dear loved one

Every year between 2015 and 2019, I wrote a letter, addressed “dear loved one,” to everyone I’ve ever loved. At some point it became something I wrote on my birthday, to give brief updates on my life, and to invite my community to give what they could to Camp RYSE, a miracle of a community in Providence, RI that has become my life’s work. The letters have become mini time capsules, capturing what was going on for me–and for camp–in that year. I couldn’t get myself to write them in the peak years of the pandemic, when camp ground to a halt and when residency consumed my life, but I am excited to bring back the tradition this year on the day I turn thirty-four. Here is a little archive of past letters.


Dear, dear friend of mine,

In twenty days I turn thirty, and I couldn’t be more stoked. 

Every year around my birthday I write a letter of reflection. For those of you receiving this for the first time, yay! I’m so happy we met and have become friends. I hope you’ll indulge this thirty-year-old lady and allow me to share three reflections from the year.

1. On love

On March 14, 2019 I proposed to my great love, Paul “Peapod” Wallace. I proposed by writing and illustrating a book, which you can view here. What can I even say that has not already been said about love and partnership and books and blind dates and leaps of faith and the wild and hungry human heart? Maybe just that with him I can be my whole self, farts and all. With him, I stopped wearing any makeup and shaved my head. With him, I knocked on hundreds of doors across California and Texas during the midterm elections, and with him I dance constantly. He’s my partner through and through, and next summer we’re going to PARTY! in a white dress+tuxedo. We hope you’ll join us.

2. On how the wand chooses the wizard

Many of you know that around this time last year I followed a gnarly and inconvenient calling to make a career change into OB/Gyn, choosing to start residency anew. It was so painful, and so fruitful. I’m grateful every day for the work I get to do. As a medical student, I had been strangely resistant to my pull toward OB/Gyn for many complex, heady reasons I won’t discuss here. But what I’ve learned is that, as the celebrated wandmaker Ollivander says in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, “The wand chooses the wizard.” It is not the wizard who chooses her wand. We don’t get to choose what mysterious formula of phoenix feather or dragon heartstring or elm or oak or elder will come alive at our touch; all we can do is pay attention when it does, and follow the calling to our magic. 

3. On power and responsibility

All year I’ve been mulling on power and responsibility. Yes, yes, we all know what Spiderman’s uncle said as he lay dying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” It’s a quote we’ve heard as many times as we’ve watched the powerful be recklessly, horrifyingly irresponsible nonetheless. Same old story. 

What I’ve been thinking about, though, has been the inverse: how the opposite ought to be true. How with great responsibility ought to come great power. How the people in our society who take responsibility for the most important things–the education of our children, the care of our sick and elderly, the stewardship of this precious planet–ought to be the ones in power. How this ought to be our north star in the 2020 elections, and every election.

I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to feel so powerless, and how the only way out of powerlessness and into power requires taking responsibility, collectively. I’m thinking of how Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it her personal responsibility to motivate and register voters in record numbers in the Bronx, and how the movement that surrounded her election has built real power that has translated into real policy. I’m thinking of the students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School who, impossibly, took on gun control as their own responsibility–launching March for Our Lives, registering young voters by the thousands, and ousting 46 NRA-backed elected officials in November. 

Responsibility = power. 

And it’s awful. It is so startlingly, breathtakingly unfair that heartbroken teenagers grieving their friends and their futures should be the ones to take responsibility and lead us to social change, and yet it is so. 

Come to think of it, it always has been so.

Many of you know that I myself come from a group of young people that took responsibility and made real, lasting change. My five years of medical and graduate school in Providence, RI were spent simultaneously organizing with an astonishingly beautiful group of refugee and immigrant youth and families that have come to be known as Camp RYSE, for which I used to serve as camp director. Every summer for the past eight years, Camp RYSE has brought together over 100 of Providence’s many refugee youth for five weeks of summer camp filled to the brim with field trips and swimming, dance parties and picnics, English literacy and math classes, art projects and soccer games. Led by a majority refugee-youth staff, camp looks like songs and crayons on the outside, but on the inside it’s about building power by investing in our youth. It’s about taking the traumatic experience of escape and resettlement and healing through community. It’s about taking responsibility for the challenges your community faces–isolation, inadequate educational access, food insecurity, low literacy–and solving them, together, all the while having so much fun it hurts.

Please take a moment to watch our camp video from 2018 to glimpse what a day at camp is like. This one was filmed and directed by Mechack Niyomukiza, former camper, then counselor, then camp director, and the first in his family to complete elementary school, high school, and now taking on college.

For my 30th birthday I’m aiming to raise $10,000 for Camp RYSE. I hope you will join me in making a tax-deductible contribution to this organization that changes lives every year, and certainly changed my own. It made me who I am. It was the wand that chose this wizard. On May 25th I’m heading back to Providence to celebrate Paul’s graduation and my 30th birthday; we’ll be partying with these kids. I hope you’ll join us in making camp happen this year by donating here; every bit counts, and we’d be forever, deeply grateful.

Thank you so much for being my friend. Here’s to another thirty, and beyond.

In power, responsibility, and magic,


Dear loved one,

This time last year I was graduating from medical school and preparing for one of the hardest goodbyes in my life. I lived in Providence, RI for nine years, and for five of those years my world revolved around a community of hundreds of refugee youth and families, as well as the youth workers who loved them fiercely. Together we made up the BRYTE and BRYTE Summer Camp community.

Some BRYTE students and me at graduation.

Founded in 2006, BRYTE pairs college and graduate students with newly-arrived refugee youth for one-on-one, in-home academic tutoring in Providence, RI, a city that resettles hundreds of new refugees every year. This year BRYTE managed over 170 tutor-tutee pairs. During the summer, this vibrant community of tutors and tutees come together for BRYTE Summer Camp, now known as Camp RYSE, which for the past eight years has been fostering community, confidence, and joy among over one hundred newly-arrived and recently-resettled refugee youth every summer.

Just another casually magical day at Camp RYSE

I tutored for four years, directed our summer camp for two years, and in the final years leading up to my departure served as “BRYTE Grandma.” June 3, 2017 found me in the TF Green Airport, holding my most beloved students tight while we wept, and boarding a plane to California to begin residency.

Giggles at our goodbye slumber party the night before I left Providence.
Ugly crying at the airport.

Six weeks later, in a rare free moment of my first year of residency, I had the chance to fly back to Providence for a surprise visit to camp. What I saw bowled me over, in its mix of old and new. A new location, but lots of old faces–campers who had returned to work as staff, even as directors. There were new students–recently resettled from Congo, Eritrea, Syria–but they were welcomed in the same old BRYTE way–by their peers, who spoke their languages, and could show them the ropes, with dozens of mentors cheering them on.

What I saw when I came to spy on Camp RYSE for a day last summer. Um, too much learning. Where’s the fun??

Now, as we enter June 2018, I watch from afar as my dearest friends and co-conspirators gear up for the eighth summer of camp. It fills me with an immeasurable hope to know that in the city I once called home, there will always be a community of refugee youth welcoming and supporting other refugee youth. In these unsettling times, it feels like a huge victory for justice.

Some of camp’s directors this year. Work it.

This weekend I turned twenty-nine, and this week, the first of my new year, my partner Paul and I are aiming to raise $10,000

for Camp RYSE. I am writing to invite you to join me, many of you for the second, third, or fourth year in a row, to help make this eighth summer of joy, learning, justice, and community happen once again. Though this team is powerful and incredibly capable, they need our help more than ever this year. For the first time, they earned a major youth employment grant that works via reimbursement, meaning they need to raise more of their budget up front. In the long run it’s an amazing opportunity but they need our help to get off the launching pad for camp in just a few weeks. No amount is too small, and all are tax-deductible. Please see our donation page here

Many of you have given to Camp RYSE over the years, and your generosity has been so, so, so deeply appreciated. Please know how huge and lasting and impact every dollar makes. You make Camp RYSE possible.

For the curious, my first year of residency is going well, but I find myself constantly searching for the corner of medicine that will fill my heart the way BRYTE and Camp RYSE did. I’m searching for the way that I will merge medicine with the kind of community work that so transformed me in medical school. I haven’t found it yet, but I trust I will recognize it once I do. In the mean time, I continue to support from afar this community–the community that made me, that taught me everything I know about community–and hope you will join me in doing so.

With enormous love,

VyVy Trinh


Dear friend,

Of the family stories I grew up with, my favorite is the story of my mother’s first meal in the United States outside of a refugee camp. In 1975 my then adolescent mother spent a few long, sweltering limbo-months at Eglin Air Force base in Florida, awaiting resettlement with her five siblings and two parents, who had all fled war-torn Saigon by boat. 

The fam circa 1975

On one such day, an American family from a nearby town volunteered to take my mother’s family out for a meal. They hosted my family at their trailer park home and served what my mom still describes as the most delicious meal of her life–crispy chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and cold, sweet watermelon. Each one of my aunts can describe this day in startling detail–the hot greasy wings, the sweet blonde children they couldn’t understand. When my grandfather died a few years ago, we had buckets of KFC at our post-memorial family gathering.

Four years ago I met a kid named Appoline, and my whole world changed. I was given the chance to be to her what that Florida family was to my mom, to welcome her and her family into my heart, and to be welcomed in turn. Appoline and her family are Congolese refugees. When she was two weeks old her parents bundled her up and fled to a refugee camp in Burundi, where Appoline spent most of her childhood.  In 2013 they were selected to be resettled in Providence, RI–joining the less than 1% of the world’s refugees that ever gets resettled.

Work it, girl

I met Appoline through the single most powerful community I have ever belonged to, the organization that has taught me more than any other experience in my life about what community really means–the stuff it’s made of; the gestures of cold watermelon bought with food stamps and still given freely; the daily, tedious work of nurturing it. That organization is called BRYTE, and it changed my life. I ended up directing BRYTE Summer Camp in 2014 and 2015, overseeing a one-and-a-half times increase in camper enrollment, a significant increase in refugee youth employment and leadership at camp, and above all, the joy, the joy, the joy.  

My friend, I’m asking you to join us. We’re raising money for what is bound to be the most magical summer yet. Donate here. Follow us on Instagram. Spread the word. Tell a friend. Share our story. The only way we create a better world is investing in our young people–especially our young people who have suffered and risen back up. They have so much to teach us. 

With love, gratitude, and solidarity always,
VyVy Trinh


Dear loved one,

I want to take this moment to share with you a short narrative from Etienne, one of my favorite students at BRYTE Summer Camp for Refugee Youth here in Providence, RI. This story comes from a beautiful piece by Isabel DeBre that can be read in full here

Etienne, Age 17

I was born in Tanzania and then moved to Mozambique, where I grew up. It was my father’s decision for us to come to America. There was fighting in Mozambique, and twice I almost got killed.

We came to America last year. When I arrived, I had no idea how to speak English, or minus or plus, or do division or multiplication. I was almost sixteen, but I felt like I was in Kindergarten. At my public school, it was impossible to meet new people. No one ever came to talk to me. I remember sitting at lunch in the cafeteria by myself, waiting to see if someone would say hi.

I thought that BRYTE Camp would be the same. But it was completely different. Everyone is from different countries, continents, cultures… from Burundi, Congo, Tanzania, Mexico, Nepal, Iraq, Burma. I made friends.

After my first summer at BRYTE Camp, I could say, “Hi, how are you, my name is Etienne.” When school started, I knew what was going on. My English is still not quite there, but I can explain myself well enough. If I get stopped by the police, I can defend myself.

I come back to BRYTE Camp because I don’t want to lose the opportunity to get some knowledge. I want to write a book so people like me will want to learn and won’t make my mistake. Maybe it would be a published book, or maybe I’d keep it for myself, so I don’t forget: where you come from is who you are.

For the past three years, Etienne and students like him have been my greatest teachers. My students teach me about resilience–like Appoline, who day after day pushes herself to learn to read as a middle schooler, after having been denied the opportunity for most of her childhood.  They teach me about compassion, particularly ten-year-old Naw, who is the sort of kid who will never let anyone sit alone at the lunch table. Above all, BRYTE students teach me about community, about putting people first. I learn this especially from Ayda, who looks after her five younger siblings with a powerful and protective grace, and who plans to launch a support group for young women in her community this year.

Beyond being the most joyful community I have ever been a part of, BRYTE Summer Camp is effective, too. Year after year, the vast majority of our students demonstrate improvement on their literacy pre- and post- exams. Last year there was a statistically significant improvement in self-reported school-readiness scores. And we’re growing: this year, thanks to a groundbreaking partnership with Dorcas International Institution and Providence Public Schools, BRYTE Summer Camp will serve 120 refugee and unaccompanied youth. This is twice as many students as in 2014, and 400% bigger than our founding class in 2011.

I am writing to ask for your support. The first day of camp is around the corner, and we still have funds to raise. Every dollar makes a huge impact. Funds pay a hardworking staff, the majority of whom are former refugee youth and who work long hours to support our kids. Your support pays for school supplies, field trips, books, and more.

If you are receiving this email, it is because you are so very dear to me. You have watched my journey and cheered me on, and I am so, so grateful to have you in my life. Please know how deeply this community has shaped me, how these kids and their parents are my whole heart.

In these troubling times, when it seems like at every corner I encounter a heartbreaking story about fear and hatred toward immigrants, refugees, poor folks, and brown folks, these young people give me hope beyond measure. Their strength is awe-inspiring. They know who they are and where they come from, and they take care of each other. They are wiser than most adults I know. They are focused and brilliant and turn their painful experiences into a profound sense of purpose. 

I really do believe that among them are the people who are going to change our world for the better, and I hope you will support me in supporting them.


VyVy Trinh