By Anh-Huong Nguyen Last February, I was able to return to Vietnam to visit the children, schools, and teachers helped by the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam. I traveled in a rented van with three nuns, two social workers, and five medical doctors. We brought food, clothing, school supplies, and medicine to poor families in remote areas. The big flood in October had caused a lot of damage. The roads were very narrow and bumpy. At times, we had to get out of the van and walk. In some areas near the ocean, we had to roll up our pants and wade across the water.
Driving into a village one morning, we met an elderly woman walking on the side of the road. We got out of the van and bowed to greet her. She smiled beautifully. "I am eighty-two," she said. All her relatives died in the war. I looked down and saw that her feet were bleeding. We offered her one mini-baguette, some money in an envelope, some vitamins, a sweater, and a pair of sandal s. She said she didn't know what to buy because there was nothing there to buy. Having walked on a lot of rocks and stones, her feet were unusually wide. Even the widest sandals in our bag could not fit her. I turned away as I felt the tears coming. I held her hand in mine and breathed with you all. In one second, as I looked at her smiling, wrinkled face, I discovered a true sense of harmony and peace. Suffering and happiness are singing the song of compassion. I would like to share some of the letters we receive about the work of the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children.
From a kindergarten teacher in Kim Duc: "Last semester, thanks to thoughtful education and tender loving care, the children's development has greatly improved. Having enough to eat, they slept better and gained weight. One child in particular has made very clear progress. When school first started, he could not even tell the difference between his own name and that of his friends he did not get up when his teacher called on him. Now, he can distinguish his name from that of his peers. He listens to his teacher and obeys his parents. He raises his hand to give a comment and participates in more activities. He tells stories and sings .... "
From a nun in Hae: " ... Tomorrow we will visit some kindergarten classes in the new economic zone of Phong My. We will bring used clothing we received as gifts to poor kindergarten children. We will bring your love to the children. We will also bring tables and chairs, some rice, instant noodles, candies, and cookies. We have put together three kindergarten classes. One class still has neither chairs nor tables; the children sit on plain wooden boards. Most people in this area try to make a living by cutting wood and burning charcoal in the forests. Agriculture is very difficult in this barren wilderness. Living in such a difficult environment and lacking nutrition, the children often get skin rashes and other skin diseases. They are so happy that their faces radiate like angels every time we come for a visit. . .. "
From Le Thi Thu in Huong Thy, Central Vietnam "My father died young. My mother has to work extremely hard to raise and support us. She slaves all day long at the marketplace, trying to sell a bunch of vegetables here, a hot pepper there .. .. A good day can bring in between 10,000 to 20,000 dong [$1-$2], just barely enough to buy rice for the whole family. She does not earn enough to buy kerosene for the lamps [there is no electricity in the remote villages], salt, and pay for my tuition. She said I should quit school after this semester and help her at the market to bring more income to the family. As she spoke, I felt much sadness in my heart, in her eyes and her voice. I love school. Yet, being the oldest child, I have no other choice. Fortunately, on the last day of school, I received notice that I was given a scholarship. I was so happy. I am deeply grateful for your help. Your gift helps me pay for my tuition and buy some rice for my younger sisters."
Dharma teacher Anh-Huong Nguyen lives in Woodstock, Vermont and Oakton, Virginia. She is the founder of The Committee for Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam.