food

Devastating Floods in Vietnam

By Sister Chan Khong As I write these lines, Tho, who lives in Switzerland and often comes to Plum Village each summer, has had the opportunity to spend the night in Vietnam in a flood rescue van. Cold winds blew as flood waters from Mount Truong Son of the Ha Tinh area rushed past the parked van. The local residents advised the rescue team to spend the night at the foot of the mountain until the flood water subsided. Since the water in this area has the tendency to rise and fall quickly, it was hoped that by morning the water would have gone out to sea and made way for the van to continue its mission.

The rescue team slept and waited in the van throughout the night, but in the morning, the water had risen twice as high. Members of the rescue team decided to leave the van behind since the gift packages from Hue had already been distributed to the flood victims in Thanh Hoa.

The day before, the rescue team-Sister Chan Nhu Minh, Sister Minh Tu, Brother Le Van Dinh, Sister Chan Doan, Sister Chan Tam, and Tho---drove a van loaded with old clothes, 30 boxes of instant noodles, and 300 envelopes of 50 thousand dong each, from Hue to Thanh Hoa, then to two villages deep in the mountains, Tan Thinh and Tan Loc (of the province Thieu Yen). The van encountered dangerous conditions, traveling through winding, narrow mountain paths and crossing turbulent water on a raft, in order to provide flood victims with emergency supplies. Each family received five bags of instant noodles, one bag of old clothes, and 50 thousand dong. As the rescue team's van tried to go forward in the storm, the powerful wind blowing in the opposite direction almost pushed it off the road. But once the team reached its destination, the people were so happy that they were moved to tears. Even the local authorities were touched by the team's effort, since that area has suffered tremendous harvesting losses in three consecutive seasons. They allowed the team members to personally give the gift parcels to each victim.

Besides our aid, there has been no other outside help. Many villagers were forced to leave their homes to look for work in the city, but the majority of them ended up begging for food and sleeping on the street. The government's Emergency Hunger Fund dried up long ago, and there is no means to restore it to provide for the poor.

After leaving their vehicle at Vinh, the team members continued their journey by train, since the train tracks are high up in the mountains and safe from the flood. On the way from Vinh to Quang Binh, they saw tens of thousands of acres of land covered in flood water. The water from the mountain and the rising tides of the sea overflowed the districts of Nghi Xuan, Hong Xuan, and Duc Tho. The roads from Lam River to Gianh also flooded, and hundreds of thousands of houses were filled to the roof with flood water. It was truly a sad sight. In witnessing people curling up under the cold, windy storm, no one was able to contain their tears. Tho wept softly as she whispered into her mother's ear, "Mother, besides the money you gave to the flood victims, please lend me whatever else you have so I can give each family enough to buy blankets and food to lessen their suffering. I'll work to pay you back."

Two weeks before, another flood , in addition to a terrible storm, washed 86 boats to sea at Hau Loc Thanh Hoa province; 567 boat people were reported to be missing. Thousands of people lost their homes. In the same week, the Hong River rose to a very high level and many families were forced to camp out on a nearby shore.

On September 13, 1996, at Quang Tri province, flood water from the mountain took the lives of many people and washed away many properties. The districts of Huong Hoa and Vinh Linh suffered the most damage. Our social workers at Quang Tri received a request for help from the local Buddhist organization and sent that request along to Plum Village. At Thua Thien province, the villages of Thanh Trung and Thuan Loc were also flooded due to their low altitude, but fortunately, no one was killed. This year, the farmers of Thua Thien and Quang Tri had a good harvest; however, after this devastating flood, they will be left with empty hands. Hunger and poverty are the two biggest worries of the residents of this area. At the end of August, Plum Village sent $4,800 to Sister Nhu Minh to be distributed to the rescue workers of Thua Thien. But it was hardly enough to help everyone. The fire of misery is huge, but we can only stop it with a few buckets of water.

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My dear friends, from the kindness of your heart, please contribute as much as you can to help alleviate the suffering of the helpless flood victims. Any amount you give will be much appreciated: $1 can buy 10 bags of instant noodles. $5 can buy 20 pounds of rice. $7 can buy one big blanket for a family of four. In France, please send your donation to Eglise Bouddhique Unifee in care of Sister Gioi Nghiem, Meyrac, Loubes-Bernac 47120 Duras, France. In the United States, please send your donation to the Community of Mindful Living. Please send larger donations directly to the bank through which Plum Village sends money to Vietnam: Union Bank of Switzerland of BASLE, 4002 Aeschenplatz 1, Switzerland, Swift Code UBS WCHZH 40 A in favor of the Unified Buddhist Church account number 0233 557 622 60 M (if in U.S. dollars), 0233 557 622 63 (if in German marks), 0233557 62201 (if in Swiss francs). If in French francs, please send to Credit Agricole Mutuel of Lot-et Garonne France Swift AGRIFRPP 850 Account of Eglise Bouddhique Unifiee 15006/00042/4290119911157.

Knowing how you, my dear friends, wish to receive news about Thay and Plum Village, I would like to tell you that there were 1,197 retreatants from 22 countries at the Summer Retreat. The majority of the practitioners felt quite happy after one week of practice. Thliy is healthy and his lectures were, as always, thoughtful and wonderful. AIthough the 450 retreatants at the Fall Retreat did not have the opportunity to personally meet and converse with Thliy, they were very appreciative of the nuns and monks in their own hamlet. This year, Plum Village has five hamlets: Xom Thuong (Upper Hamlet), Xom Ha (Lower Hamlet), Xom Trung (Middle Hamlet), Xom Doai (West Hamlet), and Xom Moi (New Hamlet). Each hamlet has enough nuns and monks to cook, plan activities, drive cars, plan meals, and give guidance to the Sangha. Five times a week, the hamlets join for Dharma talk and walking meditation with Thliy, and our own Tam from Delices d' Asie Restaurant in Bordeaux revealed her compassionate Buddha nature by helping to cook lunch for everyone. The atmosphere of 450 retreatants eating together in mindfulness was especially powerful.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, is a Dharma teacher and the author of Learning True Love. She assisted Thich Nhat Hanh in establishing the School of Youth for Social Service during the Vietnam war.

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Helping People Help Themselves

By Sister Chan Khong Hieu va Thuong ("Understanding and Loving") is the name of the Plum Village project that supports 86 villages in the remote areas of the Truong Son Mountains, along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam. The presence of nuns, monks, and students of Thich Nhat Hanh in this countryside has drastically improved the situation there.

The first task in these villages is to simply inspire the communities to work together and offer materials to renovate the local schools. In most of the countryside, schools are very poor and teacher salaries are much lower than in the cities where they are already very low. Our social workers have witnessed schools that were set up by local authorities abandoned because there were no teachers. The Understanding and Loving Project first sponsors schoolteachers, and then one or two daycare centers in each village to provide children with proper food to prevent malnutrition, blindness, and other handicaps.

After many meetings by our social workers with parents and local authorities, school classes in these villages have resumed. The authorities pay teachers $5 per month and Plum Village adds another $20. The parents are invited to discuss ways to improve the school, including building new classrooms and bridges to allow the children to walk safely to schoo!. If the parents offer to donate their work, Plum Village provides money to pay for materials. Thanks to this method of support, villagers feel that the school, bridge, and daycare center are theirs and they take good care of them. In many areas, we also provide interest-free loans so that the poorest people can plant fruit trees, sugar cane, and other crops for reselling.

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Many teenagers in these villages who, in the past, did not know how to use their time well, are now able to play soccer and ping-pong as healthy entertainment. With our assistance, vocational training programs in tailoring, embroidery, and carpentry for teenagers have also been set up. After six months, a number of the older teens have started to earn more than their parents. An atmosphere of concern for the good care of the whole village is spreading gently and slowly with the presence of our friends. That is the miracle of the Understanding and Loving program.

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We have classes in 86 villages, but could only realize real development work in 22 villages. Let us try to visit a developing village. For instance, in Loc Hoa Village, we

  • support 12 teachers and 520 children in six schools
  • started two daycare centers, for over 120 children
  • provided scholarships to 60 children from the poorest families
  • set up classes in carpentry, tailoring, and embroidery
  • built bridges and planted 27 fruit groves

In Quang Ngai, we

  • offer education to 265 children with six teachers
  • provide scholarships and other aid to 75 pupils, and 57 elderly and handicapped persons
  • help run two daycare centers for 30 children each
  • help plant 7,000 trees in the Pure Mountain Da Son

In Thua Thien, we

  • support 218 teachers and help to educate 9,556 children
  • offer 987 scholarships of $5 per month for elementary school, high school, and university students
  • helped set up 15 daycare centers in seven villages with lunch for 535 toddlers
  • helped set up one big daycare center in Hue City
  • built seven bridges
  • regularly help 336 elderly people
  • set up eight vocational training centers

In Quang Tri, we

  • support 128 teachers and help to educate 7,156 children
  • set up eight daycare centers with lunch for 310 children
  • gave no-interest loans to the 55 poorest families
  • offer scholarships to the 445 poorest pupils
  • helped 446 elderly and handicapped
  • built five bridges
  • set up a large vocational training center in the city

In Quang Binh, we

  • support 27 teachers and help educate 1,516 students
  • set up five daycare centers with lunch for 240 children
  • planted 4,500 trees with the aid of Vietnamese veterans

In Nha Trang, we

  • support seven teachers and help educate 316 children
  • set up two daycare centers with lunch for 60 children
  • offer scholarships to the 105 poorest pupils

In Hanoi, we

  • support 30 handicapped children in Sai Dong and 100 undernourished children in Soc Son
  • provide food for 100 children in Trung Na and Thach Coc support seven teachers
  • provide 50 scholarships to high school and university students

In the Mekong Delta area, including the Saigon suburban areas, we

  • support fourteen schoolteachers, 234 children, and 25 handicapped children
  • provide 436 scholarships for orphans and undernourished children, with Partage in Compiegne

Some Christian friends visited Vietnam and saw a great number of these wonderful projects realized in many difficult situations by a very devoted group of students of Thay. They told us that they had the impression they were with the apostles of Jesus. If we are able to realize these wonderful projects, it is thanks to these humble bodhisattvas in Vietnam, students of Thich Nhat Hanh.

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We also send our deep thanks to all of you who generously support our work: Therese Fitzgerald of the Community of Mindful Living; Anh-Huong Nguyen of the Committee for the Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam; Nu Hong Funds, Karl Schmied and Nara of Maitreya Funds in Germany; Children Funds in Holland via lFOR; Committee to help Vietnamese Children in Italy; Haus Tao in Switzerland' Aktion Lotus in Switzerland; Partage avec les Enfants in France; La Feuille de Riz in St. Etienne, France; Interhelp in London; Maple Village friends in Montreal and Toronto, and many more silent bodhisattva donors.

Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been Thich Nhat Hanh's main colleague for over 30 years. She is a nun living in Plum Village, France and the author of Learning True Love.


How You Can Help

  • $5 per month buys rice for a poor or orphaned child, a handicapped or elderly person, or a young college or university student with ability but in economic difficulty.
  • $10 per month helps a young adult to get vocational training for up to two years.
  • $20 per month helps pay a monthly salary for a schoolteacher or daycare worker in remote, undeveloped areas destroyed by war.
  • $300 per month supports a team of medical professionals (physicians, nurses, and dentists, who work free of charge) to buy medicine and offer one weekend visit per month to two villages and provide medical care for about 600 people.
  • $700 per month helps a developing village support five schoolteachers, a daycare center with two helpers and two permanent workers, and inspires local farmers to help themselves together with local authorities.

In the U.S., please send donations to the Community of Mindful Living, P.O. Box 7355, Berkeley, CA 94707, marked for WTRV (Working Together for Rejuvenation in Vietnam); or to the Committee for Relief of Poor Children in Vietnam (CRPCV), 10413 Adel Road, Oakton, VA 22126. Donations to CRPCV may also be made by direct deposit to First Virginia Bank, account number 05600-1118-09185569. Contributions are tax-deductible.

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The German Maitreya Fonds

Helping Our Sisters and Brothers in Vietnam By Eva K. Neumaier

For a period that seemed longer than it really was, we were squeezed together in a small bus, rocking along over a pothole-strewn gravel road on the way to a village near the Vietnamese coast. After a wonderful retreat under the guidance of Thay, our much honored and beloved teacher, and a splendid celebration of Vesak 2008, we were eager to learn more about Thay’s native land and her people. We were about to visit a poverty-stricken area where the Maitreya Fonds (Maitreya Funds) supports children’s day care facilities.

 

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Sitting near me on the bus, fellow retreatants asked about the Maitreya Fonds. Everybody on the bus was interested in learning more about this aid project. I explained that the Maitreya Fonds was created by the late Karl Schmied in Germany in 1992, in response to the poverty widespread among rural communities in Vietnam. Under the leadership of Christian Kaufl, a small group of dedicated volunteers—all students of Thay—has come together, working hard to raise funds to finance various projects in Vietnam. I promised to provide my fellow retreatants with more information once I returned to Germany.

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Kindergarten Is a Privilege

With a sharp jolt our bus came to a stop and retreatants from all over the world poured into the tiny coastal village of Phu An. Children crowded around us, eyes wide with excitement. Sister Chan Khong provided the basic facts about the kindergarten and the dire circumstances of life the parents and their children face.

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The kindergarten consists of one room with tables and benches made from roughly hewn boards; a thatched roof provides minimal protection from the scorching sun and constant downpours. There are no extra amenities in this room, nothing that is not absolutely necessary, and yet for the village children it is a privilege to attend the kindergarten. It means that they are not left to their own devices to forage for edibles in the fields while their parents look for work wherever they can find it as hired laborers.

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The children formed a circle and, led by their teachers, sang several songs. We returned to the bus, leaving with a mixture of feelings. On one hand, we were happy that the children were able to enjoy some education, care, and love, but on the other hand we were saddened by the magnitude of poverty and need in this country.

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When I returned to Germany, I decided to be one of the volunteers working for the Maitreya Fonds, providing help to those so greatly in need in Vietnam—a humble way of showing my deep gratitude to our teacher and our spiritual ancestors. It took almost a year for me to pull together the information for my fellow retreatants on that bus. Assuming most of them will read the Mindfulness Bell, I am summarizing our work for them and any other readers here.

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Where Help Is Needed

The Maitreya Fonds is a charitable association registered with the German government. All the work is done by eleven volunteers. Some of them visit the various projects in Vietnam on an annual basis, covering all their travel expenses themselves. Therefore only two percent of raised funds are needed to cover administrative costs, which consist mostly of banking fees for transferring money. On his annual visits to Vietnam, Christian Kaufl meets with social workers who are members of the Thien Hiep (Interbeing) Order, to learn about the progress made with some projects and newly-arisen needs in other areas.

The work of the Maitreya Fonds is possible only through the close cooperation of the volunteers in Germany with Plum Village and the social workers in Vietnam. The Vietnamese social workers understand where the need is most severe and where help is needed and possible, and propose projects for funding to the Maitreya Fonds accordingly. In mutual consultation with the social workers in Vietnam and Plum Village, the Board decides which projects will be funded. The work of the German volunteers consists primarily in raising the necessary money to fund the projects. On average we raise about $420,000 annually.

Our work is firmly grounded in the principles of engaged Buddhism as taught by Thay. Our basic philosophy is to assist people in gaining self-sufficiency. We believe that education and vocational training are the basis for improving one’s life. A severe problem in Vietnam is that teachers and social workers are paid less in rural areas than in urban ones, resulting in widespread teacher migration from the villages to the big urban centers, leaving rural communities destitute of educators. Therefore, a signifi     portion of Maitreya Fonds money goes to covering the salaries of teachers and social workers so that they may remain in rural areas where they are urgently needed. We also provide vocational training in sewing, carpentry, and computer technology, so that individuals will be able to support themselves and their families.

Another big project consists of providing children with supplementary food while they attend school or kindergarten. In general, parents must pay for the lunches their children get at school, but many parents lack the money. As a result, some children remain unfed while watching their peers eat. The Maitreya Fonds tries to cover this inequity, but sadly, at present we cannot provide adequate food for all the children in the schools and kindergartens we support.

Facilitating children’s education also requires basic physical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and buildings which are sturdy enough to withstand the regular flooding during the annual rainy season. The Maitreya Fonds offers modern know-how to local builders and craftsmen to ensure that financial aid is spent in the most efficient and sustainable way.

While in general the Vietnamese honor and care for their aged parents and grandparents, there are situations in which elderly people cannot rely on the help and love of younger ones. In addition, lepers, shunned by most as outcasts, cannot look after themselves and are without hope. The Maitreya Fonds provides basic care for these two groups to ensure that these unfortunate people have a decent, humane life.

Without doubt, the material aid is much needed and also highly appreciated. But more precious than the material support is the education of children according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings. In every kindergarten, the children are gently introduced to the practice of mindfulness. Teachers and social workers celebrate a monthly Day of Mindfulness with the children, an occasion of singing and joyful togetherness. Beginning at a tender age, children learn to abstain from opinionated and biased behavior, replacing anger with love and understanding. Thus the ideological rift that has caused so much pain to the people of Vietnam finds no breeding ground among this younger generation. The aid provided by the Maitreya Fonds is based on the practice of mindfulness, love, and understanding, setting it apart from other charitable operations in Vietnam.

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Among our first efforts at the Maitreya Fonds was the creation of an informative website in German, which was later translated into English and Vietnamese. All of the vital information is available there (www.maitreya-fonds.de) in all three languages, including past and present budgets and annual reports. The website provides all the necessary details for an easy, secure means, grounded in the Five Mindfulness Trainings, of supporting children and other destitute people in Vietnam. We welcome your support of Plum Village or the Maitreya Fonds, to reduce poverty in the home country of Thich Nhat Hanh.

For more information please contact Maitreya Fonds (www.maitreya-fonds.de).

mb53-TheGerman8Eva Neumaier, Peaceful Spring of the Heart, was born in Germany in 1937. She has studied Indian and Tibetan languages and taught in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

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Santepheap Sangha

By David Biviano mb54-Sandepheap1

The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace is a residential home for thirty children in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the location of the World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. There are twelve girls and eighteen boys, ages 10–18, who come from the poor countryside villages in the province.

The nickname for the children’s home is Santepheap (santaypea’-ap), which means “peace” in the Khmer language. In a country still recovering and rebuilding after fifty years of civil war, the bombing campaign during the Vietnamese/American war, and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, building a community of peace is a main purpose for the home.

I went to Siem Reap, Cambodia, following the three-week segment one of Thay’s 2007 pilgrimage in Vietnam. I volunteered at a children’s home during my visit, resulting in the founding of The Friends of the Children of Cambodia (FOCC) charity in Washington State, USA. When I returned in 2008 to volunteer at that home, it closed, leaving eight children with no home. So, I returned to Seattle, sold my home, and came to work in Cambodia, to start a new home. FOCC now supports Santepheap through the donations of friends from around the world.

The parents and guardians of the children are grateful for the opportunity to send their children to Santepheap, which provides food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and most importantly, access to education that is unavailable in the villages. The children have lived at the home since November of 2008. During that time, they have grown physically and their health has improved from the malnutrition they suffered. They have made great progress in school, moving from the bottom of their classes to the top. Some were able to be promoted two grades after their first year, overcoming some of the lag they suffered from being unable to attend school in their village, due to poverty or lack of schools.

The children of The Cambodian Children’s House of Peace gather each evening after supper for a five-minute silent meditation and brief talk on growing up and living in peace. This is also a time when any conflicts or misunderstandings are resolved, restoring peace to the community and teaching ways to reconcile after a fight or bad behavior.

Here are some of the things the children have to say about the importance of the evening meditation in their lives:

Mol (15-year-old girl): Meditation causes us to be calm in mind, and mindful of how to do the right things for our life.

Bon (14-year-old boy): Meditation makes our suffering less and less, by enjoying breathing in/out.

Sey (13-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to be thoughtful and grateful for the present moment. I like meditation and learning to sit quiet and about peace.

Kha (17-year-old boy): Meditation teaches us how to manage our mind when we are feeling angry.

Ny (13-year-old boy): Meditation makes people’s spirit stronger and stronger for a better life.

Voleak (17-year-old girl): I like to live at Santepheap because it is like a real family — school, a place to study, have good food, a place to sleep, and to learn to live in peace.

Visitors and volunteers are welcome at Santepheap, and of course, may join the Sangha for the evening meditation. Information about the home, directions, and contact information are available at www.santepheap.org and info@santepheap.org.

David J. Biviano, Wonderful Stillness of the Heart, of Seattle, WA, is the Founder and Advisor of the Cambodian Children’s House of Peace.

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