ALAMEDA -- Danny Nguyen was visiting his native Vietnam and helping the victims of Typhoon Haiyan last month when he found himself in need of a little help of his own.

The 49-year-old Nguyen, who was staying at Ke Rua in Thanh Hoa province, fell ill after he ate food that someone had washed with contaminated water.

The College of Alameda dance instructor was sick for two days. Five other people, mostly elderly, died during the six days he was in the area, Nguyen said.

He believes the lack of clean water contributed to their deaths.

"The water was just horrible," Nguyen said. "The people who live there have no choice. Drinking it time after time is not good. Eventually, some people will not be strong enough to fight off the bacteria and the other contaminants. I decided I wanted to try and help."

Danny Nguyen, dance instructor at Alameda Coummunity College, poses for a photo in his dance studio in Alameda, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (Laura A.
Danny Nguyen, dance instructor at Alameda Coummunity College, poses for a photo in his dance studio in Alameda, Calif., on Monday, Nov. 18, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Nguyen is now raising money to sink a well and create a filtration system for the people of Ke Rua. His goal is to raise $100,000.

The dancer hopes to begin the work this summer when he returns to Vietnam. He also plans on visiting again at Christmas.

Nguyen's campaign comes as people are getting ready to mark "World Water Day," which the United Nations General Assembly declared in 1993 and which has been an observed annually since then on March 22.

The event highlights the importance of water in everyone's lives and the need to conserve it. This year's theme is on the connection between water and energy, especially for people who are impoverished and live in places where a limited energy supply prevents access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation.

"The main objective is to increase people's awareness and to get them involved," said Cherri Barnette, who works with the Danang sister city development team in Oakland.

Barnette is helping Nguyen with his project to bring clean water to Ke Rua, which is about 200 miles east of Hanoi and has about 5,000 people, including through contacts with non-governmental agencies.

"It seems appropriate that he's a dancer and he want to promote safe water, because both are fluid," Barnette said.

Nguyen has taught choreography, ballet, ballroom and other dancing styles at the Peralta Community College District since 1999.

He also leads the Nguyen Dance Company, a multicultural performance troupe that features dancers, musicians and visual artists who mix contemporary and traditional Vietnamese dance. He has lived in the United States since 1983 and visits Vietnam regularly.

"My dream has always been to help people, especially students," Nguyen said. "My other passion is to help the people of my country who are very poor."

Just 39 percent of the rural population of Vietnam has access to safe water and sanitation, according to The Water Project, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable water projects, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Vietnamese government officials say almost 80 percent of diseases in the country are caused by polluted water, including cholera, typhoid, dysentery and malaria.

In Ke Rua, most homes have a pond to keep ducks, geese and swans, Nguyen said. Water to cook and drink is often pumped from the pond into a barrel, where it is not filtered.

Nguyen believes he may be the only Vietnamese-American who has ever visited the isolated area.

"Nobody visits these people," Nguyen said. "They need our help. After watching how they lived, I decided I would come back with resources to change things."

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

FYI
For information on helping Danny Nguyen on his project to bring clean water to Vietnam, contact him at www.dannydancers.com.