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The story of the University of Manitoba Young Alumni Award winner

March 10, 2014 — 

A daring escape from oppression in her native Vietnam, pirates attacking the boat that was whisking her to safety, two years in a Thailand refugee camp battling tuberculosis. By age seven, Dr. Chau Pham’s journey was unfurling like the trailer to a Hollywood film. Then, like a scene from a movie, she met the first of many heroes who would forever change the course of her life: a doctor from the Red Cross who gave her a clean bill of health and put her back on her path to Canada— and to freedom.

Dr. Chau Pham stands under a grey sky. she's in a leather jacket and her right hadn is tugging at the neck of her sweater.

Dr. Chau Pham

An impressionable young kid, she knew in that moment she had to become a doctor. She also knew why: “The secret to happiness is in giving to others,” said Pham years later.

But choosing medicine as her profession and a means of giving back to her Canadian community wasn’t enough for Pham; she was determined to help people in her homeland as well. Before she completed medical school and became an emergency physician, an 18-year-old Pham hatched the ambitious plan of co-founding a charity. She called it Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam (CHKV).

With the support of her adoptive mother Darlene Lindsay [CertEd/70, MEd/83], her parents, father, Tieng, mother, Thu, family, friends and the community at large, Pham has been helping young people in Vietnam through CHKV since 1995.

The charity provides a variety of assistance to young Vietnamese including a sponsor family program, the purchase of bikes for children to ride, and construction of new schools in rural Vietnam. But perhaps closest to Pham’s heart is CHKV’s support of medical and dental missions that have enabled her to travel with a team of volunteer health care professionals to bring hope to kids suffering from insufficient medical care.

Studying medicine at the U of M helped make these experiences possible for Pham and cemented the connection between education and affecting change. Her desire to help others extends far beyond the emergency room; she wants to make contributions to the improvement of Canada’s health care system as a whole. With this in mind, she completed an MBA in Hospital Administration from the Asper School of Business after finishing medical school. She also became a teacher, developing—and directing—a formal ultrasound curriculum for postgraduate emergency residents at the U of M.


In 2014, the Distinguished Alumni Award has grown to include four new categories. The new awards recognize University of Manitoba graduates who have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their professional and personal lives, and who have been inspirations to fellow alumni, current students and the community.

Chau Pham [BSc/2000, MD/2005, MBA/2013] will receive the University of Manitoba Young Alumni Award, which recognizes graduates who are 35 years of age or under at the close of nominations. Two years in a refugee camp battling tuberculosis was part of the motivation that led Pham to become a doctor and eventually establish Canadians Helping Kids in Vietnam. She works tirelessly to help children with insufficient medical care.

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