By Sister Chan Khong
Dear friends, thanks to your generosity, we received $512,000 through March 12, to help the victims of last fall's flooding in Vietnam. Our monks in the Tu Hieu Institute, where Thay was a novice, were able to bring urgent relief to 97,850 families in desperate situations in Thua Thien, Quang Tri, Quang Nam. Quang Ngai, and Binh Dinh, and to 780 teachers in nongovernmental schools. The nongovernmental teachers work in remote areas, where the government has not established schools. Ordinarily, the parents pay tuition for their children, but now people hardly have enough to eat, so no one could afford to pay these teachers. The $512,000 distributed to 97,850 families was only enough to give each family a blanket and $5.00, the cost of 32 pounds of rice.
It is now Giap Hat—the season when the new crops are not yet ripe and the reserve from last year's harvest is gone. These are hard months for peasant farmers along the coast of Central Vietnam, where the flooding was the worst. In the past, many farmers survived by borrowing money at high interest rates— sometimes as much as ten percent per month. Some even sold their children to rich families in the city. These children are not adopted, but work as domestic servants for the families for an indefinite period of time. These child servants are fed, but not sent to school, and their owners can beat them if they are dissatisfied.
But this year, everyone—rich or poor— was wiped out by the floods. Everyone is poor. No one can afford to lend money, even at high interest. They must wait for government or humanitarian help. Right after the floods, a great number of bodhisattva groups came to visit and bring help. But the number of such groups has dwindled and visits to help have become more rare, so that now, almost four months later, the sufferings are almost forgotten.
There is so much work to be done to recover from the floods. In the six hardest hit provinces, at least 70,000 families are living under rotten roofs, in dangerous and unstable homes. Small bridges were washed away or need repair to make them safe. Many schools were partially or totally destroyed. The children need new tables, chairs, and school supplies. Although the floods carried everything away, these children were so happy to go back to school, even without tables and chairs, that they just sit on the dirty floor to study.
We need your generous support to help rebuild their schools, homes, and farms. We do not have enough money to feed everyone right now, so we try to pay the nongovernmental teachers' salaries of $20 per month, and to buy tables, benches, books, notebooks, and pencils. We also try to feed the youngest children, so they have at least one meal a day. Most of these children come from families with almost nothing to eat. It is heartbreaking for the nuns and monks to see children cry for their food and parents cry, because they are powerless to help. Any amount you can give is welcome and appreciated. Please send contributions to Unified Buddhist Church, Green Mountain Dharma Center, P.O. Box 182, Hartland-Four Corners, VT 05049, USA.
If you have the chance to visit Vietnam, please stop at Tu Hieu Temple, Thong Thuong 2, Thuy Xuao, Hue City (Central Vietnam). There, you will see monks practicing mindfulness like the monastics in Plum Village, Green Mountain Dharma Center, and Maple Forest Monastery. They are relaxed and peaceful. Each week, they also share the practice of mindfulness with sick or elderly people in nursing homes, or with lepers on remote islands. Some teach mindfulness to poor children living in the mountains. These same children attend small classes in nongovernmental schools, thanks to your generous donations. Spring is coming. May the mind of love in you bloom like a spring blossom!
Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, is the author of Learning True Love. One of the first members of the Order of Interbeing, she worked with the School of Youth for Social Services in Vietnam during the 1960s, and has been a student of Thich Nhat Hanh for over thirty years.