It was Oct. 20, 2007, and the East Meets West Foundation of Oakland, California, hosted a special recognition ceremony for Southwest's year-long support of the Operation Healthy Heart program. Because many Vietnamese Americans still have loved ones in Vietnam, and because Southwest is proud to serve many Asian communities throughout the United States, the LUV airline and Operation Healthy Heart came together for our Giving LUV, Saving Lives campaign. In our efforts to help build awareness, we partnered to support various EMW events that brought together many veterans, venture capitalists, and medical volunteers from around the U.S. These leaders not only share the same passion for saving lives, but many also happen to be our Customers!
The program that morning in Ho Chi Minh City's fast-growing Phu My Hung district included speeches by U.S. Consul General Ken Fairfax, hospital officials, local government leaders, Southwest representatives there on their own time, and most importantly a young OHH recipient, Thuy Nhi Nguyen and her father. The beautiful fourth grader was particularly moving because she spoke from her heart -- her new heart -- and expressed deep gratitude to the doctors, nurses, and hospital. "I promise to learn, to become a good child in my family, and to be a useful person in society," she said. I couldn't believe someone so little could be so selfless and mature.
Vietnam holds a special place in Southwest Employee Annmarie Masters' heart as well as in mine: five years ago, she adopted Anjolie, from Vietnam. Annmarie and Properties Manager Greg Gillis and his wife joined our vacation to Vietnam to meet the EMW's heart recipients and to meet my extended Vietnamese family. As I watched Annmarie and Anjolie pass out gifts to our new friends, my eyes welled up. I realized that Anjolie, like these children, had also been given a new life. Driven by love and the desire to help someone in need, Annmarie and her family had taken in a new family member from across the world. Now, back in Vietnam, the sprightly kindergartner was bestowing flashing heart necklaces on each of the brave survivors with great care.
I also was fortunate to have been adopted by an American family. And coincidentally, Anjolie was born in Ben Tre, the next town over from where my Vietnamese family lives in the Mekong Delta. The day after the hospital reception, on our journey down the Mekong River to visit my extended family, I watched Anjolie wave to the fishermen, the hardworking women rowing their goods to market, and the naked children playing in the sometimes dirty water, and I thought about how similar our lives were; I laughed to myself and called her "Mini Me." I also thought of how different our lives would have been had we been raised in Vietnam. I'm humbled each time I return to my motherland to see what life is like in a fascinating, but nevertheless developing, country.
When I returned to work in Silicon Valley, I attended a public policy luncheon keynoted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. During the Q&A, the governor was asked if he was upset that he's not allowed to run for President, being Austrian born. He candidly responded that he doesn't worry about the one thing he can't do but was thankful for the things that he can do and has accomplished because of the opportunities America has afforded him. He added that one of the reasons he ran for Governor, was because he wanted to give back to the state that had given him so much throughout his life. His words resonated with me.
This Thanksgiving, as we sit around the table with our loved ones to stuff our bellies, I hope we all can count the abundant blessings and freedoms we have as Americans.
From our families to yours, cheers to a happy and safe Thanksgiving!