Hai Dao was 14 years old when his family immigrated to Portland, OR from Vietnam. Life in Vietnam was simpler. He lived with his parents, Danh and Sang, his older brother Bao, and older sister Lien in a small cottage in a rural town in the countryside. They grew rice and raised chickens, ducks, and pigs that they would sell at the nearby market. Their family was very close and regularly gathered together with uncles, aunts and cousins.
Danh and Sang never had an education and wanted their young son, Hai, to have opportunities that they never experienced. When Danh’s brother immigrated to America, he had the chance to sponsor his brother’s family. Bao and Lien were over 21 so they had to wait for their parents to move to get sponsorship. The family was split with Hai going to America with his parents while Bao and Lien stayed back in Vietnam.
When the three of them first moved, everything was hard. None of them spoke English and they were homesick for the rest of their family. “Everyday we would call home to Vietnam and just cry on the phone. It was very difficult in the beginning,” recalls Hai. They started taking English immersion classes, Hai taking night classes after school. Learning English didn’t come as easily for Danh and Sang and soon Hai fell into the role as the communicator for his parents.
While Hai finished high school Danh focused on finding a job. Entering the workforce at an older age and without much training made things difficult for Danh. He barely knew any English and was running into roadblock after roadblock of people that didn’t want to hire him. He finally interviewed for an entry-level job at ISSPRO and received a chance to go through training for a new position. He has been with ISSPRO for 6 years now, making electronic instrumentation, sensors, and controls for monitoring engine and vehicle systems.
Life in America was getting easier for the Dao family. Danh became an American citizen in 2015 and was able to sponsor Bao to finally move to the US. Lien had since married and started her own family so the sponsorship process for the family would take longer. The family started renting a house with another Vietnamese family, sharing a single room in the basement. It was crowded but they made it work in order to afford the high cost of rent. Lien got her license to work as a nail technician and Hai was pursuing a Bachelor of Science at Oregon State University.
While away at school, Hai started researching housing options for his family. Rent was increasing at their current home and since it was a small shared space, they never felt like they could have friends over. Through his own research, Hai stumbled upon Habitat for Humanity and applied for his parents. Shortly after, the family was notified that they qualified for their own home. At the same time that construction began on the families new home, Bao started his sweat equity hours at a Habitat ReStore center and Hai graduated from college with a degree in Biology and a minor in business. Hai is a first-generation college graduate and after taking a gap year, he plans to go to med school.
Danh and Sang couldn’t be prouder of Hai. After moving to America, they hoped to give Hai an opportunity to pursue a college education and provide better living conditions for their son. Life has exceeded their expectations and together the Dao family has been able to accomplish many goals.
Habitat has given the Dao family a chance to have a home that they can call their own. “Without Habitat, my family would still be renting. Now we will have a space that is all ours, where we can come home after work and just relax and where we can have our friends over. We are very grateful to Habitat,” says Hai.