Charity in the Community with Eileen Brown
Eileen Brown came to Vietnam to give back to the community and found her calling in the remote mountain village of Tu Bong, a wild and beautiful place 60km from Nha Trang. Over the years, she and her husband Steve have worked tirelessly to provide much-needed resources and facilities to the village. Here is her story!
In 1992, a monk by the name of Giac Hanh was sent to Tu Bong by his master to start building a temple. There were no buildings and no facilities, and he slept in a mango tree while dreaming of creating the temple, a hospital and an orphanage for the local villagers. He is a builder, and so he does much of the work himself, unlike other temples that hire builders to do the work for them. Each day, he worked laboriously, hand-splitting huge granite blocks piece by piece, and finally completed the first temple some two years later.
Eventually, he received some second-hand machinery to cut the granite which has made a huge difference. The cutting machine runs most of the day and night preparing slabs of granite to create beautiful buildings and furniture. Gradually more and more novice monks have come to live at the temple, the youngest who has just joined is just twelve years old, and the oldest, eighty!
The temple is heavily involved in helping the community. Local people come, not only to pray, but also to hold regular retreats where they talk about community involvement, environmental concerns, and issues that affect them. The temple provides the machinery and some of the labour, and through various charity groups, they provide the funds. Local people also provide some funding and volunteer in the construction. It is all about a community working together to help each other.
“Offrir Un Toit”, a Swiss/French charity, are major benefactors of the temple with their various projects. For nearly 5 years. they have been helping with reforestation of the local mountain and surrounds. The soil here is very sandy, and there are some fears that there will be slippage from the mountain. To combat this, they have planted over fifty thousand trees, with new seedlings added each year.
A traditional medicine hospital was opened in 2011, and locals can come and receive treatment 3 times a week. The clinic has access to both traditional and western trained doctors who work together to treat the local people. If more advanced treatment is required, they are transferred to the bigger hospitals in either Nha Trang or Saigon. Local volunteers work to grow and harvest traditional herbs and plants required for the various treatments. They also use acupuncture and cupping techniques to treat many pains and ailments.
Vietnam has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.There are many complex reasons for this; the legacy of child-bearing quotas, poor family planning advice for the young, and conflicting messages about sex have created a situation where abortion is a form of contraception. In an effort to provide an alternative, the decision was made to build the orphanage, and the 4-year project was finished in 2014.“Offrir Un Toit”, and in particular, Ikea, provided USD$200,000 for its construction and it now provides a home to many wonderful young children.
We have been quite involved in creating English classes for the kids so they may have a better chance for their future. I started out with around twelve on the first day, and now have around 35 regular students. Most children learn grammar and can read English, but they struggle with conversation so we focus mostly on this. We don’t have a lot of resources but we are making do with what we have!
We receive much needed support from friends and volunteers who make the trip up to help out. For example, a German friend of mine is a practicing dentist. She bought all the children toothbrushes, and then we taught them how to brush their teeth properly and use dental floss. These are simple things, but when you don’t have easy access to dental care, it has a profound impact.
In 2013, the temple received funds from the Australian government to build a water purification plant. Capable of processing 500 liters of water per hour, it is hugely important in providing their most basic needs. In addition, we received a generous donation from Rotary, an Australian charity, to build an 850 cubic meter water reservoir. Made from pinned granite blocks, it was amazing to watch it being put together. The reservoir sits behind the new temple overlooking the buildings, and the view from the top is spectacular. A panoramic vista overlooks the surrounding rice fields and stretches towards the ocean.
Eileen and Steven are doing great work in the Tu Bong Community. Besides funding, human resources are one of the most important needs here. Perhaps you are a teacher who wants to share some of your knowledge, or have a skill that you can pass on to the community in areas such as self-sustainability, construction, environmental awareness, food production or healthcare. If you would like to get involved in any way, whether it be through donations, or simply giving some of your time, then do get in touch with her or Steven!
Thuong Lai Foundation
Contact Eileen Maree Brown on FACEBOOK
or Donate through GO FUND ME HERE