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Healing wounds of a long gone War

Kymlee, at her Braybrook factory, shows some of the children with deformities she helps in Vietnam. Photo: John Woudstra

ONCE more, Melbourne fashion trader Kymlee will return to Vietnam this year. And yet again she will weep for the children of her former homeland, uncountable thousands who are born disfigured.

''I cry every time,'' she says, taking some photo albums from the shelf at her Braybrook factory. They are almanacs of dreadful suffering - babies born with holes in their faces, an eye missing, anus missing, limb missing.

The little faces of the blighted stare out from the pages in bewilderment. Here is Trieu, a five-year-old boy grimacing in pain, an ugly red infected bowel protruding 15 centimetres from his abdomen. Here is a toddler, a malformation of the lip exposing most of the roof of her mouth.

The lucky children have surgery, many needing a temporary colostomy bag between procedures.

''This little girl,'' says Kymlee, pointing out a photo of such a child, ''she told me when she goes to school everyone says she smells and to stay outside.''

There are 500 malformed youngsters in Kymlee's books, children whom she has managed to help by raising funds for surgery through charity dinners or dedicating part of the proceeds of her clothing sales.

''It costs $50 to $100 for each operation there,'' she says, ''but many people are too poor to afford that.''

Many young patients die anyhow and Kymlee knows that there are - and will be - many thousands more who will have neither help nor hope.

Her mission began 10 years ago as part ofa project by the local Vietnamese branch of the Lions club but she has continued the work on her own.

In 2010, she went to villages in Dong Nai and My Tho provinces in central Vietnam. This October she will return, travel by car and motorbike to the poorer areas and, with the help of locals, add 20 or more children to her surgical wish list.

And yes, she will cry again.

A remarkable woman is Kymlee, who was presented with a humanitarian award by Victorian Governor John Landy in 2001 and a federal Centenary Medal in 2003.

Her Vietnamese name was Kim Tuyen Le but that life ended on a date that is seared into her memory: April 30, 1975.

That was when Saigon fell and the communists took over the south after a 20-year conflict that claimed, among millions of casualties, the lives of her parents.

After several unsuccessful attempts to escape, Kymlee, with husband Cam and two children, bought places on a small boat carrying 87 people that pushed out from the mouth of the Mekong River in October 1982 and drifted for 13 days before chancing upon an oil rig which gave shelter.

From there it was two years in an Indonesian detention centre before gaining entry to Australia.

But even here in the promised land, the travails continued. A fire destroyed the family's first clothing factory. It was uninsured.

In 1998, husband Cam, a hairdresser in Vietnam, suffered critical head injuries in a road accident and has been unable to work since. He has required ongoing surgery.

One of their three children, Rebecca, also has health problems, so Kymlee cares for Rebecca's young daughter, Tiffany.

But 54-year-old Kymlee, whose Veducci fashion firm keeps about hundreds of people in jobs, is surprisingly serene about her lot.

She says that, as an adolescent, she had wanted to be a nun, but her family disapproved.

''I believe in Jesus but my religion is Buddhist,'' she says, ''and I think God has already written out everything in my life so I can't change it.

''So I take everything easy. Even if someone is very bad to me.''

Original source: , by Lawrence Money, 6 Feb 2013

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