“Hi mom,” reporter Betty Nguyen spoke quickly. Her time was short. “I’m alive. I’m okay. And I’ll call you when I can.”
This was the only call Nguyen got before she and her media crew continued to sneak their way through body infested waters in Myanmar.
“I was a little overwhelmed,” Nguyen said. “Foreign journalists are banned in that country. So for me to get into that country, for us to get just a small crew in there so we could capture these stories, it was a bit of a mission impossible, if you will.”
The mission, as she chose to accept it, was to enter the country of Myanmar, whose government was not only neglecting the people in need after a devastating cyclone hit the area, but were also declining any aid from the U.S. Nguyen and her crew risked their lives to capture the atrocity of the disaster and share the images and stories with the rest of the world.
“We knew people had died,” Nguyen said. “We knew there was an immense need around people. They were not getting food. They were not getting aid. At the same time, my family at home didn’t know exactly where I was and if I was okay.”
This was the life of a journalist Betty Nguyen and it’s this life experience, along with many others, Nyguen will be recollecting on Tuesday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in the WTAMU JBK Legacy Hall.
“I hope that in some small way I can inspire students to do more than just chase a career,” Nguyen said.
The lecture is one of many activities during Communication Week, a weeklong celebration put on by the communication department of WT from Feb. 18 to Feb. 20.
“We participated in the International Day for Eradication of Poverty back in October and thinking ahead to Communication Week, we also wanted to have some kind of speaker that had a connection with communication, but also had a connection with humanitarianism,” Dr. Trudy Hanson, department head of communication, said.
Nguyen was born in Vietnam, but fled the country with her family after the war. After entering the United States, she attended the University of Texas in Austin and began her journalistic career after graduating with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
“As I was graduating high school, I initially was going to become an attorney because growing up in a very Asian household…to become a doctor or lawyer or engineer, those were the different career fields that brought honor to the family,” Nguyen said.
But after reflection, Nguyen did what many young college bound students did. She changed her mind.
“I figured my parents had sacrificed so much to come to this country and to chase this American dream,” Nguyen said. “So it would be, really, a dis-honor to them, and myself, if I wouldn’t do that for my life.”
After college graduation, Nguyen began working as a reporter at KWTX-TV, the CBS affiliate in Waco, Texas.
She then moved on to KTVT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Dallas, Texas and eventually worked her way up to CBS News as a correspondent.
Her career since has allowed Nguyen to travel and cover stories from all around the world, from cyclones in Myanmar and the hurricanes in Galveston, Texas to apartheid-era prosecutions in South Africa in 2007.
“I have been given the honor of recording history,” Nguyen said. “It has allowed me to have a ringside seat on the world and it has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally.”
Her passion does not stop at recording history, however, but influences her desire to change the future as well. After visiting her home country of Vietnam with her mother, Nguyen decided enough was enough.
“I saw people just like me who were living in grass huts with dirt floors,” Nguyen said. “They were bathing in dirty creeks and drinking water from those same dirty creeks. That just made me realize that not only am I so very blessed, but that there’s such a huge need out there in the world and Vietnam is just one of many, many countries.”
So in 2000, Nguyen and her family established Help the Hungry, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing humanitarian aid to poverty stricken areas around the world.
“[It’s] been such a labor of love for us because not only does it give back to the country where I’m from and the people that really are stricken with immense poverty, but it helps me to understand that there’s more to life than just a job and paycheck,” Nguyen said.
It has been Nguyen’s adventures all over the globe and witnessing the poverty and devastation that often accompanies humanity, that has compelled her to take on the responsibility of service to those in need.
“I’ve always been taught, especially coming from Vietnam and going through three different refugee camps, that I’ve been very blessed to be an American, to be in a country where there’s freedom and opportunity, but with those blessings comes responsibility,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen’s lecture will focus on the idea of passions without a paycheck, to go out and make a difference despite the rewards, or lack of.
“I want them to understand that there is so much more to life than a paycheck,” Nguyen said. “So much more to life than a title on a business card. There’s so much more out there that can be done and you really, truly have the power, as one individual, no matter how small you start, to make a difference.”