August 1, 2006
By Heather Kent
The first black and white television pictures Del Fredlund, P.Eng. watched as a teenager in the 1960s were of the Vietnam War. From his parents' farm in the small town of Norquay, Saskatchewan, Fredlu...
The first black and white television pictures Del Fredlund, P.Eng. watched as a teenager in the 1960s were of the Vietnam War. From his parents’ farm in the small town of Norquay, Saskatchewan, Fredlund’s encounter with these images stirred a deep desire to visit the faraway country. Decades later his dream was realized. In 1993, while in Singapore on sabbatical leave from the University of Saskatoon where he was head of civil engineering, Fredlund arranged to visit Hanoi.
Visiting various university engineering departments in Hanoi, Fredlund discovered a dearth of textbooks and basic infrastructure. But he also saw more: “I saw that the needs were not only engineering, not only technical. I needed to find a way to meet them,” he says.
Returning to Canada, he used a national lecture tour to generate donations of geotechnical books, sending two 40-foot containers to the Vietnamese government. That high-level connection led to Fredlund initiating work with the Canadian International Development Agency in 1996.
Now retired from the university and practising geotechnical engineering for Golder Associates in Saskatoon, Fredlund continues to have a way of blending engineering projects and charitable work. He credits Golder Associates with supporting his dual purposes in Vietnam: improving slope stability for road building and providing him with the opportunity to work on a range of projects with Vietnam’s most marginalized people.
Through Canadian Food for the Hungry and his own organization “Caring for U, ” he works with local non-governmental organizations. They fund schools for the deaf, blind and a trade school, training students from ethnic minorities for the hotel industry. In 2005, he began supporting an AIDS clinic in Hanoi, providing day care and drugs to 70 patients.
Vietnamese humanitarians have been vital to his success. John Pham, who is Vietnam’s director for Samaritan’s Purse, runs the school for the blind. The students’ remarkable musical abilities resulted in the production of a CD 10 years ago and a growing reputation. They play traditional Vietnamese instruments as well as drums and guitar. “These kids are now called upon to perform for visiting world dignitaries, including Bill Clinton,” says Fredlund.
A chance encounter on a Hanoi street in 1993 with a tenacious 13-year-old girl, who implored Fredlund to teach her English, resulted in the girl completing college. Ms Thu now works with Youth with a Mission at Fredlund’s school for deaf children outside Hanoi.
The trade school is another success story. During Fredlund’s most recent visit in May 2006, 60 students received one-year scholarships to cover tuition and living expenses. They receive training in English, French, bookkeeping, cooking and other hotel industry skills.
Most of the students are Hmong people, who live in the inhospitable, mountainous northern border region. Four years ago, foreigners were not allowed into the area. Fredlund gained access because of his commitment to build schools there. As well as constructing three schools, he arranged the purchase of a hotel in Sapa, a tourist destination, for his graduates to work in. Many other graduates are hired by hotels in Hanoi.
Fredlund plans to continue visiting Vietnam at least once a year, combining his charitable and geotechnical work. His motivation is deeply rooted: “I learned a long time ago that if I live my life for myself, I will simply feed my ego. If I live my life for others, it will feed my soul.”
Heather Kent is a freelance writer in Vancouver. Del Fredlund can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org