Seattle videographer gives back to help orphan

Seattle videographer gives back to help orphan

SEATTLE -- Tan Brown could be sitting in her Seattle home this week preparing a Thanksgiving feast or enjoying vacation hanging with friends. Instead, she's in Vietnam spending time with an 18-month-old orphan with no eyes and no family.

For the Mariners videographer, this is the best way to give thanks for her own situation, to give something back to a world that has given her more than she could ever have hoped when she was a child growing up in her own difficult circumstances as a Vietnamese refugee.

Brown works for the Mariners as their video-camera person, roaming the Safeco Field stands taking the pictures of fans who appear on the stadium's big screen. It's part of the freelance work she does in addition to her full-time job as a video editor for ScreenPlay, Inc.

But whenever she can carve out time, the energetic 37-year-old also roams the world, often wearing a cow suit to break the ice with strangers, looking to meet people and lend a helping hand and a little money when she can to folks in need. Her unique story was featured last year on MLB.com, and it was that article that helped lead to her current connection with a child in Vietnam named Tam Duc Pham.

Serendipitous is the word she uses. A woman in Portland, Ore., read her story and contacted Brown through her Traveling Cow blog. The two struck up a friendship and that connection led to another with a woman named Hillary Brown, who is the founder of an organization called Helping Orphans Worldwide (HOW).

For Tan Brown, it was the perfect fit, topped by the fact Hillary Brown -- who grew up in Brooklyn -- now lives in Vietnam.

"I travel the world and go where need is and where I see fit," Tan Brown said. "But this one, it couldn't be a better match. In January, I'd decided that I wanted to team up with a charity to work with somebody established and help with video or financially or whatever skill I can offer. The way we were brought together, the HOW and COW, it was so magical. I said, 'I have to come out there.'

"This is what I was looking for. It's my own country. I am all for helping children everywhere, in Africa or America or wherever. I just want to help. But the fact this is in my backyard where I was born, for me it's meaningful in more than one level."

Brown fled Vietnam with her family in 1983 and her life story is filled with hurdles. But she has cleared them all with hard work, an education and a spirit that spills over in her desire to give back. Which is why she's spending time now with Hillary Brown and the little boy named Tam at the Mai An Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City.

"Hillary met Tam when he was 2 months and said, 'This kid needs help,'" Brown said. "He was born without eyes and with a severe cleft palate. His mom just left him at the hospital. She introduced me to him [through FaceTime videos] and I just fell in love with him. I said, I'm going to come out, shoot videos and come back home and spread the word about helping orphans worldwide."

The little boy has become more than part of her charitable efforts, however. He's become a part of her family and she's flown to Vietnam several times to spend time with him and is helping raise money for a surgery in April that will give him prosthetic eyes and reconstruct his face so he can eat normally.

"Our goal is to get Tam adopted into a loving family anywhere in the world," she said. "He's brilliant. He loves music, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Beethoven. He just stops in his tracks and listens. He's adorable. We're going to help get his face fixed and hopefully somebody will see the video and his story and say, 'That's my son.'"

Brown says friends ask why she doesn't adopt the boy herself, but she says that she loves kids, but doesn't think her constant travels and work schedule would be fair to any child. She's content to be the conduit between others and wants to keep finding ways to help as many people as she can in her own unique ways.

Brown's voice lights up when she talks about little things that make a difference. She says a Safeco Field usher who read her story shoved $100 into her pocket when she was going down the aisle during a game last season and told her to use it the best way she saw fit. She took that money, made phone calls to friends and donated some of her own cash to raise $3,500 in a week.

On her next trip to Vietnam, she put part of that toward helping the orphanage and Tam's impending medical bills, but also pulled aside some for an elderly homeless woman she'd befriended outside the market on previous visits.

Unable to spot the woman in her normal place, Brown asked numerous vendors and eventually tracked the woman to a home where a young couple were letting her sleep on a wooden bed lined with cardboard as she recovered from broken ribs suffered in a fall.

"They'd taken her in, but they didn't have much money," Brown said. "We went and bought two mattresses and rice and cooking oil and essentials to give them a leg up. They said, 'We're able-bodied. Just help her.' But they were so happy and humble, we helped them, too. Overall we spent maybe $200 for all that stuff and it went such a long way and made such a difference.

"It's stories like Tam and her that make what I do so rewarding. When I found her and hugged her and she cried, that was better than winning the lottery."

Anyone wishing to help with Tam's upcoming surgery can do so at www.gofundme.com/surgeryfortam.

Helping Orphans Worldwide also has a website at www.helpingorphansworldwide.org.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.