retrieve or play with it. Each week a child in this area is hurt or killed by the long-lasting effects of the Vietnam War.”

The library will educate and teach children about the dangers, she said.

Their efforts found grateful recipients.

“We were so moved by what we saw, we donated money to the Danaan Parry Landmine Education Center,” Strehlau said. “A very pregnant young woman accepted the donation on behalf of the center. With tears streaming down her eyes, she thanked us profusely. Soon, the entire 19 of us were also in tears.”

Even though Vietnam seems half a world away, it’s also U.S. history.

“Some people can’t forget or forgive what took place in Vietnam, but they should consider that what took place there is taking place in many spots around the world today,” Strehlau said. “This is not a partisan, nor is it a political issue, but a human issue. War is a gift that continues to give long after the fighting stops.”

In September 2009, the Whidbey group will return to Vietnam to dedicate the library. Anyone interested in traveling with the group can call 206-819-5231.

“Friendship Force trips are more than visiting exotic places. They are about meeting people, making friends and working for peace through the friendships that are formed,” Strehlau said.

The cause is hitting close to home for the Tran family, the Chinese family who runs the Basil Café.

The Bayview restaurant is a Pan-Asian grill and noodle house that opened at the Bayview Cash Store in February.

Tran began his culinary training at the age of 15 in southern Vietnam. His father taught cooking in Vietnam.

Tran heard about the plans of the local Friendship Force group and wanted to do something to help raise money.

On Tuesday evening, Tran will prepare foods he has not offered in his restaurant before. He hopes people will come to enjoy the food and learn about the plans for the Friendship Force Peace Library.

The buffet dinner is $25 — $15 of the cost is tax deductible — and there will be wine available for a donation of $5.

Reservations are needed by Thursday, June 19; call the Basil Café at 321-7898.

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