He’s the man behind the popular Children’s Festival in Sydney and helped strengthen the Vietnamese Scouting movement in Australia and Germany, but Thuat Nguyen started from humble beginnings as a Vietnamese Refugee.
Thuat was one of millions of residents forced to live under a communist regime, after the South Vietnamese Government fell in 1975.
After six years living under the regime in the Gia Dinh province, Thuat planned to escape and start a new life for him and his family.
“Similar to a great number of other Southerners, I found out that I could not contribute to my country as I wished to and saw no future for my family,” said Thuat Nguyen, 74.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts to escape in the past, Thuat had to keep faith that this time would be different. He placed all hope in a 2-by 9-metre boat and drifted out onto open waters.
His journey was cut short when his family were picked up by a German Rescue Ship ‘Cap Anamur’ and brought to a temporary refugee camp on Palawan Island in the Philippines.
It was here, in a new country, where Thuat stumbled across an unexpected and comforting piece of home life; Scouts.
“Amazingly, there was a Vietnamese Scout Group in the refugee camp and their leaders asked me to join the leader team of the Group because some of them knew my Scouting background in Vietnam.”
Thuat first joined Scouts when he was just 12 years old in Vietnam and later went on to form a Rover Crew in his local area.
He said that “interesting activities, friendship and skill development programs strongly attracted me to and kept me active in Scouting when I was young”.
Thuat (second from right) with his Rover Crew in Vietnam 1963. Photo Supplied.
At the Palawan Refugee Camp, Thuat worked as an Assistant Rover Leader and his two older children joined the Cub Pack. The Group was made up of 100 members and was very active around the camp.
“We participated in many community services in the refugee camp. We built the Group’s home and made a number of crafts in our small area allowed by the camp authority. Occasionally, we were allowed to attend activities outside the refugee camp organised by the local Scout Group of the Scout Association of the Philippines.”
In the Summer of 1982, Thuat and his family were brought to Germany with most of the other refugees who had been picked up by the German Rescue Ship a year earlier.
For the next eight years, Thuat and his family would call West Germany home.
“We all learned German and tried to find jobs except the children went to schools. Thanks to the social welfare system in West Germany and the kindness of some German neighbours, our beginning in West Germany was ok,” said Thuat.
Thuat Nguyen, Photo Supplied.
“Soon after settling down in the new country, I formed a Scout Group of Vietnamese origin in my area (Schwaebish Hall) in 1985.”
Thuat continued to follow his passion for Scouts and helped to form two other Scout groups of Vietnamese origin in the same state.
“Apart from working for a living, I only concentrated on Scouting activities. I was elected as the Chair of the Vietnamese Scouting Council in West Germany and our six Scout Groups of Vietnamese origin were the strongest force compared to the ones in Europe in the late 1980s."
Thuat's Scout Group in West Germany, 1987. Photo Supplied
Thuat later completed his Wood Badge in West Germany and a LT Training Course in France.
After attending the 2nd International Vietnamese Jamborette in Canada in 1988 with his wife and several other leaders of his Scout group, Thuat became fascinated with the workings of a multicultural society and decided to take a fact-finding trip to Australia.
Thuat quickly came to enjoy the “multicultural and easy going society in Australia” and migrated to Sydney as a skilled migrant with his family, the following year.
"I am thankful that my family has luckily survived after the escape by boat from Vietnam then successfully settled down in West Germany and then again in Australia."
A couple of weeks after arriving in Sydney, Thuat started visiting the 2nd Bankstown Scout Group. In an effort to grow the group from 20 members, he began volunteering his time and travelling interstate during weekends to develop Vietnamese Scouting activities.
“Everything ran well: 2nd Bankstown Scout Group became much stronger, the First Canley Heights was formed in 1992 and the 5th International Vietnamese Jamborette was held in Glenfield in December 1995.”
Thuat continues to play a key role in the Vietnamese Scouting movement overseas as one of the Advisors, after being President of the International Central Committee of Vietnamese Scouting between 2002-2006.
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To do this day, the growth of the Vietnamese scouting movement in Sydney is one of Thuat’s proudest accomplishments. But his biggest life achievement will forever be the creation of the Children’s Festival. Inspired by Sydney’s multicultural society, Thuat came up with an idea of a festival for children that celebrated diversity and harmony.
“The festival would enable children from any community to participate in enjoyable activities in a cultural exchange, and help to build a more cohesive society starting with the young,” said Thuat.
Launching in 1999, the Children’s Festival was the first of its kind in Western Sydney. To Thuat’s surprise, the festival grew rapidly and soon gained sponsorship by the NSW Government.
“In the last 21 years, we have successfully staged thirty-three Children’s Festivals in Bankstown, Canterbury, Marrickville, Campbelltown and Sydney, attracting approximately a quarter of a million participants and inspiring thousands of volunteers, particularly the young ones.”
Looking back on his life, Thuat says he is “thankful that my family has luckily survived after the escape by boat from Vietnam then successfully settled down in West Germany and then again in Australia.”
As he migrated from country to country, Scouts always provided a comforting sense of familiarly Thuat could turn to in a world of uncertainty.
“I am grateful for what I have received from Scouting. I have enjoyed quite a few interesting games in my boyhood, learnt many good things, and made many good friends. As Lord Kitchener said in the Scout rally in Leicester Shire [England] in 1911 ‘Once a Scout always a Scout.’”
“I am proud to be a Scout and always try to practice two Scouting teachings: ‘a Scout is helpful’ and ‘the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it…’”