I believe that each of us has a limitless capacity to start a butterfly effect in every moment. When our small actions are backed by good intention, we allow space for another. One such person is Choua Thao, the first Hmong female nurse who paved the way for hundreds of Hmong women to save countless lives during the Secret War in Laos between 1962-75.
When Choua Thao was 11 years old, she defied the traditional norm of working in the fields, and became the first Hmong girl to attend school. Her good grades soon caught the attention of the ‘International Volunteer Service’ and she was recruited to be a nurse at the tender age of 13. For 7 years, she worked and trained alongside American doctors and nurses. As the war broke out, it was a no brainer for the CIA to put Choua Thao in charge of Sam Thong Hospital in Laos. There, she worked as the head administrator, overseeing 14 departments and 3 neighboring hospitals.1
As the war grew in intensity, casualties kept flooding into Sam Thong Hospital. To save their lives, Choua Thao began actively recruiting hundreds of Hmong women, giving them training opportunities to be nurses. Under her supervision, the recruits underwent rigorous training by day, tending to over 500 patients by night. Though it was hard labor, these women persevered. They took pride in their service during the war which empowered them to excel in their duties.2
Even after the war ended, these nurses continued to save lives. They were given opportunities to resettle and further their education in the United States. This ultimately led to better-paying jobs and a brighter future for their familes who fled Laos after the war. In a close-knit Hmong community, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The children of these women went on to work for the community as doctors, lawyers, and in non-profit organizations 3. Choua Thao’s ripple effect had no doubt linked the Hmong community in unimaginable ways and I’m certain the result of this goodness will continue to grow exponentially.
Cover photo by Roger Warner, words by Buranee Soh