Being In Touch with Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong Flood Relief

Last winter, heavy floods brought severe devastation to Vietnam during two months. Sanghas throughout the world sent $10,000 to help Vietnamese people.

In Central Vietnam, we assisted the most impoverished villages where there were no schools, health care systems, or bridges. In the rainy season these villages flood with water. In the summer, the land is too dry for anything to grow. With the $7,600 we received from the Canada Sangha and the Nu Hong Sangha, we bought blankets and old clothes and rebuilt houses in remote areas of Qui Nhon, Quang Ngai, Thua Thien, Dong Niu, Quang Xuyen, and An Tuyen. In Phu Hoa and Sen Thuy, Quang Binh, and in Quang Tri, 120 families were given $50 each to rebuild their houses. In Thua Thien, 80 families were helped.

We were able to to rebuild 109 huts in Binh Hoa Trung, Binh Thanh, Huyen An, and Thanh Hoa, Long An in South Vietnam with $2,100, and to lend money to peasants there to buy fertilizer and seeds for planting rice.

Medical Care

Twice a month, a group of doctors, pharmacists, and social workers travel to remote areas to examine patients, distribute medicine, and treat dental problems of young children and poor adults. In these areas, there is no other form of health care. Plum Village and a benevolent association in the U.S. give $350 for every trip to buy medicine, pay for travel expenses, and buy simple meals for the workers.

We gave $2,000 to the leper camp in Van Mon, in North Vietnam to increase the amount of food given to undernourished families. Doctors specializing in leprosy have asked Plum Village to build at least five operating and recovery rooms so they can offer effective treatment. We will help with $36,000 (1/5 of the total amount needed to build a good hospital in Van Mon). A hospital in Van Mon, Thai Binh, also needs some rooms rebuilt. Plum Village and a Sangha in Germany are looking for sponsors to carry out this work. We gave $4,200 to help build two rooms at an herbal medicine clinic in the valley of the Yen Tu mountain—one is used for examinations and acupuncture treatments, the other for storing medicine.

Feeding Hungry Children

We sponsor 133 undernourished children, and provide food for 76 children at the day care center in Kinh Te Moi Xa Bang, Suoi Nghe in South Vietnam. The South Vietnam Sangha travels to the mountains of Quang Ngai where there is no school and the children are undernourished. Their lips are often purple from the cold, and most only have a pair of torn shorts to wear. We sent 400 packages to these children, each containing rice, a blanket, instant noodles, and clothes.

Social workers show young mothers the importance of including protein in their children's diet. Together, they make a porridge that contains brown rice, string beans, tofu, and eggs. Each month the mothers are given 30,000 dong which they use to prepare this meal for their families.

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Education

With the help of Partage in France and Aktion Lotus in Switzerland, the Sangha in South Vietnam gives scholarships to 180 students in Kinh Te Moi Xa Bang, Suoi Nghe. In Dieu Giac, we supply provisions for 16 kindergarten classes in areas where there were no public schools. In North Vietnam, 150 children in Tu Liem and Soc Son near Ha Noi are sponsored by funds collected through the Community of Mindful Living. Two day-care centers are maintained in Soc Son with help from the Maitreya Funds in Germany.

In Thua Thien, Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, and Nha Trang in Central Vietnam, we give monthly scholarships to over 1,500 undernourished students, $10 a month to 148 apprentices, and income supplements of $2.50 a month to 732 people who are old or have physical disabilities. We provide salaries for 267 teachers and 48 students who are carefully trained to take care of the young children. We also sponsor 127 students at the universities of Hue and Da Nang.

We have helped ten communities in remote areas of Binh Tri Thie. We give 10% of what the community itself takes responsibility for in order to realize the various projects. $600 a month supports the work the social workers are doing. It costs $150 a month to feed the children in one kindergarten boarding school. The Washington D.C. Sangha, the Community of Mindful Living, and the Maitreya Funds in Germany, have sponsored 14 daycare centers in these communities where children learn songs such as "Fresh as a Flower, Solid as a Mountain" and receive soy milk daily to supplement the protein in their diets. Trung An is a very poor and arid area with white sand and few trees. Most of the children are not educated, and have only one pair of trousers and few have shirts. Eighty percent of the teenagers do not know how to read. The aid from Plum Village makes evening classes available for them, because during the day they must work—even seven-year-old children must work or else they starve. Teenagers learn a trade in their own village or are sent to Hue for an apprenticeship. This program helps to eliminate the gambling, smoking, drinking, and fighting that are common. Every school has a health care team of nurses and physicians from Hue.

Dear International Sanghas, if you would like to sponsor a community, please talk to the social work staff at Plum Village. Each community has a long-term project which they discuss with the Sangha that sponsors them.

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In one family, the parents could not earn enough to support their four children, so the father took a job far from home and was gone five to seven days at a time. The father had not yet returned home, and the children had not eaten rice for three days. The mother could not bear to see her children crying out from hunger. Even though she knew it was extremely dangerous to leave the house, she decided to go out to look for food. The water had flooded the rice fields around their house. Shefdled the holes in their boat with rags and went out with a net to catch some fish. She was not far from the house when the wind and waves became strong. Her boat began to shake and she fell in the water and got entangled in the net. She could not free herself and finally drowned. Her children waited for her to return home. When the water receded, they found her corpse with many wounds in it from her efforts to break free from the net. (Luan)

Dear Thay,

The name of our community is Loc Hoa. It is 30 kilometers southeast of Hue, and 15 kilometers west of the Phu hoc district, hoc Hoa is a very impoverished town. The land is wooded and mountainous. Five hundred families live here. Two years ago we were fortunate enough to receive support from the Understanding and Love Project sponsored by Plum Village. Before this support, we had no health-care center, and the one elementary school here had only two classrooms. Six groups of inhabitants were separated from each other by rivers and steep mountains. Many parents wouldn't dare let their children cross these deep rivers. There were only a few Buddhist practitioners. My family was one of them. This area doesn't have a Buddhist temple yet.

Thanks to the monks, nuns, and the brothers in our community, we are not afraid of the obstacles that prevent us from reaching the hearts of people. Every project the government questions, the people vehemently support, and eventually the government accepts the project. As a result, the six groups of inhabitants in Loc Hoa that are separated from each other now each have a kindergarten center that permits the young children to be taken care of and educated while their parents work in the forests. Doi Mot is lucky enough now to have a boarding house where the children can stay and have soy milk and lunch. Two bridges have been built so people can now cross the very dangerous rivers. They are called the Bridge of Understanding and the Bridge of Love. Lonely and poor families receive a small amount of financial support every month. Social workers visit anyone in the village who has had an unfortunate accident.

People in Loc Hoa feel that they are very close to these projects. They are very thankful to Thay and to Thay's students for their help. They have learned that in order to have human morality they have to be mindful. Two-thirds of the people in our area now follow the Buddha's teachings. They participate in every retreat in our region. By looking deeply, we and the people in Loc Hoa are taking refuge in the island of the self. Everyone is watering the seeds of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha in themselves.

Everyone in Loc Hoa is very happy and peaceful. We are not lonely as we were two years ago. Even though there is no Buddhist temple yet in Loc Hoa, there are hundreds of Buddhist temples in the heart of each one of us. I myself am a Buddhist. For 45 years I have been involved in many organizations, but I have never been peaceful. When anyone asks me, "What is the use of being a Buddhist?" I always respond, "It's to have peace. " Sometimes they ask, "When will we have peace ? " I do not know how to answer that.

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For the past year I have had the opportunity to work with many monks and nuns from the Understanding and Love Project and have had the opportunity to participate in many retreats. Thanks to that, I can really feel peaceful now and I can also answer people's questions based on my own experience in practice. Sometimes during sitting meditation I see you doing walking meditation with the whole community of Loc Hoa. Sometimes I see you sitting with people who are highly esteemed in society. They have all the material possessions they could want, but what they miss is peace. I do not have the material possessions, but since practicing what you teach, I am more peaceful. I can continue to help people with a clear mind and a peaceful heart. I can love without being attached to results. During this New Year's, I bow to you and the monks and nuns (the Buddhas-to-be) in the Western world.

Mr. Tran D, Loc Hoa, January 22, 1996

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