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From refugee to doctor: How the gift of a doll changed one little girl’s life in Canada


By Jackie Dunham

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Forty years ago, a simple act of kindness would forever shape the course of a young refugee’s life when she stepped foot in Canada for the first time.

Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies was only five years old when she and her five siblings and mother arrived at the Edmonton airport in 1979. The family had fled their home because of the Vietnam War and were living in a Malaysian refugee camp before an Alberta church sponsored them to immigrate to Canada.

When they passed through the gates of the airport, a young girl named Adrienne was waiting for Tran-Davies with a special gift.

“This little girl presented a little gift…this doll lit up my heart and in that moment, it meant everything to me,” Tran-Davies recalled to CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday. “The doll came to symbolize for me all the kindness, compassion, and generosity of Canadians and I knew that our lives would change forever.”

The gift also began a life-long friendship between Adrienne and Tran-Davies, who continue to visit each other to this day.

And while it may have seemed like a small gesture, that gift had a ripple effect for Tran-Davies who credits it for inspiring her to become a doctor and help others.

“Knowing now that all that I have, and all that I’ve become, is because of this simple act of kindness, I live to this day to pay forward the kindness,” she said.

Tran-Davies has done this by recently sponsoring a refugee family who fled the Syrian war.

“At the height of the Syrian war and seeing all the images of people fleeing across the sea and thousands perishing at sea, it just reminded me the journey that our family made as boat people,” she explained. “It was heart-wrenching to see children suffering in these camps. I just felt compelled by these images.”

When the family she sponsored arrived at the airport, it was Tran-Davies’ turn to stand at the gates with a gift of her own for the youngest daughter Alma.

“It was my turn now, 40 years later, to be standing at the gates to give little Alma a doll. It was just an amazing, important moment for myself, but I think it meant something to her because I know that in 40 years it will be her turn to make Canada a more beautiful place,” she said.

As for what happened to the original doll Tran-Davies received: it’s being showcased across the country in a travelling exhibit called Refuge Canada.

“It’s been able to travel despite the COVID restrictions and so it’s had more adventures than I had in this past year and a half,” she joked.

The doll also inspired Tran-Davies to write a children’s book titled “The Doll,” which details her experiences and how a single act of kindness can reverberate for years to come.

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Sonja Puzic

Article Topic Follows: CNN - Regional

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