By Allen Sandler Last spring, the Mindfulness Community of Hampton Roads raised funds so that, following the retreat with Thay in China, a Sangha representative could become personally involved in a service project in Vietnam. The project would be sponsored by the Sangha. We consulted with Anh-Huong Nguyen, who founded the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam (CRPCV) in 1980. She helped us identify a school that had been only partially completed due to lack of funds. Another $8,000 was needed to finish construction and purchase equipment and supplies. The unfinished school, which we later named "Happy Sparrow School," was in a beautiful wooded area in the outskirts of Hue only a few hundred meters from Thay's Root Temple, Tu Hieu.
After our brief but successful fundraising effort, I headed for China with $8,000 in traveler's checks in my pack, and following the China retreat, traveled to Vietnam. My contact in Hue was Sister Minh Tanh, abbess of Long Tho Pagoda. Sister Minh Tanh has been a nun for 37 years, and was one of the early members of Thay's School of Youth for Social Service. She continues to coordinate the social service projects in the Hue area, funded by Plum Village and other philanthropic groups. She is a wonderful cook, a gracious hostess, and ongoing source of inspiration! While having tea with her after touring the school site, I learned that during the Vietnam War (they call it the American War), a group of citizens from Hue were buried alive one night by the Viet Cong near the site of this school. Sister Minh Tanh heard the sound of shovels and muffled cries from her room in the nearby nunnery, but could do nothing to help. During the three-week occupation of Hue by the North during the Tet Offensive in 1968, approximately 3,000 civilians, including Buddhist monks, were executed. We are hopeful that our school can help bring peace back to that soil.
The Happy Sparrow School presently serves 70 children between the ages of three and six years old. They attend the school without cost. These children come from poor families in the villages surrounding Thay's Root Temple, Tu Hieu. Before Happy Sparrow School opened, some of these young children had to tend their family's livestock or help sell produce raised by their family. As Anh-Huong said at the onset of our fundraising effort, our school can provide its little sprouts good soil in which to grow. Our Sangha has sent Sister Minh Tanh $90 each month to pay the salaries of two teachers and two cooks at the school.
In cooperation with CRPCV, our Sangha is now raising funds to build and operate a school for children with severe disabilities in Hue. This school will serve 61 children living in the vicinity of Thay's Root Temple, who have disabilities such as severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy, and who are not now attending school. Of the 500,000 children with intellectual disabilities in Vietnam, only about 400 attend school. We anticipate that our school will eventually serve children with severe disabilities throughout Hue city, and may serve as a model for other programs in Vietnam. Through the efforts of our Swiss Dharma brother and cosponsor of this project, Ha Vinh Tho, we recently received a grant from the Lord Michelham Foundation in Geneva, which will cover one-half the cost of building this school and operating it for three years. We now must raise the other needed funds.
You or your Sangha may wish to support these or other service projects in Vietnam. Vietnam is such a poor country and there are so many needs. A small amount of money can accomplish so much!
Allen Sandler, True Original Tranquility, is engaged in research and teacher training in the area of severe disabilities at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. If you or your Sangha is interested in getting involved in the school for children with severe disabilities or other service projects in Vietnam.