Simplicity - Sustainability - Sharing
Vilaiwan Phokthavi (Kep) - Jesuit Prison Ministry Thailand (TAI)
Mr. Vieng is a strong, 57 year old man from Laos. I knew him in 2009 in the prison in Thailand, where I work for the Jesuit Ministry. Vieng is a very hardworking and humble man who loves planting and gardening. He was arrested in May 1997 for drug trafficking because of his ingenuousness. He tried to defend himself by proclaiming that he had got involved in the situation without really being aware of what he was into, as a result he was sentenced to 40 years.
While he was in prison, he grew vegetables that he offered to his prison mates and also to us who worked there. Vieng always looked forward to our visits and, as a sign of gratitude, he would give us a big bunch of vegetables to bring back home every time. He deeply appreciated our prison services and considered us his family. He would always smile and live a day at a time, in accordance with the Buddhism teachings.
Vieng was released in May 2013 after he had spent 16 years in prison. He found out that during this period, his wife and his daughter had left home. His freedom suddenly turned to emptiness. He used to call us from time to time to tell us how difficult it was for him to face such loneliness, being left with nothing at all and with nothing to do.
In March 2014 we visited Vieng for the first time in Vientiane, he was staying in a small room at his brother's home and he still couldn't accept what had happened to him. He felt he had lost his dignity and he didn't know how to start his life all over again after all those years in prison. Although he received love and support from his brothers and sisters, he felt as if he was begging every time.
In June 2015, we visited him again. He was staying at a new place, in a property that belonged to his family where he owned a share of the land that, in the meantime, had been put for sale. The land was quite valuable, since it was vast and set along the Mekong River amidst a beautiful scenery. Vieng had built a little hut there and he grew some vegetables. It was a pity to see the sign "Land for sale". When we asked him why he wanted to sell the land, he answered that it didn't belong only to him, but also to his brothers and sisters. If they would sell it, he could get his own share in money and buy a new land of his own, where he could set up a farm and proudly welcome his family and friends. He also told us that it would break his heart to sell his family's property and that he was well aware that it would have been difficult to find a comparable land in another place with that scenery.
"The sense of belonging" was very important for Vieng at the time. We spent some moments of discernment to help him consider some important facts. He was happy with his family, his family was happy that he was working on their land, Vieng loved sharing the fruit and vegetables he grew with his family and other people. He loved the land and the view of Mekong River and he loved his family property. We tried to make him understand that all these facts were good reasons to keep the land, if he had sold it, he would have obtained 1/6th of the sale price and with that, he would have had buy a new land of his own. Would that have been of any help for his future? At last, he removed the sign "Land for Sale". But still said that he would have reconsidered the issue.
In January 2016, we visited Vieng again for the third time and I was so glad to see that he was still keeping the land on the Mekong River. It was so nice to see his sister and his brother in law, Vieng's daughter and her son (Vieng's grandson), together with two more of his nephews, welcoming us on our arrival. Vieng told me to bring the Prison Ministry team to visit him the next time I would come around. He said that he dreamed to build a small hut for us to stay overnight, he indicated where he thought would have been the best place with the best view for us.
Even if the land along the river is rich and fertile, it requires a lot of time and hard work. We pray for Vieng and for his humble and diligent heart. We thank God for the return of his daughter and his grandson and for the love of his family that is of great encouragement for him, to found his life on sharing instead of on belonging.
Although hard work and poverty are still ahead, we have witnessed Vieng's happiness in sharing with his family and neighbors. From time to time when he is very tired, he calls us and we encourage him to resist like good friends do. I feel really lucky to be Vieng's friend because I receive a lot of courage from him also.
The pride of "This is mine" is not greater than "This is ours". When I go to Vientiane, I feel I have a home along the Mekong River, one of my brothers is there. We are sharing our home, our world, God is our Father and we are brothers and sisters. This is such a wonderful feeling.