Phuong “Minh” Nguyen

Year Joined MKLM: 2009
Country: Bolivia
City: Cochabamba
Focus: Pastoral Ministry and Education
Ministries: Amanecer Youth Minister and Pastoral Care;  San Sebastian Women’s Prison Peluqueria (Hairdressing) Certificate Program
Ministry Goal(s): Amanecer: To be a role model for the girls and to love them and help them enjoy their childhood as every child deserves and San Sebastian Women’s prison ministry: Train inmates in hairdressing, so they can earn a course completion certificate and gain employment as a Hair Stylist, both inside the prison and later in the community when they are released

Personal Data

Minh came to MKLM from Our Lady of Lavang Church in Baltimore, Maryland.  Prior to joining MKLM, Minh’s overseas experiences included short-term medical missions to Jamaica, Vietnam and the Philippines. Most of her mission work with the Catholic Church in the United States called her to serve the needs of children. Minh feels that this work, especially, helped lay the foundation for her current MKLM overseas ministry serving Bolivian children through Amanercer.

In addition to earning her Theology and Catechism certification in 2009, Minh is also a licensed cosmetologist and has formally trained in commercial art, tailoring and crocheting. It is her cosmetology background that equipped Minh to develop and sustain a new pastoral ministry she is sharing with inmates in the San Sebastian Women’s prison, to participate in a 12 month hairdressing certification course.

Current Ministries

Recognizing an under-served population, in early 2013, Minh conducted a survey of the residents of San Sebastian Women’s prison located within the city, with the results proving that many of the inmates were interested in earning a Peluqueria Certificate (Hairdressing). She then developed, introduced and now sustains a free 12 month hairdressing certification course for the inmates that gives the women an opportunity for employment both inside and after leaving the prison. During the first two years of its operation (2013-14), the Peluqueria Certificate program produced 15 graduates and enrolled approximately 40 others who are still in the process of completing the courses.

Poor and often without skills, many of the  prisoners at San Sebastian have to work hard for little money. They either can’t afford to learn cosmetology outside or do not have time for study. This new skill offers them a legitimate means to support themselves and their families, offers them a chance to better their lives and hopefully helps them avoid a return to crime. Those graduates who complete the course successfully and receive a hairdressing certificate take major step to gain legal employment. Upon completion of the program, Minh submits the required completion paperwork to the Bolivian Government and they issue a certification to the graduate. Minh is currently exploring a “train the trainer” aspect to the program, in which long term inmates who become certified can be trained to teach additional inmates. Minh is very pleased to be passing on the skills she learned as a hair stylist for 28 years (20 in the U.S.) to those who are living in poverty and have a desire to learn and grow.

Since 2009, Minh has also offered her services to the young children of Amanecer. In 1981, The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul founded Amanecer (which means Daybreak) in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The program aims to rescue abandoned children and provide them with the intellectual, spiritual and social development that will enable them to become functioning members of society. There are currently 12 Amanecer houses. Minh works in one of these safe-havens.

The Amanecer that Minh serves in is home to 80 girls aged 3-16 years. Minh works with 15 of the pre-adolescents girls and has watched the previously mistreated girls gain more confidence and become more responsible as they begin to live more healthy lives. The girls, with Minhs’s help and loving guidance, have begun to embrace the routines of doing homework and chores, and preparing their daily outfits. And, they have, in fact, become more independent in these tasks. Minh hopes that through her presence, the girls will learn to love, to trust and to respect themselves and others as they grow. She also hopes that the girls will develop self-esteem and become more responsible as they gain more knowledge, skills and education. 

Minh’s teammates include a social worker, doctor, nurse, dentist, psychologists, educators and other volunteers who work side by side in order to help the girls. The team tries to provide a loving and trusting environment for the girls in which all members treat each other with respect; children learn best through examples. Minh and her fellow volunteers help the girls with their homework, teach them self-sufficiency skills, take them on the field trips, and teach them sports and auto-defense skills.