Viet Nam News
by Hồng Vân
Amazin LêThi, a former professional bodybuilder with a global career spanning over 20 years, has shifted her focus to community work, hoping to "give back" some of what she got over the years from her native and adopted countries and communities.
LêThi is the first internationally published Vietnamese health and fitness author, advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients and global ambassador for Athlete Ally and Việt Nam Relief Services.
No longer competing as a natural bodybuilder, LêThi is now focusing on the entertainment, health and fitness industry, and her community work. “My great passion is giving back to my community by utilising my different skills,” she tells Vietnam News.
By July, LêThi will launch a flagship sports, education and leadership programme in Hải Phòng city for LGBTQ youth and kids affected by HIV/AIDS. The programme is co-organised by her local partner HIV/AIDS advocate Phạm Thị Huệ, the US and Dutch embassies, as well as businesses and organisations.
“The main premise of this is creating an opportunity for kids to have fun, given that they all have difficult lives, learn necessary life skills and business skills for them to be connected with businesses locally and globally so that we can fast track them on educational and career development,” said LêThi.
She hopes the programme will be launched nationally by 2018.
“The LGBTQ movement has progressed so much in the last six years, but LGBTQs are still the most marginalised people. It is important that Việt Nam have a global voice and that its stories are shared so that the global community does not forget our stories and our needs,” said LêThi.
LêThi has been engaged in community work for over twenty years. In the US, she has been involved in activities with the Asian American and Vietnamese community.
In 2014, LêThi was the first international HIV advocate invited to Italy to speak at a national conference about AIDS in the Asian community. LêThi also advised the White House Initiative on Asian American Pacific Islanders, and on Asian youth issues that include discrimination of LGBTs, bullying and racism.
This year, LêThi and her organisation became advisors to the New York City Department of Education and LGBTQ Advisory Council on Asian youth issues. She is also due to give three keynote speeches this year to amplify the Asian voice in New York, Chicago and Atlanta, where she has also been collaborating with the state and city on Asian youth issues.
Asian youths globally are bullied the most out of all ethnic groups, and LGBTQs are bullied the most, according to LêThi, who points out that people tend to pick on people with weaknesses or those different from the majority. "As a society, we don’t really understand about these marginalised people, what it’s like to feel different within yourself," she says. “So I will work hard on awareness.”
Raising a voice on these issues, helping such youth find work, empowering them to be leaders - this will help to shift them from being barely tolerated to being accepted, she believes.
LêThi is a transracial adoptee, spending some time in Australia and now dividing hert ime between Europe and US. “Being an Asian living in a foreign community, I suffered lots of bullying, both verbally and physically in school and in society.
“When I was small, the Vietnamese in Australia had a bad image. Our community lived in a bad part of town and I was always told we were thieves, drug dealers and the only reason Asian youth travelled to the richer areas of town was to steal from people.
“Yet people had no idea Vietnamese parents worked very hard to send their kids to better schools abroad so they could have a decent education,” she says.
Considering sports as "an amazing social platform bringing people together", LêThi decided to pursue bodybuilding at the age of six.
“Sports isn’t based on what one looks like but how good an athlete one is. It gave me confidence to stand up to bullying in school and a sense of community,” said LêThi.
“As a leader and a woman, I think of myself when I was six. I didn’t have any female role model, a Vietnamese role model to look at. And now I’m in a position, on a global platform, where I can be a role model for a six-year-old somewhere.
“Young Vietnamese girls need to have a role model in the community so they know who they want to become, who they can be, and more importantly, that their dream is valid. It is important to let them know that belief is possible so that’s why I’m always advocating for girls to make sure they get access to education,” said LêThi.
In 2015, LêThi launched her organisation, Amazin LêThi Foundation at Vietpride with the mission to empower and inspire the most vulnerable citizens. Specifically, the organisation worked with LGBTQ youth and those affected by HIV/AIDS through a range of educational, sporting, leadership and mentoring programmes, as well as to campaign against social stigma and discrimination.
“The organisation is my own vision to give back to the Vietnamese and global community,” said LêThi.
A heart towards motherland
She first came back to Việt Nam over a decade ago. LêThi has travelled back to Việt Nam every year since, and sometimes four times a year.
“I had tears of joy as the plane was landing. I truly felt like I was coming home, and everytime I arrive back home to Việt Nam I have that same feeling.
“I’m so proud of my Vietnamese heritage and culture, and can now see there are many amazing Vietnamese female leaders in our community, and I’m honoured to be one of them,” LêThi says.
LêThi is in the process of searching for her biological parents. “Everyday I think of how proud they would be to know what I have achieved in my life and the person I have become.
“The struggles that I have gone through in my life shaped me into the person I am today. This is why I use my platform to inspire, empower and educate Vietnamese youths, encourage them to believe in themselves and their dreams so that one day they can be leaders and mentors in their community,” LêThi sums up. VNS