June 26, 2005
I have become particularly close with one of the girls. Her name is Sang and she is 17. She has lived at Thien Binh for 4 years and has not been home to visit her family during that time. Her parents are still alive and she has four siblings. She misses her family and wants to go home but will not be allowed to until she has finished her schooling. Then, she can return home to get a job and help support her family. Sang works in the kitchen; she is responsible for chores like cooking and cleaning for the two head nuns. She looked particularly sad today so I asked her what was wrong. She said she had just gotten a beating from Soeur Malee for not finishing all her chores in time. Then, she pulled up her pant leg and I saw that the back of her left calf was covered in purplish- blue bruises. I didn't know what to say...
Soeur Malee was in a particularly bad mood as was evident from the aforementioned event. Visitors arrived around ten this morning to give the kids treats. This happens two or three times a week. Today the kids forgot to thank the visitors and started getting up to go play before they were given permission. Soeur Malee yelled at them so much that the guests cringed and intervened before she could go on.
In my first observations I noticed that the kids were amazingly well-behaved. Now I know why, if you so much as turned your head during prayer, you would be slapped. Getting beat with a stick was not anything out of the ordinary and the yelling was constant. The kids
are resilient, by that afternoon Sang was smiling and joking around with me. I asked her if she harbored any hatred for Soeur Malee- She denied it and told me she was used to it.
Being a supposedly unbiased outsider everyone is eager to confide in me. Opinions which would never be expressed to the head nuns for fear of being yelled at or worse asked to leave. One of the older nuns who was lived there for a while disagrees strongly with the head nuns' disciplinary tactics. She also thinks that more money should be spent on food and less on school supplies.
Where do you draw the line between being culturally sensitive and acting on gut instinct? My gut tells me that this is beyond tough love, in the States beating a kid with a stick would be considered child abuse. In Vietnam its slightly old fashioned but still pretty common. Negative reinforcement is the rule and positive rewards the exception. These thoughts have been running through my head- I can't sleep.
Posted by Thuy_Nguyen at June 26, 2005 03:19 AM