The road to success can be a long, yet beneficial, journey.
And, thanks to a Vietnamese immigrant, Southwest Philadelphia now has a health store, where residents can receive herbs, vitamins and other products to help maintain their health.
The store’s owner, Kim Mai Tang, just opened the doors of her Good Health Club at 6529 Woodland Avenue last week. She hopes to do more than sell health products — her aim is to improve the health of the community.
Having escaped Communist Vietnam on a boat headed to America, Tang understood being without, and in need of, support.
“I came from Vietnam in 1978 as one of the boat people,” said Tang in her store. “I left Vietnam by myself with a cousin and aunt’s family by boat.”
Tang landed in New York where life was rough in the early stages of living in the United States.
“I was depressed because I was homesick; the weather affected me, I had hearing problems and a language problem — and food was scarce,” she said.
The transition to American society was not easy for Tang. She failed to thrive in school and didn’t do well in adapting to her new home.
“For weeks and weeks I went to school and didn’t learn anything,” she said. “One day my brother said ‘Okay, you can be dumb if you want to be dumb, you make up your mind.’”
It was then, that Tang was given a test in school, which she simply returned to the teacher blank.
“He gave me a really ugly face that I have never forgotten in my life,” she said.
It was that look that motivated her to succeed academically.
“I told myself that the next test I’m getting a hundred to show him that I’m not dumb,” Tang said. “And I did.”
After that, Tang stated she received scores of 100 on all her tests — except for English, since she could not speak the language.
Another teacher stepped up and provided the foundation for Tang’s success.
“I thank God that there was an English teacher who kind of adopted me,” she said. “She took me to her home to help with the kids and I got an opportunity to hear a lot of English. She was Jewish and made sure that I graduated high school and went to college.”
Tang earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from a college in Massachusetts but even then found it difficult finding employment — so she was forced to work for her sister managing stores.
When the economy collapsed, business began to suffer and Tang found herself in debt.
Plagued by debt and arthritis, Tang, a professed Buddhist at the time, met a woman who introduced her to Christianity and promised to help her, encouraging her to walk by faith. According to Tang, things began to change.
“Miracle after miracle happened then,” Tang said. “I got out of debt, all of my arthritis pain [gone], people were bringing me ointment, patches and a machine called a nerve stimulator — my arthritis was completely gone.”
Tang later moved to Philadelphia with her husband and noticed a need within the immigrant community.
“When I walked around Philadelphia all of the Vietnamese, the majority couldn’t speak English,” she said. “They were either receiving Social Security income or welfare and they had trouble with their kids — so I started helping immigrants from Vietnam.”
Tang soon began helping Vietnamese immigrants enroll their children in school and taking them to doctors, as well as providing them with other assistance.
“I kind of enjoyed it and said, wow,” she said. “I really enjoy doing this.”
However, there was no money and Tang acquired work as a case manager for seniors and others in need of assistance. Soon she found herself helping others in the community from such countries as Liberia in Southwest Philadelphia.
The Good Health Club Grand-opening is an extension of these services to the community.
Tang believes that information about health is key and those communities, especially its children, are in need of somewhere they can turn for the education and resources to sustain themselves holistically.
She seems to understand both the struggle and the potential of her surroundings.
“This neighborhood is bad, a lot of drugs,” Tang said. “This is God’s house for the neighborhood.”