80 contestants at Miss Universe pageant help put spotlight on booming Vietnam

NHA TRANG, Vietnam: Eighty of the world’s most beautiful women have converged on a stretch of the Vietnamese coast better known for war than glamour.

They were preparing for the 57th annual Miss Universe competition, which will be broadcast to millions of viewers across the globe on Monday.

Like her 84 million compatriots, Vietnam’s 20-year-old contestant is hoping the show will let the world know about the new Vietnam, where commerce and fashion are thriving and war has become a fading memory.

“I want to introduce my country and my culture and our history to everybody,” said Nguyen Thuy Lam, whose traditional costume is a Vietnamese ao dai, a colorful silk pantsuit. “I feel very confident when I wear the ao dai. I wish everyone would wear it and feel confident too.”

The contest is being held in Nha Trang, a seaside city located next to a major American air base during the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975.

Given the history of hostilities between the two nations, Miss USA Crystle Stewart has been impressed by the warmth of her Vietnamese hosts.

“The USA and Vietnam are working together, in cooperation and peace,” said Stewart, a Texan who is writing a motivational book. “Hopefully we’ll be role models for other countries.”

The show will be co-hosted by British pop singer Mel B, known as “Scary Spice” during her days with the Spice Girls. She will be joined by American television personality Jerry Springer, host of “America’s Got Talent” and a long-running tabloid talk show that often climaxes with angry guests cussing and brawling with one another.

Springer is clearly enjoying his new Miss Universe job.

“Whoa!” Springer said during an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, as dozens of contestants strutted across the stage during a rehearsal. “This is a plum assignment.”

The 80 contestants have been in Vietnam for nearly four weeks now, receiving intense coverage from the Vietnamese media as they met with local dignitaries, frolicked in their bikinis and participated in various charity events.

They were hard at work Saturday preparing for the show.

Miss Serbia, 21-year-old Bojana Boric, is eager to compete in the swimsuit competition.

“It’s a very good feeling,” said Boric, who enjoys modeling, cooking and extreme sports. “It’s your moment. It’s the moment when everyone will see your face, and everyone will remember.”

Beauty pageants have been derided by many as exploitative of women, celebrating superficiality over substance. Sweden’s 2007 contestant dropped out after coming under pressure from pageant critics in her homeland, and the country is not sending a delegate this year.

But beauty contests are extremely popular in Vietnam, which is also hoping to host the 2010 Miss World competition.

After years of war and poverty, the country has been booming economically, and high-end cosmetics and fashion stores have sprouted up in Hanoi, the capital, and in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s southern business hub.

“It’s great to have the Miss Universe competition here in Vietnam,” said 18-year-old high school student Nguyen Thi Kieu My. “It will help to promote Vietnam’s image in the world and bring in more tourists.”

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/07/13/asia/AS-Vietnam-Miss-Universe.php

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Unwed pregnant women have a haven in Vietnam

Chitose Suzuki / Associated Press
“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here . . . sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc.

In a country with one of the highest abortion rates, Tong Phuoc Phuc single-mindedly works to offer options.

From the Associated Press
May 24, 2008

NHA TRANG, VIETNAM — Sitting cross-legged on a straw mat in the middle of the living room, Tong Phuoc Phuc sings a soothing Vietnamese lullaby. For a moment, his deep voice works magic, and the tiny room crammed with 13 babies is still.

Phuc giggles like a proud papa. He’s not related to any of them, but without him, many of these children probably would have been aborted. And to Phuc, abortion is unimaginable.

The 41-year-old Roman Catholic from the coastal town of Nha Trang has opened his door to unwed expectant mothers in a country that logs one of the world’s highest abortion rates. In 2006, there were more than 114,000 abortions at state hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City — outnumbering births.

Most pregnant unmarried Vietnamese women have few options. Abortion is a welcome choice for many who simply cannot afford to care for a baby or are unwilling to risk being disowned by their families.

The Communist government calls premarital sex a “social evil.” Abortion, however, is legal and performed at nearly every hospital. And unlike in some Western countries where the issue is hotly contested, the practice stirs little debate here.

But shelters for women who want to keep their babies are rare. Phuc promises them food and a roof until they give birth, then cares for the children until the mothers can afford to take them. In the last four years, he’s taken in 60 kids, with about half still living in his two houses.

“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here . . . sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc, a thin man with dark, weathered skin and teeth stained brown from years of smoking. “The problem is that a lot of young people live together and have sex, but they have no knowledge about getting pregnant. So they get abortions.”

Phuc says he made a deal with God seven years ago when his wife encountered complications while in labor with their son. He vowed that if they were spared, he would find a way to help others. As his wife lay recuperating after the difficult birth, he recalls seeing many pregnant women going into the delivery room but always leaving alone.

“I was wondering, where are the babies?’ ” he says, cradling an infant in each arm. “Then I realized they had abortions.”

Phuc, a building contractor, started saving money to buy a craggy plot of land outside town. He then began collecting unwanted fetuses from hospitals and clinics to bury in graves on the property. At first, doctors and neighbors thought he had gone mad. Even his wife questioned spending their savings to build a cemetery for aborted babies.

But he kept on, and now about 7,000 tiny plots dot the shady hillside, many marked with bright red, pink and yellow artificial roses.

“I believe these fetuses have souls,” says Phuc, who has two children of his own. “And I don’t want them to be wandering souls.”

Vietnam was ranked as having the world’s highest abortion rate in a 1999 report by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the statistics. More recent reliable data for both public and private clinics are unavailable. The U.S.-based aid agency Pathfinder International says abortions remain high in Vietnam but appear to be declining slightly.

Dr. Vo Thi Kim Loan has run her own clinic just outside Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, since 1991. She says the number of young unmarried women seeking quick, discreet abortions has increased with more teenage girls having sex before marriage. She also still sees a steady stream of married women coming in for repeat abortions because their husbands disapprove of contraceptives.

Preference for boys is another factor. Vietnamese women with access to ultrasound sometimes terminate pregnancies after discovering they’re carrying girls in a country where couples are encouraged to have just two children.

Phuc isn’t sure why so many Vietnamese choose abortion and says more women need to understand that safer forms of birth control are available.

He says word of his unusual graveyard eventually spread, and women who had undergone abortions started visiting to pray and burn incense. Phuc urged them to tell others considering the same option to talk with him first.

Phan Thi Hong Vu looks lovingly at her chubby 7 1/2 -month- old baby boy sucking on a pacifier surrounded by all the other babies on Phuc’s floor. She shivers at the thought of how close she came to losing him.

“I actually went to the hospital intending to get an abortion, but I was so scared,” says Vu, who was 3 1/2 months pregnant at the time. “I decided to go home and think about it. Two weeks later, I met with Phuc.”

She moved into the 900-square-foot house soon after and remains there with seven other new or expectant mothers. They spend their days washing, feeding, burping, changing and playing with the babies — all but one are under a year old.

It’s a full-time operation that involves Phuc’s family. His older sister manages the chaos, mixing vats of strained potatoes and carrots and preparing formula for bottles, while shushing crying babies and chasing crawlers. The entrance to the single-level cement house tells the story: rows of bibs, booties, jumpers and spit-rags hang drying in the sun.

It costs about $1,800 a month to care for all 33 babies and the women. Phuc gets donations from Catholic and Buddhist organizations and from people who have heard about his work. On a recent day, a local family dropped by with an envelope sent from their daughter in California who had read about Phuc on a Vietnamese website. Two years ago, he even got a letter from Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet praising him for caring for women and children scorned by society.

Health authorities say they support what he’s doing, but also keep an eye on him to ensure that everything is legitimate in a country where baby-selling and child-trafficking are a problem. Some people accuse Phuc of condoning premarital sex.

Phuc’s operation is not a registered orphanage, which means he cannot put the children up for adoption. But he shakes his head and says that even if he could, his goal is to reunite them with their mothers or raise them as his own. So far, 27 babies have gone home.

“I will continue this job until the last breath of my life,” he says. “I will encourage my children to take over to help other people who are underprivileged.”

Unwed pregnant women have a haven in Vietnam – Los Angeles Times

Update on Tong Phuoc Phuc story

Tong Phuoc Phu’s inspiring story, as reported by AP and Dan Tri, has touched many hearts all over the world. Many people are wondering how to get in touch with this amazing man. Mr. Tong Phuoc Phuc’s address is listed below:

Ông Tống Phước Phúc
56/3 Phương Sài
Nha Trang, Vietnam

As with any charities, if you plan to donate funds, please make sure to write first and make sure the address is legitimate. We were able to find information on Vietnamese forums about his bank to which people have made donations to. You can leave a comment or write to us for more info.

 

 

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Mr. Tong holds a young child

 

 

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Special cemetery for unborn babies on Hon Thom mountain in Nha Trang.

 

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Tombstone translate to: Father, mother asks forgiveness from child
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17-month child being raised by Mr. Tong

 

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Mr. Tong raises 34 children

 

 

 

More pictures can be found here.

Vietnamese man, on anti-abortion mission, opens home to moms and babies

April 1, 2008: Read the update on Tong Phuoc Phuc story HERE.

NHA TRANG, Vietnam: Sitting cross-legged on a straw mat in the middle of the living room, Tong Phuoc Phuc sings a soothing Vietnamese lullaby. For a moment, his deep voice works magic, and the tiny room crammed with 13 babies is still.Phuc giggles like a proud papa. He’s not related to any of them, but without him, many of these children likely would have been aborted. And to Phuc, abortion is unimaginable.
The 41-year-old Catholic from the coastal town of Nha Trang has opened his door to unwed expectant mothers in a country that logs one of the world’s highest abortion rates. In 2006, there were more than 114,000 abortions at state hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City — outnumbering births.Most pregnant, unmarried Vietnamese women have few options. Abortion is a welcome choice for many who simply cannot afford to care for a baby or are unwilling to risk being disowned by their families.The communist government calls premarital sex a “social evil.” Abortion, however, is legal and performed at nearly every hospital. And unlike in some Western countries where the issue is hotly contested, the practice stirs little debate here.

But shelters for women who want to keep their babies are rare. Phuc promises them food and a roof until they give birth, and then cares for the children until the mothers can afford to take them. In the past four years, he’s taken in 60 kids, with about half still living in his two houses.

“Sometimes we have 10 mothers living here … sleeping on the floor,” says Phuc, a thin man with dark, weathered skin and teeth stained brown from years of smoking. “The problem is that a lot of young people live together and have sex, but they have no knowledge about getting pregnant. So they get abortions.”

Phuc says he made a deal with God seven years ago when his wife encountered complications while in labor with their son. He vowed that if they were spared, he would find a way to help others. As his wife lay recuperating after the difficult birth, he recalls seeing many pregnant women going into the delivery room but always leaving alone.

“I was wondering, ‘where are the babies?'” he says, cradling an infant in each arm. “Then I realized they had abortions.”

Phuc, a building contractor, started saving money to buy a craggy plot of land outside town. He then began collecting unwanted fetuses from hospitals and clinics to bury in graves on the property. At first, doctors and neighbors thought he had gone mad. Even his wife questioned spending their savings to build a cemetery for aborted babies.

But he kept on, and now some 7,000 tiny plots dot the shady hillside, many marked with bright red, pink and yellow artificial roses.

“I believe these fetuses have souls,” says Phuc, who has two children of his own. “And I don’t want them to be wandering souls.”

Vietnam was ranked as having the world’s highest abortion rate in a 1999 report by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, which tracks the statistics. More recent reliable data for both public and private clinics are unavailable. Aid agency Pathfinder International says abortions remain high in Vietnam but appear to be declining slightly.

Dr. Vo Thi Kim Loan has run her own clinic just outside Ho Chi Minh City since 1991. She says the number of young, unmarried women seeking quick, discreet abortions has increased with more teen girls having sex before marriage. She also still sees a steady stream of married women coming in for repeat abortions because their husbands disapprove of contraceptives.

Preference for boys is another factor. Vietnamese women with access to ultrasound sometimes terminate pregnancies after discovering they’re carrying girls in a country where couples are encouraged to have just two children.

Phuc isn’t sure why so many Vietnamese choose abortion and says more women need to understand safer forms of birth control are available.

He says word of his unusual graveyard eventually spread, and women who had undergone abortions started visiting to pray and burn incense. Phuc urged them to tell others considering the same option to talk with him first.

Phan Thi Hong Vu looks lovingly at her chubby 7 1/2-month-old baby boy sucking on a pacifier surrounded by all the other babies on Phuc’s floor. She shivers at the thought of how close she came to losing him.

“I actually went to the hospital intending to get an abortion, but I was so scared,” says Vu, who was 3 1/2 months pregnant at the time. “I decided to go home and think about it. Two weeks later, I met with Phuc.”

She moved into the 904-square-foot (84-square-meter) house soon after and remains there with seven other new or expectant mothers. They spend their days washing, feeding, burping, changing and playing with the babies — all but one are under a year old. The constant chorus of crying, coughing and cooing fills the living room, which is lined with pink and blue cribs and adorned with a crucifix, the Virgin Mary and a photo of the late Pope John Paul II.

It’s a full-time operation that involves Phuc’s entire family. His older sister manages the chaos, mixing vats of strained potatoes and carrots and preparing formula for bottles, while shushing crying babies and chasing crawlers. The entrance to the single-level cement house tells the story: rows of bibs, booties, jumpers and spit rags hang drying in the sun.

It costs about US$1,800 (€1,200) a month to care for all 33 babies and the women. Phuc gets donations from Catholic and Buddhist organizations and from people who have heard about his work. On a recent day, a local family dropped by with an envelope sent from their daughter in California who had read about Phuc on a Vietnamese Web site. Two years ago, he even got a letter from Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet praising him for caring for women and children scorned by society.

Health authorities say they support what he’s doing, but also keep a close eye on him to ensure everything is legitimate in a country where baby selling and child trafficking are a problem. Some people accuse Phuc of condoning premarital sex.

Phuc’s operation is not a registered orphanage, which means he cannot put any of the children up for adoption. But even if he could, he shakes his head and says his goal is to reunite each child with its mother or to raise them as his own. So far, 27 babies have gone home.

“I will continue this job until the last breath of my life,” he says. “I will encourage my children to take over to help other people who are underprivileged.”

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/03/28/asia/AS-FEA-GEN-Vietnam-Abortion-Orphans.php

Vietnam officially chosen to host Miss Universe 2008

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-11/28/content_7159856.htm

HANOI, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) — Vietnam has been officially chosen to host the 57th Miss Universe in central Nha Trang city of Khanh Hoa province next July, local newspaper Youth reported Wednesday.

The contract on holding the event was signed Tuesday between the Vietnamese main partner, the Hoan Vu company, and the pageant’s organizer under the witness of representatives of the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the provincial People’s Committee, Miss Universe 2007 Riyo Mori and Miss Vietnam 2007 Mai Phuong Thuy.

The event’s final round will be organized at the Diamond Bay Resort in the coastal city.

U.S. billionaire Donald Triumph, owner of Miss Universe contests, will attend the final of Miss Universe 2008.

To host the event, Vietnam is estimated to spend some 15 million U.S. dollars covering the pageant’s royalty, and manpower and infrastructure expenses.

Vietnam will focus on constructing a 7,500-seat stage, upgrading the Cam Ranh airport and some hotels in Khanh Hoa, and beautifying the sea city.

Editor: Du Guodong