Children's book by former Vietnamese refugee brings author's story full circle

Nhung Tran-Davies has written a children's story inspired by her own experience as a refugee who later helped sponsor a Syrian family to Canada.

Book is 40 years in the making, author says

Nhung Tran-Davies received a doll as a gift when she first arrived in Edmonton as a refugee from Vietnam more than 40 years ago. The book is illustrated by Ravy Puth. (Submitted by Nhung Tran-Davies)

More than 40 years ago, Nhung Tran Davies received a gift that changed the course of her life.

After escaping the Vietnam War and spending eight months in a refugee camp in Malaysia, her family was brought to Canada.

When they arrived at the Edmonton International Airport, a little girl greeted Tran-Davies, then five years old, with a doll.

"This doll came to represent all the kindness and generosity and compassion of Canadians," Tran-Davies said in an interview with CBC's Radio Active.

Tran-Davies' family was sponsored by a church group in Alberta, a kindness she was able to pay forward in 2016 by helping sponsor a Syrian family to Edmonton.

When the family arrived, Tran-Davies presented the youngest child with a doll.

Now she's written a children's book inspired by her experiences. The Doll tells the story of two young refugees generations apart and the gift of a doll as an act of welcoming.

"This book is very special to me; it is a story that is 40 years in the making," Tran-Davies said.

Children’s book by former Vietnamese refugee a story of welcome

3 years ago
Duration 1:37
Forty years after arriving in Edmonton as a refugee and being gifted a doll, Nhung Tran-Davies offered a doll to a newly arrived Syrian girl — a story captured in her newest book.

Her family's sponsors helped her mother and five siblings adjust to their new home. 

Tran-Davies, a doctor, credits the generosity of her sponsors as the foundation for everything she has and everything she's become, just one story among many of those who came to Canada seeking a better life.

"Canada has become more beautiful because of immigration," she said.

Tran-Davies wrote The Doll with an aim of fostering empathy for refugees. (Submitted by Nhung Tran-Davies)

Tran-Davies never forgot that first act of kindness, keeping the doll on her shelf for the past 40 years as a reminder.

"We often forget that every little action has an impact and I just feel that this is a story that is an example of that," Tran-Davies said.

She expects many Canadian children will see themselves or their parents in the story but says that the book is for everyone.

"I think it's a book that helps create empathy, because books have a great way of increasing compassion and empathy."

That empathy can help allay fears and bring the issue of displaced persons back into the spotlight, she said.

While refugees are not in the headlines as often as they were even five years ago, there are still many millions all over the world struggling with even the most basic necessities, Tran-Davies said.

"I think it's an obligation that we open our doors," she said. She hopes her book can be a part of that conversation.

"It really does give voice to us refugees," Tran-Davies said. "I think kindness in general is a powerful force, that it can effect positive change in the world."

Tran-Davies will be at a special curbside launch of The Doll in Calmar, southeast of Edmonton, on Sunday with part of the proceeds going toward the sponsorship of another Syrian family.

Tran-Davies' doll is part of a five-year travelling exhibit by the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. (Submitted by Nhung Tran-Davies)