interest-free loans

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.


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.


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.


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.

PDF of this article

Deer Park Monastery

A Letter from Sister Chan Khong Asking for Your Support Dear Friends,

Two years ago, even with the urgent appeal of many young friends in Southern California and with your generous support and encouragement, we could not have imagined that we would be able to set up this new monastery, especially on such  wonderful land. The new monastery is located on 400 acres of mountains, forests, and plateaus. The land borders a 3000 acre wildlife sanctuary, and is full of native plants, ranging from the fragrant wild lilac to medicinal sage. In July 2000 the first monastics arrived to begin cleaning up and transforming the land into a practice center. The atmosphere of peace now radiates out so that even wild animals seem no longer to fear for their safety. The energy of love is gently enveloping the mountains and hills of this area. It has the same name as the park where the Buddha offered his first teaching after attaining enlightenment, 2600 years ago in India. Out of respect for the land ancestors, and the native people who called this land Deer Park, we have named the practice center, Deer Park Monastery.


Many dear friends, throughout the year, have silently brought rice, tofu,  noodles, bread, fruits and vegetables to support the community. Others have beautified the landscape by cutting grass, creating beautiful stone paths, and planting numerous trees. Over 300 new trees have been planted during the past spring. Without this deep friendship, the transformation of Deer Park could not have been so spectacular. You who have visited Deer Park in September 2000 will not recognize the Deer Park of today.

Every Sunday and Thursday is a Day of Mindfulness, when the monastic community is joined by visitors and neighboring friends for sitting meditation, walking meditation and Dharma talks by Thich Nhat Hanh (via video or a transcontinental-telephone connection). On Sundays resident Dharma teachers share the Dharma and their own practices. On the first Sunday of every month families come for the Mindfulness Trainings recitation. There is a program for children and teenagers on this day as well.

In early July, 2001 Deer Park Monastery celebrated her 1st Continuation Day. Around 175 people came to enjoy walking meditation in the fresh morning air, a Dharma talk by the Abbott, Thay Giac Thanh, a picnic lunch and a joyous outdoor tea mediation in the Oak Grove. Already, many hundreds of adults, children and teenagers have come to practice at Deer Park, imprinting their mindful and joyful steps of peace on the land. So many friends now consider Deer Park their spiritual home, a place to take refuge, and a place to cultivate their love and understanding.

We know that many of you have already contributed so much energy to Deer Park, through your sincere practice and also your financial support. Several hundred practitioners have generously offered money since the time we first found the property until now.

We have already paid for three-quarters of the land, but we still need to pay $1.2 million for the remainder of the property. Since our last letter to you in April until now, you have offered to Deer Park Monastery $143,000 in donations and 207 interest-free loans of $1 ,000 each ($207,000). This leaves $770,000 still to be raised. If we cannot pay this amount by August 5, 2001 we will have to pay $65,000 in interest each year. It breaks our hearts to see that your contributions, including many from families with modest resources and young people who contribute $5 or $10 a month, go to interest payments. We know that you would prefer to have your contribution pay for food, utilities, construction and other operations of Deer Park, rather than for interest payments.

We would like to ask those of you who are not able to give to offer interest-free loans for three years. An interest-free loan of $1,000, $2,000, $3 ,000, $5 ,000 or $10,000 will help us to pay for the final portion of the land of Deer Park. We will be able to pay you back as soon as the next books of Thay are sold.

We were very moved when an old grandfather brought to Deer Park Monastery $8,000 as a loan. He said it was difficult to persuade his adult sons and daughters to make a donation, but he succeeded, and each of them agreed to let the Monastery borrow one thousand dollars for 3 years without interest. Looking at the grandfather and his loan, we saw immediately his great-grandsons and great-granddaughters, to be born in 20 years, running joyfully in Deer Park Monastery practicing peace, looking deeply, learning great understanding, and great love, thanks to this loan.


We, Sister Chan Khong and the brothers and sisters of the Plum Village community are not reluctant to ask for your help because we see clearly that we do not ask for the money for ourselves. We, 135 monastics trained by Thay Nhat Hanh, have committed our lives to serving others. We live and eat simply, with no personal bank accounts or property of our own. We have given our youth, our love and our practice, hoping that the world will be better now and for the future generations to come. Please share this letter with your friends and dear ones.

Please accept a beautiful fresh lotus I just picked up from the pond in Plum Village (we have five lotus ponds with countless pink and white fragrant flowers) for you and for all your descendants who will certainly continue your spiritual path.

- Sister Chan Khong and the brothers and sisters of the Plum Village community



Photos courtesy of Plum Village

PDF of this article