風中的希望

知風草與希望之芽
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2018 / 12月

文‧曾蘭淑 圖‧林旻萱


南非大主教屠圖曾說:「他們和我們素昧平生,但傾注自己的愛心,提供資源幫助他人時,就會意識到彼此是相連在一起的。而且當我們盼望造福他人的時候,就能感受到最大喜悅。」中華民國知風草文教服務協會與台灣希望之芽協會,集結台灣的愛心與資源,在柬埔寨扶弱濟貧,讓人在苦難中看到希望,行善無國界。


一場大雨,把原本顛簸不堪的黃土路弄得更加泥濘,從波貝到馬德望省的諾薇村二個多小時的車程,一路上下彈跳, 身體隨著彎路左右來回晃動,昏昏沈沈之際,一到東波諾薇寺,迎來的卻是熱情不斷的掌聲。

掌聲迎接的是身穿白色長衿的中華民國知風草文教服務協會秘書長楊蔚齡,她集結台灣與海內外華人的愛心捐款,為化身爐(台灣稱「火化爐」)完工主持剪綵典禮。

東波諾微寺建於1910年,在1970年代柬埔寨內戰時幾乎完全摧毀,重建後,現是附近四、五個村落的生活重心,村民每8天就來禮佛一次,婚喪喜慶也都在廟裡舉行。化身爐剪綵典禮是諾微村的大事,村民幾乎全數動員,每人身穿白色上衣的正式服裝,女性圍著紗籠、肩披裝飾用的水布,一千多位學生穿著制服,以最莊重的心情來參加。

守住人生最後的尊嚴

這是知風草協會遍及柬埔寨7個省份所蓋的第137個化身爐。

「在柬埔寨的偏鄉,如果寺廟裡沒有化身爐,人往生了,通常就是放在地上燒。有時沒有燒完整,屍骨被田間的牛隻踐踏,被流浪狗叼走。」楊蔚齡解釋。

在柬埔寨投入扶貧助學、急難救助廿多年,楊蔚齡會興建化身爐是因為協會長期資助的一個愛滋個案,「不幫不忍心」,她說。

這位媽媽小時候被家人賣做雛妓,後來嫁作人婦,幾年後不幸愛滋病發作,同時也傳染給她的先生,在生下3個愛滋孩子後,先生跑掉,她病逝時,沒有棺材,而是就地焚燒。

3個穿著白衣送終的孩子,眼睜睜地看著媽媽大體在地上火化,屍體遇火緊縮而彈跳起來,不僅在旁的眾人嚇得退卻三步,原本大哭的3個孩子驚嚇到頓時哭聲止在喉中,讓一旁的楊蔚齡決心在波貝所在的達賴和尚廟蓋一座化身爐,讓這些悲苦的人在臨終火化時,還能保有一絲尊嚴,不要像那愛滋媽媽,走到人生盡頭還留下更大悲痛給兒女。

「柬埔寨時常下雨,但很奇妙的是,每當我剪綵化身爐的那一刻,雨就停了。」楊蔚齡淡定的語氣裡,顯露出善行的力量。不知為何,一傳十、十傳百,甚至有許多偏鄉寺廟的和尚走了二、三天到訪,或是來了二、三趟,希望知風草協會為他們的寺廟興建化身爐。

有一天,一位在洞里薩湖的12歲沙彌由他的爺爺陪同,來到知風草協會辦公室所在的波貝市。小和尚的父親2年前過世,當地由於沒有化身爐,雨季地上溼,就放到大樹上燒。沒有想到他的父親火化時,不小心大樹著火,尚未火化的遺體有一半掉到湖裡,看到這幕情景的孩子因而發願當和尚,為他父親念經超渡,並且來求助知風草協會協助興建化身爐,希望讓他父親的悲劇不再發生到其他人身上。

化身爐的故事說不盡,爐身以柬文、中文刻著來自台灣與香港捐款人的名字,就像化身成終結苦難的菩薩,將慎終追遠、盡哀盡禮的祝福傳達給柬埔寨人。

善行種子,隨風擴散

我們再跟著楊蔚齡去驗收水井工程。根據聯合國統計,柬埔寨至今仍有70%的人口沒有自來水,偏鄉居民平日生活用水都是接雨水或是汲取自溪水,旱季不僅有無水之苦,也容易滋生登革熱、瘧疾與腸胃病。

知風草協會從2015年開始募集指定用途的捐款,為柬埔寨偏鄉的學校興建水井,現已鑿了50口水井。由於學校沒有水,平時校方都要耳提面命,要求師生帶水到學校,才能提著水去上廁所。現在有了井水,不僅師生上廁所不用再提著一桶水,由於馬達抽水1小時即可以抽滿一大桶,小朋友還可以帶乾淨的井水回家用。這井水不僅是當地最乾淨的水源,卅年的湧泉,還可以百年樹人。

在偏鄉看了這麼多知風草協助興建的化身爐與水井工程,楊蔚齡笑著提醒我們:「不要忘了我是做教育出身的,」她現在同時也是波貝縣知風草職業中學的校長。這所由台灣愛心捐款興建,紅瓦木窗、貼花屋簷,充滿高棉風情的學校,是方圓5個村的唯一中學,現已招收三百多位710年級的學生。由楊蔚齡二十多年前親手種下的阿勃勒樹已比屋簷還要高。

楊蔚齡在柬埔寨的扶助工作,最早從1987年開始,當時還是華航空姐的她到泰國難民營當國際志工,由於柬泰邊境是戰場,時常看到受到內戰蹂躪,陷入極度貧困的柬埔寨人民。因此她決定留在生活條件最艱困的地雷村,收容在泰柬邊境流浪、乞討的孤兒到「流浪兒童之家」,並且在1995年成立中華民國知風草協會。

知風草是一種多年叢生的雜草,花絮常在微風中搖動。為何以知風草為名?楊蔚齡說,生活在落後地區的人們,就好像飄散在曠野中的知風草,「孩子是天養的」,政府資源到不了的偏鄉,就靠人的善行來補足。

廿多年來,知風草協會從教育切入扶助的工作,「只有教育能終止多年內戰造成貧病的循環,讓赤貧人自立,我們只是拉他一把,陪他走一段。」楊蔚齡坐在波貝辦公桌正後方,是一個大大的台灣地圖,她從台灣募集善款、物資,遠渡重洋送至柬國,已經協助建立柬埔寨18所華校,另加上知風草中學,台灣民眾送的愛心文具、教科書與助學津貼,目前已有七萬多名學童受惠。

我們造訪由台灣獅子會總會全力捐助位於地雷村的都巴薩中學,「要專心學習」的柬文標語掛在牆上,這所學校從一片荒煙蔓草中興建,至今已有18間教室,成為地雷村唯一的完全中學。根據聯合國統計,2017年柬埔寨完成中學學業的比例只有57%,台灣愛心興建的都巴薩中學解決了地雷村學生大量輟學的困境,13年來,已有五千多位學童從這裡畢業。

「在台灣吃一頓大餐的錢,就可以扶助一個貧童。」楊蔚齡說:「在歷史的長河裡我何其有幸,看到柬埔寨人沒有被戰亂的衰敗打倒,知風草善良的種子就這樣散播下去。」

看到真正的赤貧

我們跟著台灣希望之芽協會,將社會服助的腳步從地雷村轉到柬埔寨旅客必訪的吳哥窟,它所在的暹粒省市中心有一條酒吧街,許多老外坐在充滿異國情調、時髦裝潢的餐廳裡,與距離市區不到一小時車程的大吳哥縣,卻有著天壤之別的景觀。

貧民所居住的傳統高腳屋,屋頂用隨處可見的棕櫚樹葉搭建,但房舍無法用「家徒四壁」來形容,因為他們窮到房屋沒有牆,只用破布或帆布袋圍著,煮飯的炊具放在樹下,屋內空無一物,唯一醒目的「家具」是一個二手的行李箱,裡面放著這家最珍貴的「貧戶卡」與一些衣物。

這二手行李箱是希望之芽協會在台灣募集,每次由義診團志工自願減輕自己旅行的行李,帶著文具、二手衣服等物資,裝在行李箱中運到柬埔寨,送給貧戶。

希望之芽協會執行長余慈薰十多年前當背包客到柬埔寨旅遊,學社工出身的她先加入日本在柬國所成立的第一支救護車團隊,又因緣際會遇到每半年到柬埔寨義診的牙醫師許毓丕。隨著義診次數的增加,看到的苦難與需求愈來愈多,這些志同道合的志工們從短暫性的義診,到加入送米、送衣、送文具等援助,為了整合更多的資源,2010年才成立台灣希望之芽協會。

綁個馬尾、像個大姐姐的余慈薰解釋,「在柬埔寨可以看到什麼是赤貧,一個國家落後到『零』,什麼都沒有,孩童因為繳不起每天上學要交500元柬幣(約台幣7元)的文具費給老師而輟學。因此我深信如果能支持他們受教育,對他們的未來一定不一樣,因為受教育才有機會翻身。」

台灣資源,發光發熱

希望之芽透過與大吳哥縣政府合作提供貧童名單,經由社工訪視確認,將台灣資助人每月700元台幣的資助金,及發送水煮蛋與15公斤的白米給受資助的貧童。特別的是,每當希望之芽發麵包或是白煮蛋,孩子會問可不可以不要吃,因為想把麵包留回家給弟弟妹妹們,愈是貧乏,孩子愈會珍惜與分享。

希望之芽副主任吳侑家指出,由於一家只能資助一個孩子,通常會選擇家中學齡最小的孩子,藉此可以拉長資助的年限。我們所訪視的其中一個9歲女孩,因為營養不良,看起來只有5歲,她的父親到泰國打黑工,因意外受傷,回到家中靠挖馬鈴薯與砍木頭維生,她的姐姐14歲就中輟學業在家幫忙,而透過資助計劃希望再減少貧童輟學率。

希望之芽協會在大吳哥縣鄉野中的職訓中心,是由台灣冠軍磁磚資助。但有了房子,卻沒有電,雖然電線桿早在兩年前就已裝設好。這時工研院拿出看家本領,為職訓中心裝設了太陽能板,今(2018)年初成為當地第一個有電的屋子。連輔導貧戶種香菇,社工們發現真空包滅菌不完全,袖珍菇種不起來,再求助農委會農業試驗所的專家,解決滅菌過程的問題後,第一期的菇農靠著賣香菇收入,有的幫家門前走道鋪了木棧道,有的買了十多隻雞來養。

余慈薰說:「柬埔寨很多家庭沒有節育,孩子生很多,養不起,就把孩子送到孤兒院。職業訓練計劃透過植物染布、養菇等訓練,或是教婦女利用棕櫚葉手工編織做成各式包裝盒、手提包,讓這些媽媽可以在家代工,增加收入,不僅可以改善太太在家中的地位,更讓孩子有機會留在原生家庭,不致送至孤兒院。這種賦權的做法,符合聯合國2030年永續發展消除極端貧窮飢餓、兩性平等的目標。」

「柬埔寨是我心靈的舒適圈,因為在這裡我成為一個真正有用的人。」很多朋友常常覺得余慈薰十分辛苦,但她引用德蕾莎修女的話說:「愛是看見別人的需要,在苦難中看見自己的責任。」從希望之芽與知風草協會,可以看出台灣雖是地理上的小國,但集結了台灣人的智慧與資源,就可以是愛心輸出的大國。

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英文

Hope on the Wind

Esther Tseng /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Geof Aberhart

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “In our world we tend to be blind to our connection until times of great disaster. We find we start caring about people in Timbuktu, whom we’ve never met… and yet we pour out our hearts. We give resources to help them because we realize that we are bound up together. We are bound up and can be human only together.” The Field Relief Agency of Taiwan and Formosa Budding Hope Association are two organizations that are bringing Taiwanese resources to people most Taiwanese will never meet, binding us together with the underprivileged people of Cambodia and bringing them hope amidst hardship.

 


 

Heavy rain has turned the bumpy dirt road muddy on the two-hour-plus car trip from Poi­pet to Lo­vea, in Bat­tam­bang Province. Bouncing along the road, we sway and rock as we head for ­Dongpo Lo­vea Temple, where we receive a rapturous welcome.

As we arrive accompanied by people from the Field Relief Agency of Taiwan (FRA), one person is welcomed particularly enthusiastically—Yang Wei-lin, FRA secretary-­general. Yang has gathered donations from both Taiwanese and the international ethnic Chinese diaspora, and is there to host the ribbon cutting ceremony marking the com­pletion of a new crematory.

Dongpo Lo­vea Temple was built in 1910 and was almost entirely destroyed during the Cambodian civil war of the 1970s. Since its reconstruction, it has become the central focus for four or five nearby villages, not only hosting weddings and funerals, but also serving as a place of worship for local villagers every eight days. The ribbon cutting cere­mony is a major event for Lo­vea. Almost every resident of the area is present, all dressed in white formal attire, the women in sampots and over 1,000 schoolchildren in their uniforms. The mood throughout is solemn and respectful.

Dignity at the end of life’s journey

With the inauguration of this crematory, the FRA will have helped with the building of 137 crematories across seven provinces around Cambodia.

“In rural Cambodia, if the local temple doesn’t have a crematory, when people pass away they are usually just laid on the ground and burned. Sometimes they don’t burn completely, and the bones get trampled by cattle or carried off by stray dogs,” explains Yang.

Having invested over two decades into poverty alleviation, education and emergency relief in Cambodia, Yang turned to building crematories after the death of a woman with AIDS that the FRA had been working with for years. “I couldn’t bear to not help after that,” she says.

The woman in question was sold into prostitution as a child. She later married, and unfortunately developed AIDS after a few years, infecting her husband and going on to bear three children with HIV. Eventually, her husband abandoned her and she passed away from the disease. With no coffin, she was simply burned on the ground.

Her three children, dressed in white for mourning, watched their mother’s cremation. Contorted by the flames, her body seemed to spring up, driving shocked observers back and terrifying the small children beyond tears. Yang, who was watching from the sidelines, decided then and there to build a crematory at Poi­pet’s Sras ­Trach temple, to give people in such tragic situations some dignity in death and avoid compounding the grief of the bereaved.

“It rains frequently in Cambodia, but amazingly the moment I cut the ribbon on that crematory, the rain completely stopped,” says Yang, her faith in the power of good deeds evident in her voice.

Engraved onto the crematories are the names of donors from Taiwan and Hong Kong in both Chinese and Khmer, bringing blessings from afar to the people of Cambodia, like a bodhisattva with the power to end suffering.

Seeds on the wind

We accompanied Yang on a visit to inspect a well project. According to UN statistics, as much as 70% of Cambodia’s population has no access to running water. The water people in rural communities use tends to be rainwater or drawn from local streams, and during the dry season they not only have to deal with a lack of water, but also face increased odds of catching dengue fever, malaria, or gastrointestinal diseases.

Since 2015, the FRA has been collecting donations for specific uses, like sinking wells for schools in rural Cambodia; to date, they have completed 50 such wells. With a well, not only do teachers and students not need to take a bucket of water with them to use the toilet, an hour of motorized pumping can fill a large tank with clean water, and children can even take water home for their families to use. But these wells are more than just the cleanest water sources available locally; the water from them will be invaluable in the long-term development of these communities.

During our visit we see many of these wells and cremat­ories that the FRA has constructed in rural communities, but Yang also reminds us with a smile that in fact her background is in education, and she is also principal of the FRA Secondary and Vocational High School in Poi­pet. This school, with its red-tiled roof, wooden window frames and traditionally decorated eaves, was built with donations from Taiwan, but is brimming with ­Khmer style. The only high school in a five-village area, it currently boasts a roll of over 300 students between seventh and tenth grades.

Yang began her work in Cambodia in 1987. At the time, she was a flight attendant with China Airlines, and had volunteered to aid in a Thai refugee camp. With the Thai‡Cambodia border area still a war zone, she often saw firsthand the devastation and extreme poverty the Cambodian refugees were suffering under in the wake of their nation’s civil war. She decided she wanted to stay, settling in a village known as “Landmine Village” despite the difficult conditions. She began taking in homeless orphans along the border who were surviving by begging, and in 1995 she established the Field Relief Agency of Taiwan.

Over the past two decades, the FRA has provided relief in the form of education. “Ultimately, only education can end the cycle of poverty that the civil war began and help the poorest stand on their own feet.” Behind Yang’s desk in Poi­pet hangs a huge map of Taiwan. She works to collect donations of money and supplies from Taiwan and ship them to Cambodia, and has already helped to build or rebuild some 18 Chinese-medium schools in the country, as well as the FRA Secondary and Vocational High School. The people of Taiwan have also generously donated stationery, textbooks, and student stipends, all of which have reached over 70,000 students so far.

“For the price of a good restaurant meal in Taiwan, you can support a poor child,” Yang says, adding, “I feel lucky to be able to play my part in history. I’ve seen how the people of Cambodia have refused to be beaten down by the chaos and destruction of war, and I’ve had the chance to sow the seeds of good through the FRA.”

Witnessing true poverty

Next, we leave Landmine Village and join the Formosa Budding Hope Association as they take their services to Siem Reap, known as a “must see” tourist destination. There, the poor live in traditional stilt homes, their roofs made with palm leaves. These homes lack walls, though, because their residents simply can’t afford to build them, instead substituting rags or tarpaulins. Their cookware sits at the feet of trees, their homes bereft of furniture beyond secondhand suitcases that hold their most valuable possessions—their IDPoor cards—and a few clothes.

The ponytailed, sisterly Sally Yu, CEO of Formosa Budding Hope Association, tells us, “In Cambodia you can see what real poverty is. It is a country that fell back to square one, was left with virtually nothing. If children can’t pay their teacher the 500 riel daily stationery charge [about NT$7], then they’re forced to drop out of school. If we can help them get an education, I really believe their futures will be different, because education is an opportunity for transformation.”

Taiwanese resources light up lives

With a list of impoverished children provided by the government of Angkor Thom, and after visits by social workers for confirmation, the Budding Hope Association provides some NT$700 and 15 kilograms of white rice per month to each family. When the children come to collect these items, the association also gives them something to eat such as bread or boiled eggs. But the children always ask if they can save them instead of eating them on the spot, so they can take them home for their younger siblings. The worse their situation, the more the children value these small blessings and want to share them.

The Budding Hope Association has set up a vocational training center in rural Angkor Thom, supported by ­Taiwanese tiling company Champion. However, while the center may have a home, it has until recently lacked electricity despite power poles being put up two years ago. To address this, Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute has taken the lead by installing solar panels at the center, making it the area’s first place with power as of early 2018. The association has also taken to teaching the locals to grow mushrooms; however, their social workers found that imperfections in the vacuum packing of the oyster mushrooms delivered to the farmers meant they wouldn’t grow. Experts from the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute set to work on the problem, and after they found a solution, the first batches of mushrooms harvested brought in enough income for families to start getting back on their feet, with some of them laying wooden boardwalks in front of their homes and others buying a dozen or more chickens to raise.

“A lot of families in Cambodia use no birth control, so they end up with a lot of kids they can’t take care of and have to send to orphanages,” says Yu. “We give people training in skills such as dyeing fabric with vegetable dyes and mushroom cultivation, and some of the women also learn to weave palm fronds into bags and boxes. They can then work from home, increase their income, and not just improve their standing at home, but be able to keep and raise their kids. This kind of empowerment is also in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of elimin­ating extreme poverty and fostering gender equality.”

“I really consider Cambodia my ‘comfort zone.’ I can really be of use here.” Yu draws on the example of Mother Teresa, who once said that love is seeing what others need and seeing your own responsibilities even amidst suffering. Through the examples of both the FRA and the Budding Hope Association, we can see that while Taiwan may be small geographically, with the combined wisdom and resources of her people, she can produce great amounts of love.

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