Phuong (Minh) Nguyen

Year Joined MKLM: 2009
Country: Bolivia
City: Tacopaya and Cochabamba
Focus: Education, job training and pastoral care
Project(s): Parroquia San Juan Bautista afterschool program, San Pablo Men’s Prison barbering and San Sebastian Women’s Prison hairdressing certificate programs
People Served: Primary school students, incarcerated men and women

Project Goal(s): Mentoring indigenous primary school students and enabling prison inmates to gain employment.

Current Ministries:
Minh leads an afterschool program in Tacopaya, an indigenous community in the remote rural highlands of Cochabamba, about a four-hour drive from the city.

The government and Catholic religious orders such as the Salesians have built schools in rural areas to serve the children of communities and their surrounding areas. In addition, some big communities like Tacopaya have boarding schools that provide educational opportunities for children who are not from that area. In the Andes, it is common for children to walk to school for an hour each day on mountain paths. Those in boarding schools often walk home for three hours or more every other week.

Minh helps primary school children with an after-school program at the parish where she lives. With donations of books, educational materials and games from her previous work at an orphanage, she is able to have the children come to the library to do research for their homework, read and play games at their own time. Besides helping the children with their homework, she provides them with a variety of nutritious midday snacks, which they love because their diets are mostly potatoes and rice. Last year she had 23 children from age 7 to 12 in her program. Many of them are still learning to read Spanish as their mother tongue is Quechua. 

Minh says, “My goal is to encourage them to be more responsible for themselves and others as well as the environment. I’m building a mutual relationship with the indigenous Quechua-speaking people here.”

For two long weekends each month, Minh returns to Cochabamba, where she works with elderly people and continues to teach a free hairdressing certificate course to women in the San Sebastian Prison and a barbering certificate course for men at San Pablo Prison. 

Personal Data:
Becoming a missioner is something that never entered Minh’s mind, even in her wildest dreams. However, growing up witnessing the poverty of Vietnam and encountering poor people everywhere, she did dream of the day when she could make a difference to change that reality. Minh loved to explore new places, learning about other cultures, but she never thought God would put the two together and invite her to serve overseas.

Her call to mission started when someone casually asked her, “What would you like to do, Minh?” Without thinking or even really knowing what the word missioner meant, she answered, “I want to be a missioner.” The response startled her, as the Spirit spoke within, and she could not let go of the idea. She struggled with it for a bit, but soon gave into the restlessness of her heart, and became more convinced that this desire was God’s call.

At the time she lived in Baltimore, Maryland. A licensed cosmetologist, she worked as a hair stylist, and was trained in commercial art, crocheting and tailoring. She belonged to Our Lady of La Vang Parish. Minh earned her catechism and theology certification and volunteered to teach catechism to children at three different parishes in Baltimore. She also participated in medical missions to Jamaica, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In discerning her call, Minh learned to trust in God’s providence, and commenced her journey into the unknown. She became a Maryknoll lay missioner and has been living in Bolivia since 2010, serving a very marginalized population. Her dream fulfilled, Minh trusts that God knows what is best for her and His people.

Minh previously served at the Madre de Dios home of Amanecer in Cochabamba, a program founded by the Sisters of Charity that rescues abused and/or abandoned children. The program provides children with intellectual, social and spiritual development to help them become functioning members of society. At Madre de Dios, Minh assisted girls age 3-16 with homework and taught them sewing, knitting, crocheting and self-sufficiency skills. She continues to visit and mentor many of the girls.