Nhi Do remembers the day -- Nov. 18 -- clearly, even though it began as any other. There were the usual social studies classes he teaches at Wakefield High School in Arlington. There were the after-school conferences with Vietnamese students in his U.S. and world history classes.
About 4 p.m. he headed home to the Washington apartment he shares with a Vietnamese family.
When he got there he found a letter that would change his life, and perhaps the lives of many Wakefield students.
The return address was the Leansing Refugee Camp in Chantaburi, Thailand, and the letter was from Doanh Do, the wife he had last seen through tears on an April night more than five years ago in Saigon, as he fled Vietnam. On her fifth attempt, she wrote, she had finally escaped Vietnam with their two daughters, Thuc Uyen, 10, and To Uyen, 8, and their niece, Kim Chi Vu, 13.
After the wave of relief and joy, Nhi Do cried.
"I cried because . . . I thought they'd never get out," Do said in an interview after classes last week.
The day after Do received the news, he could barely control his excitement as he told William Evinger, chairman of Wakefield's social studies department. Evinger talked to Victor Blue, the school's principal, and David Jeffrey, an assistant principal.
Almost immediately they planned to make the Do family reunion a schoolwide project in human relations.
"Basically, what we're doing is adopting a family," said Blue. "We're trying to develop a network within the school which will assist him when he gets his family here."
This is Do's second year at Wakefield. Before that he worked at a variety of odd jobs in an effort to make ends meet. Always he hoped his family would be able to join him, and always he remembered the night he fled Saigon.
Before the Communist takeover Do had been a professor at Mekong University, specializing in Chinese history and culture. Because he was a teacher and an educated man, his wife feared he would be killed if he did not flee the country.
"She is a very courageous woman," Do said. "She had no hesitation. She said, 'Get out of the house immediately. If you stay in Saigon, they will kill you.'
"My 2-year-old daughter said only, 'Pa,' and my 5-year-old said, 'Don't go. Stay with us.' But I told her I would go out to find a way to bring them out."
On April 29, 1975, Do left Vietnam with 2,000 others on a barge that took the refugees to the 7th Fleet.
Do does not know how his wife managed to leave. He does know that she lied about her profession -- she also was a teacher -- and he knows some details of her other escape attempts from the few letters she has been able to send him. He has learned, for instance, that his wife once paid 30 ounces of gold to recuers who never showed up. Last June, he said, on his family's fourth attempt to flee, they came within 80 kilometers of Thailand before a school of whales turned the ship back to Vietnam. That journey, his wife wrote, lasted 17 days in a monsoon, during which the 50 people crowded aboard the small boat were threatened by pirates.
But Do does very little looking back now. He is caught up in the project to help bring his family home.
Shortly after Wakefield officials announced Campaign Do last week, 84 students and faculty members volunteered to serve on six project committees.
"We were planning to work on human relations projects this spring and this particular activity could become a springboard for things we want to do," Wakefield principal Blue said.
Nearly 14.2 percent of Wakefield's 1,650 students are refugees from Southeast Asia, and Blue candidly concedes that racial relations have at times been strained.
"This (project) is the most appropriate way to begin understanding human relations better, to understand what goes on in the world and right here," Blue said. "It has been by feeling that we need to develop a human relations program to begin cutting off some of the polarization I see taking place among whites and blacks and foreign-born students."
Among the considerations in helping the Do family, Blue said, are housing, furniture, clothing, financial help, assistance in cutting governmental red tape and orientation to the community.
"I'm really excited about this project," said Cindy Regan, 17, vice president of the senior class and a member of one of the six committees. "I think it's a fantastic way for the Wakefield community to support an endeavor like this. So many cultural tensions exist because people don't understand the different cultures at Wakefield."
No specific financial goal has been set, but Blue said he expects the various school clubs and classes will raise funds to buy whatever the family needs.
Do, who is delighted by the human relations aspect of the project, says he does not want cash.He would prefer that students purchase whatever goods they decide upon so that he can have permanent mementoes of their efforts. The only cash he would consider, he said, would be money to reimburse a refugee relief agency for air fare from Bangkok to the United States, which he expects will amount to $380 per person.
Do hopes to find a two-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia for his family, and is anxious that they get here soon.
"I had hoped they would be here for Christmas," he said of the long-awaited reunion. "But now I hope they will be here before the Chinese New Year (in February)."
Told of Do's aspirations, Blue laughed and said, "Any day they arrive will be New Year's for Mr. Do."