Nearly six years to the day that Nhi Do had last seen his family, he found himself pacing the corridors of National Airport, carrying roses and dolls.
The gifts were for his wife, his two daughters and a niece, who last fall escaped from Vietnam to Thailand. Recently, the four women completed the last leg of their journey when they left a refugee camp in Chanthaburi, Thailand, for the flight to Washington.
After the tearful embraces and welcomes, the reunited Do family headed to their new home, a two-bedroom apartment on Willston Drive in Falls Church -- a home made more comfortable because of the efforts of students and faculty at Wakefield Senior High in Arlington County.
When the Wakefield community learned that Do's family had escaped from Vietnam, students and faculty adopted the family as part of a school-wide project in human relations.
Aside from helping the Do family, principal Victor Blue and other faculty members believed the project could help ease some tensions at Wakefield, where about 46 percent of the 1,679 students are members of minority groups.
Through raffles, bake sales and solicitation of donations, the students raised $1,949 and helped find and furnish, with the aid of the faculty and community, the Do family's apartment.
Recently, surrounded by his wife Nguyen Thi Doanh, his two daughters Thuc Uyen, 10, and To Uyen, 8, and his niece Kim Chi Vu, 13, Do proudly showed visitors around the new home. From attics and storage rooms had come a couch, beds, tables and other donated items.
But the family received an unexpected welcome the night after the four women arrived here in late March. The family got a standing ovation from nearly 1,600 students in Wakefield's gym when members were introduced on International Night.
"It was marvelous," said Do. "Our eyes filed with tears and it impressed them so . . . And since then, people keep coming up to me and asking, 'How is your family?'
"The black, white and Hispanic students, they mention my family all the time and they worked so hard to help my family. I think that is good for human relations."
Principal Blue agrees: "We accomplished what we set out to do . . . You felt in our student body a sense of pride in what they had done and a sincere feeling of friendship toward the family."
The children, meanwhile, have enrolled in school and are learning English quickly. They long since have shed the sandals they wore when they first arrived for running shoes, and already know where the closest McDonald's and pizza parlor are. Do's wife, who was a teacher before the fall of Saigon, may consider taking up her career again after mastering English.
"The students seem to have a better understanding now about refugees and knw more about the situation in our school -- why we have a large number of refugees," said Do about Wakefield, where 20 percent of the students are Asian. "There's a better understanding than there was a few months ago between Vietnamese and Americans."