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Typhoon 2007

Updated March  13th, 2008

Tu Thi Nguyen is sixteen years old. She is a cute, polite and lively girl and has a bright smile. Tu accompanied us to visit poor families in An Binh village. The village has a high number of dead people due to cancer caused by contaminated drinking water. She knew almost every small road in the neighborhood and knew very well conditions of each family.

After the trip around the neighborhood, Tu invited us into her house to take a rest. The house was empty and tattered without door. It did not need a door because there was nothing inside except an old bed and an old table, and few bananas lied under a broken plastic cover.  Looking at the altar, I saw a picture of a young man, Tu’s father.  Her father passed away in an accident at work.  Her mom left home to South Vietnam to look for work. She worked as a helper for a small restaurant.  I asked Tu “Why your mom left you at home alone? The house is not safe. What happen if bad people get in the house at night?”

Tu shyly told after her father died, her mom alone took care of her. Their daily life depended upon the small rice-field, banana garden and few beds of vegetable. Her village situates in a lowland area; every year they suffer by few diluvia rains. For three consecutive years, village people had poor crops because floods dampened seed-rice. Her family endured the same situation; her mom must borrow seed-rice and fertilizer from the village corporative office. What they made were only enough for two of them to live day by day. Her mother did not have money to pay back to the corporative office.  When her family lost the fourth harvest, the corporative agency would not let them borrow anymore. Her mom had to go to South Vietnam to look for work to pay back the debt. In the South, her mom made $600,000 (vnd) each month (about $35us). She ate free at the restaurant, and saved the food expense in return, she must work from 7am to 12am. Her mom sent $400,000 (vnd) to pay back the debt and sent her daughter $200,000 (vnd) to pay tuition fees. With $200,000 (vnd) each month, it was too little to cover food and tuition fees, her mom advised “We have bananas in our garden. When you need money, you cut them down and sell them at the market. You cut vegetables to feed yourself. When you run out of money and rice, you go to your grandmother, uncles and aunts to ask for foods.”

When we heard Tu’s story, we knew similar circumstances also happening to many Vietnamese farmers.  If we had time to visit them all, we would hear stories and different reasons that led families to destitute. Families in Central Vietnam, they have confronted with natural disaster and floods every year. It was the reason I thought of carry out a program called “Fertilizer and Seed-rice” to give farmer families who don’t have seed-rice to sow for the coming season.
While we distributed food to the hungry people, we also sought advices from local people to come up with the program “Fertilizer and Seed-rice”.  The program was carried out differently at each village, because each village required the supplies at a different time and different types of fertilizer, seed-rice, and manure.  All advices were eagerly provided by the experienced farmers at each village.  One kilogram fertilizer cost about $6,000 - $8,500vnd (about 5 cents US) and each family would need about 20 kg. One kilogram seed-rice cost about $35,000vnd (about 22 cents US) and each family would need at least 5kg.

Besides fertilizer and seed-rice, their need of sweaters and blankets were also essential.  Last year flood season, it was the first time we distributed gifts to poor people at Ha Tinh province. The volunteers came to the village to find out their needs. Senior people wished they could have a sweater. This time the relief group came to the village, they came with full cars of bags of rice, blankets and sweaters. The senior people ran to the cars and begged for sweaters and blankets. The begged “please give me a sweater. When I am hungry, I can glean dropping seed-rice on the field but it’s cold, I can do nothing.  I have wished to own a sweater for a long time, but no money to buy. It is very cold here!” In parallel with the urgent relief program, we arranged to distribute fertilizers, sweaters and blankets.

When I talked to monk Chi Mau at Tu Hieu temple about the relief program; we planned to help farmers gotten over their hunger at the year end. The monk advised “farming is a decent occupation. When we eat rice, we must remember farmers who work hard to make rice.” The advice reminded me to value the sweet rice that we eat daily in rich countries where we live; they import rice from the poor countries where farmers suffer from starvation.  We hope our today relief work is to express our grateful to all farmers.

A wonderful story to share with everyone was about buying clothes for the relief program. It was like a miracle happened when nun Nhu Hai helped me to look for cheap sweaters for the relief program at Central Vietnam. We found a sweater used to cost $70,000 vnd and now it cost only $50,000 vnd, nun Nhu Hai was so happy. For an unknown reason, it led the nun and me to a sewing manufacturer and they had clothes in stock. Ms. Anh, the owner of the company would like to clear all sweaters and pants to get new stocks in for the New Year. A sweater cost $40,000 vnd, now she sold it to us for $10,000 vnd each. When I let Ms Anh knew the amount of money we had, Ms Anh said “You don’t worry, I would sell it for a cheaper price than I have promised you.  You would like to buy 1,200 sweaters, but I would deliver 1,500 sweaters to you without paying extra.” Then, Ms Anh said “you are young but you have already done all these good deeds.” I kept quiet and smiled. Ms Anh’s donation increased the money value of all benefactors. I would like to thank everyone for your encouragement and support through sincere emails.  Eyes of Compassion would always try its best and carefully utilize your donation in an effective way to express our grateful thank to everyone.

December 19th, 2007 at 5am, I quietly left the house waiting for Mr. Hoai Truong to pick up me. We left together with nun Dieu Dam, nun Tinh Chon, nun Nhu Minh, Mr. Man and the camera man.  The group left when it was early and foggy. The winter morning was a bit cold. The group left directly to Ha Tinh, the home town of the poet, Nguyen Du. Monk Hanh Nhan represented for Buddhist Organization and Dr. Hung represented for Red Cross Organization were our guides in this relief trip.

The first village we arrived was a catholic at Hoa Thang, Tuong Son village, Thach Ha district.  We worked with Reverence Nga and Mr. Ngoc My to distribute seeds, fertilizers, rice, sweaters, blankets and children clothes and scholarships to poor students. Monks and nuns came to help the village many times before but this was the first time the village people met with the Buddhist nuns. Little girls saw Nun Tinh Chon’s gentle look and sweet smile, they came close to her and said “Hello nun! Please let me come with you.” Nun Tinh Chon gently and sweetly asked “Are you a Catholic? If you are a Catholic, you should stay with Christ.”  Nun Tinh Chon told me “I do not need to see their faces. I only look at their feet and I can tell they are very poor. I saw many people walked bare feet in the cold winter.  They did not have shoes. Their feet became big and yellow caused by walking bare feet in the alum water.

There was a big crowd of senior people who could barely walk and children were carried on their mothers’ arms waiting for the relief group at the church.  Reverence Nga greeted the nuns and everyone in the group. People received gifts with a great happiness and it showed on their bright smile faces. While I distributed gifts, a person came to me and said there were about 300 people waiting for the group at Tuong Son district. I was very surprised because it was not in our plan. Later, we found out it was a mistake.  When the group pulled in Thuong Son, the village people waited for us from early morning. They looked unhappy when they knew their village was not in our plan.  While we confused and felt awkward, an old lady bitterly said “our family has been poor for generations even we receive your gift we are still poor. When I received a message from the village authority about receiving gifts, I held the message in my hands and they were shaking. I was moved because people still thought about us.  Now I come here and there is nothing for us. It proves the village authority’s words have no value.”  Nun Nhu Minh decided to give more than 100 people each with an envelope of $50,000 vnd.  People were happily received the cash. The cash was a small gift but it worth 3 days work at Tuong Son village.

After we left Tuong Son, the group continued heading to two locations Thach Van and Thach Hoi, Thach Ha district. The program was to support senior people. Each family received one man sweater, one lady sweater, two blankets, and a 10 kg bag of rice. Each gift package cost $250,000 vnd (about $15US). Next morning, the Red Cross Organization took the group to two towns Duc Tung and Duc Cha, Duc Tho district to distribute seed-rice and fertilize to farmer families. Each package cost $200,000 vnd (about $13US) including 5kg seed, 20kg fertilizer and 1 blanket. 
When we distributed gifts to senior people, we saw middle-age people stood around. They took their parents to collect gifts and I felt their gladness when they saw their parents smiled happily showing their last few teeth. The seed and fertilizer distribution program brought happiness to young couples who worked hard to make food for their families.  With the above two programs, we had shared our love to our Vietnamese people back home.  The Red Cross organization and local village people worked hard and thoughtfully planned everything that made the distribution tasks at these five locations quick and efficient.

After one day finished distributing gifts at five locations in HaTinh, the group went directly to Thanh Hoa to pick up more supplies for our trip to the leprosy camp for next days. Early next morning, monk Tam Dinh, the chairman of Buhdish Charity Organization at Thanh Hoa together with the representative of Red Cross led the group to visit people in Central North Vietnam. We applied the same program as at Ha Tinh, we distributed seed and fertilizer at two villages Xuan Thien and Xuan Truong, Tho Xuan district.

Before we came to Cam Thanh and Cam Giang villages, Cam Thuy district, monk Tam Dinh took the group to visit and distribute gifts to 66 patients at Cam Binh leprosy camp, Cam Thuy district.  We visited the patients and asked them gathering at a meeting room to make it easy for our distribution task. Monk Tam Dinh said few words then nun Nhu Minh read a poem sending our belief and concern to all patients. Leaving Cam Binh, we drove to Cam Giang to distribute gifts to Muong people.

Leaving Muong at Cam Giang, we continued heading to Cam Thanh.  It was unexpected that we saw only few people waiting for us. Monk Tam Dinh asked them and they replied village people lived far in the mountain and could not make it on time. They asked the village chiefs and village authority to collect gifts on their behalf. Everyone in our group agreed we only gave supplies directly to the village people and no one else may receive on their behalf. We thought there must be a reason.  We learned the lesson of “receiving gifts on behalf of some else” from our early experience. Our work would not complete if the gifts could not directly hand to poor people. Therefore monks and nuns decided to transport all to Ngoc Son temple. Monk Tam Dinh would distribute them to people at Quan Hoa, a highland village in Thanh Hoa. They also suffered heavily and waited for a relief committee.

It was dark outside. The weather in Central North was cool when the night arrived. The group got back and took a rest to get ready for the next day.  We visited 300 patients at Quynh Lap leprosy camp in Nghe An. Then the group returned Ha Tinh to visit 100 patients who had eye treatments. They were supported by benefactors of Eyes of Compassion.  The eye operation program was carried out by 10 optometrist specialists from Medical and Pharmaceutical Hue University.  After we worked with the optometrist specialists, I left the group to carry my relief work at Nghe An. Nun Nhu Minh was sad when she saw I left alone to continue my charity works. When I returned and met nun Nhu Minh at Hue, she said “I saw you pulled your luggage, I love you so much. If the relief committee at Hue was not late, I would come with you.”

“Sister Dau” Village
At North Central, people named the village “Sister Dau”.  The story of Sister Dau’s life was written by the writer, To Tat Ngo.  It was a story about most destitute lives in our human life.

Gifts include 1 electronic Buddha’s name chanting machine, etc.

This is a photo of an old woman who is sitting and listening attentively to an electronic Buddha’s name chanting machine

 I left Thua Thien Buhdish Relief Committee together with Hoe Dang Phan visiting people at Bai Ke village, Dong Hop village, Quy Hop district, Nghe An province. One of the “Sister Dau” villages had 140 families with 70% people did not have enough food.
Hoe’s relief program carried out differently compared with our programs. He is working for Wild Animal Protection Organization, thus he had chances to go deep in the forest and mountain. Most people have forgotten about villages in these areas. The villages were so poor when people passed by and they could not stop feeling sorry and pity for village people. Hoe and I paid our visit and distributed gifts to families who had senior people and children.  I was told that even though they lived on mountain, floods from the forest poured down fast.  At night time, water raised up to the roof. It was terrible; they showed me the water mark printed on the wall.

We looked for people who were poor, distributed gifts to the right address.  Hoe used his Honda to carry a bag of clothes at the front, a bag of blankets at the back and he had some cashes with him.  He and I visited tattered houses. He advised me that “you should not say anything when we enter the village. They don’t understand us. Just let me handle things.”  He asked for drinking water, rested his feet and slowly asked for information. He asked about people’s daily life of each family.  From those collected information, he would make decisions to distribute gifts.  He shared with me that we must do things right so that the gifts would go to needed people.

Some people were curious and asked him why he came to the village. He replied he was selling clothes and winter blankets. If they knew he gave free clothes, the whole village would spill out and he would not be able to handle them. Hoe drove me over 11 hours by his Honda. We crossed bad and muddy roads. I felt sorry for his little Honda; it carried two people for hundred kilometers crossing the mountain.

Upon my return, my body was numb. On Christmas night, my husband phoned from oversea asking for me but he could not reach me because I was deeply in sleep. Even though we are half a world away, but my husband and I talked regularly over phone. We discussed and made decisions for needed charity programs.  Our happy stories always included Lac, my lovely dog. I love Vietnam and thank to my husband, friends and benefactors who have made my wish come truth. I miss monks who are studying on the other side of the world, and I miss Lac very much. All these cherish things make a great happiness in my life.
December, 2007
Tôn Nu Dieu Liên


An old woman has six children but they are all dead. Her husband died 20 years ago. Presently she lives with a niece. Although she is already 102 years old and has only one eye but she is still working. She helps her niece collecting dry cassavas and in return she would receive two meals daily. When Dieu Lien gave her money and would like to make sure that she was still perspicacious so she would not lose it.  Dieu Lien asked her “what is it?” She answered without hesitation “it is a picture.” Dieu Lien asked her again and again but she kept saying it was a picture.  She could not recognize it was money. Hoe asked Dieu Lien to keep the money; next time he would give her rice. We gave her a sweater and put it on for her or else someone might take it away because she was not able to see much. Before we said goodbye, she held my hand and said “I am poor and miserable for 80 years since I married my husband when I was 18 years old. I have never lived a happy day. Now I am old and am still unhappy.” I hugged her and sympathized with her hurt and unhappy feelings with all my heart.

On my way back to Bai Ke village, Dieu Lien asked Hoe to stop and talked to a man tended buffalos. When Hoe gave him a present, he did not understand why a strange man would give him money and a sweater. He kept asking “what is this?” Hoe tried very hard to explain for him to understand that the gift is free. Because they live far away from the city, people live in the highland areas never once in touch with a relief group. Now it was suddenly someone gave him money and a present, he was surprised.  Dieu Lien asked him his age, he did not know. In a rainy late afternoon he wore a thin shirt that lost most buttons. ….

Here are few photos of giving money and blankets to poor families in Bai Ke village.



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