Suzanne Hook, 42, whose birth name is Thi Hien—a name she has never used before—was one of the first babies to be rescued during the Vietnam War after being abandoned by her mother. She was born at the height of the chaos that consumed Vietnam in the late 1960’s. She doesn’t know who her parents are, or even exactly where and when she was born.
Thi Hien Suzanne Hook
In 1969, she was found crying under a bush in Saigon, too weak to move. British nurses took her in and paved the way for her with the promise of a better life.“All I know is that I was taken to an orphanage called Allambie and I was suffering from malnutrition, then given a name and a birthday,” she said. “I was told I was a daughter of a Vietnamese woman and a black American soldier, but I was too young and may have blocked out the memories.”
She was brought to Britain in 1972. Nearly four decades later, she has packed for a new life once more in order to open an orphanage.
“I fell in love in Vietnam and have come back every year to support children with misfortunes. My whole life is up for sale,” she said. “I've had a comfortable adult life and gave it all up to live in Vietnam which will be the opposite.”
A Christian Evangelical British family in Hayes, Middlesex, adopted Hook. Her arrival at Gatwick Airport, at the age of three, made national news.
She left home at 18 and studied in a catering school for three years to be a chef. After finishing school, she worked her way up from trainee chef to head chef in restaurants and cruise liners over 13 years. She then got married and went to university where she earned a business degree. After that, she went back to school and attended a training course to be a beautician. Since 2002 she has built up a successful beauty firm called Couture Nail Service, in Beaconsfield, Bucks, which ran for eight years and has allowed her to pump money into her orphanage. Her marriage recently ended, she said.
When she visited Vietnam during a career break in 2007, she tracked down her old orphanage.
“I spent an amazing year helping at these two orphanages and it made me realize how lucky I was,” she said. “Being an orphan myself I could relate to these children.”
During this time, she gave free English lessons twice a week in Phu My Orphanage to over 400 handicapped children.
Upon returning to the UK, Hook found herself inspired by her experience in Vietnam and she began to secure funding to open her own orphanage, before making the final move.
“I was nervous at the moment I sold everything and the walls of my house were echoing all around me. But, it's OK now. It’s suddenly become very real”, she said.
Based in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, the orphanage officially opened in December 2010. Hook decided to give it the same name as the one she was in. She is still trying to pay the running costs, over VND31 million (USD1,500) a month, and attract suitable families to sponsor the children, all of whom were previously housed in a local orphanage she had been sponsoring. Allambie now houses five children ranging from 8- to 18-years-old.
One of the children, 17-year-old Le Thi Kim Sa, said, “I'm really happy Suzanne has come back to help us. We all feel very lucky to be here and are very grateful with the support we receive.”
Thiet, another child at the orphanage, said, “I'm very happy to be staying with Suzanne. I hope she can stay beside me forever.”