Bui Thi Lai Ninh of Nha Trang collapses when seeing her daughter Nguyen Thi My Lien, aka Joy My Lien Degenhardt, after 41 years. Lien was lost to an orphanage when she was one month old and adopted to US parents at age four.
When they met last month Ninh fainted, but 41 years is a long time to miss your daughter.
For the last 15 years, Joy My Lien Degenhardt has stopped for a meal at the P.B. restaurant every time she was in Nha Trang.
She didn’t know why she chose to eat at that particular restaurant except to say she had feeling about the place.
Last month, she found out that the then-owner, Bui Thi Lai Ninh, was her mother. In another bizarre coincidence, Degenhardt stopped going to the restaurant about the same time that Ninh sold it a year ago.
The reunion was a happy ending and a new beginning for Degenhardt who had been in Vietnam looking for her birth mother for over a decade.
In 1968 at one month old, Lien was stolen from her mother and taken to Tan Binh Orphanage in Khanh Hoa Province where she was given the name Nguyen Thi My Lien.
In 1972, Lien was adopted to parents in the US and in 1993 she returned to Vietnam as director of the humanitarian aid Degenhardt Foundation, created by her adopted parents – Dawn and Edwin Degenhardt.
While developing humanitarian projects in 12 cities and provinces, Lien started the search for her mother and received hundreds of letters from women who had lost their baby daughters in 1968.
She visited each and every one of these women, and despite the disappointments of not finding her own mother, she showed incredible compassion – finding the lost children of 17 of them, and helping the rest earn a better living.
Lien was about to give up when she was offered help by Le Cao Tam, general director of the Motherland Heritage Company Limited, and his subordinate Nguyen Thanh Tuan.
The company organizes tours around Vietnam for Overseas Vietnamese. For more than 10 years, Tam and Tuan have helped hundreds of family members reunite.
They managed to find Ninh through Hai, the neighbor and only person who knew about Ninh’s lost child.
Tam let Ninh talk to Lien on the phone and Lien broke into tears when she heard “Hi dear!”
No woman had ever made Lien cry that way, Tam said.
Ninh said that Lien’s father had left her while she was pregnant.
When Lien was born, her mother said a woman named Ha in a nearby market took care of the child while she worked.
One day Ninh came home only to hear that Ha had left and given her baby away. Ninh married later and had a son named Hieu. Her husband died 20 years ago.
Ninh said she had been ashamed of the pregnancy and kept it secret. “I felt guilty of losing her every day of the past 41 years.
“My feeling told me that she was still alive.”
Ninh and Hieu traveled to Ho Chi Minh City through the night after talking on the phone.
When they met, Ninh could only call “My daughter!” and collapsed.
While they were waiting to meet Lien, Ninh and her son were shown recent photographs of Lien. Hieu exclaimed that she looked exactly like his mother when she was that age.
Lien said she doesn’t need DNA tests because “I believe this is my mother.”
Only her mother could know that she has a brown birth-mark on the left shoulder and two moles on the right shoulder, she said.