Social Work in Vietnam

A Report from the Delegation, Winter, 2001 A delegation of ten monastics from Plum Village, Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park Monastery visited Vietnam this past spring. During the trip we were fortunate to spend time with both the social workers and the recipients of the Touching and Helping program.

There are thirty-two temples throughout Vietnam which practice in the Plum Village tradition and help facilitate the Touching and Helping Program. The Touching and Helping Program sponsors 2,478 school children and college students, and offers support to orphans, elderly and disabled people in the poorest areas of Vietnam where social services and education are not adequately provided. Social workers share both material resources and the practice of mindfulness.

While we were at the root temple in Hue, 100 social workers from different parts of the country joined us for a Day of Mindfulness. They were very eager to hear the teachings in order to bring more depth to their own practice, and to take what they learn back to the people they sponsor. Together we practiced walking meditation, Beginning Anew, mindful eating, total relaxation, Dharma discussion and learning new songs from Plum Village.

While visiting another temple in South Vietnam we were present during a weekend of practice held for about 85 sponsored children. Every three months the children come together for two days of mindfulness. It was a delight to see how happy the children were to be together at the temple with their teacher.

One afternoon when we were all assembled, the resident Dharma teacher called on some of the students to report about their practice. One girl , who was about th irteen, shared about a boy who sat behind her in class who used to pull her hair. Sometimes she wanted to explode angrily at him, but she remembered to come back to her breathing and calm herself down. She remembered learning at the temple to practice to be like the earth, which has the capacity to absorb all things, pleasant and unpleasant, without reacting. Her classmate continued to pull her hair until she finally asked him "Why do you keep doing that? It really hurts." He was quiet and after a moment he said, "You're right, that's not very nice. I'm sorry. Thank you for always being so gentle." After that he stopped bothering her.

Another young boy who was about eight shared how he tries to practice being a servant as the Dharma teacher at the temple had taught him. When he comes home from school he looks for ways to clean up the house, and brings drinks to his grandfather. Sometimes his sister notices that he is doing nice things and she teases him, saying, "Oh, I see you are being a servant today. So be my servant and get me a drink." The young boy said he doesn't like when his sister teases him, but still he likes to practice to be humble and kind like a servant.

Other students shared that they did not throw their candy wrappers on the street, not just because someone had told them not to litter, but because they realized the impact of such an act on the whole world.

There were many stories which revealed how seriously the children listened to the teachings and applied them to their daily lives. After the sharings we did walking meditation outside, holding hands with the children. To our surprise they were at ease in the practice of walking meditation, fully present and peaceful. What a wonderful morning that was, hold ing the hand of a child, so calm and fresh. Silently we placed our feet on the sandy earth as we walked together under the jackfruit trees.

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reported by Sister Ha Nghiem

photo courtesy of Plum Village

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