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Koreans hold marathon across Vietnam to raise funds for school restrooms

Sunday, January 24, 2016, 09:16 GMT+7

A group of South Koreans have run a marathon along the length of Vietnam to raise funds for the construction of school restrooms in underprivileged Vietnamese localities.

The group, led by Monk Jin Ho, head of Gilsang Pagoda, based in Gumi, which is the second largest city in Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea, departed from Dat Mui Commune on December 25 last year.

Dat Mui is located in Ngoc Hien District in the southernmost Vietnamese cape of Ca Mau.

Venerable Sir Jin revealed that the group is scheduled to reach the central Vietnamese city of Da Nang on Sunday, January 24.

The run, part of a 2,200-kilometer marathon across the length of Vietnam, is meant to raise donations to build 108 toilets at several underprivileged schools in the Southeast Asian country.

Venerable Sir Jin said that the other run, which spanned 1,000 kilometers from the northern Vietnamese province of Cao Bang to Da Nang in early 2015, had pooled enough financial support to erect 24 school restrooms and carry out another nine similar projects in the near future. 

He added that his group will strive to do their best to garner donations from golden-hearted sponsors.

Fateful encounter

The marathon is inspired by a chance meeting in South Korea in 2011 between Venerable Sir Jin and a Vietnamese migrant worker who had sunk into a coma for months after sustaining a fractured skull in a road accident.

The man, Mai Van Toan, now 32, who hails from Trieu Thanh Commune, located in Trieu Son District in the north-central province of Thanh Hoa, was taken by a friend to Venerable Sir Jin’s Gilsang Pagoda for shelter.

Toan was in a vegetative state and had no money on him then.  

Moved by the man’s sheer sufferings, Venerable Sir Jin undertook a 108-kilometer marathon in 16 consecutive hours without stopping for rest or food   in March 2011.

The trip helped raise 5 million won (US4,164) for Toan’s surgery.

The pagoda’s head also covered all of Toan’s living expenses during his lengthy treatment process.

After more than 18 months of undergoing multiple surgeries at several hospitals throughout South Korea, Toan escaped the grip of death and was escorted back to his hometown by the kind-hearted monk.

The young man then took his benefactor to his former middle school in Trieu Thanh Commune, where Venerable Sir Jin could not help but be moved at the sight of the facility’s filthy, shabby restrooms.

Back in South Korea, Venerable Sir Jin formulated a plan and called for support from his friends and sponsors.

The first school restroom soon cropped up in Toan’s native town.

“We yearn to see Vietnamese kids studying in better conditions so that they may change their future life for the better,” the monk said.

Running steps for Vietnamese kids’ future  

Choi Jong Han, 65, revealed that the marathon members all come from Gumi City, and are also accompanied by their relatives who take care of them.

“This is my wife, who I feel guilty to for neglecting our family affairs during the lengthy trip. Toward the end of the trip, I asked her to come over, and she changed her attitude as soon as she saw what we are doing,” Choi said smilingly, pointing to a woman next to him.

Kim Sang Yeol, a 45-year-old electrical engineer, was initially indifferent to the trip due to his hectic working schedule.

He was invited by Venerable Sir Jin to cook for the entire group, as none can eat Vietnamese food.

All members constantly face fatigue during the marathon legs.

Hong Mun Soo, 16, an eight-grader at a school in Gumi City, admitted that he constantly craved a quick rest on the road or on a passing vehicle.

Hong, who is running on behalf of his father who failed to do so due to an unplanned business trip, shared that he is envious of Vietnamese youngsters’ beaming smiles as Korean students tend to suppress their feelings.

“We all keep in mind that each step is of assistance to needy Vietnamese kids. If the trip were not arduous, it would be hard to move Koreans into making donations,” another member said.

With each restroom costing approximately VND50 million ($2,237), the group plans to raise a total of VND5.4 billion ($24,1542) to build 108 such structures.

The entire sum is expected to come from Korean nationals, enterprises, Venerable Sir Jin’s friends and other golden hearts.

The monk pointed out the special, long-standing bond between Vietnam and South Korea as the reason why he initiated the tiring yet significant fund-raising walk in the Southeast Asian country.

“The Vietnamese have helped South Korea a great deal, and assisted Koreans’ quest to safeguard their independence which gave rise to the East Asian country’s current development,” he elaborated.

“Migrant Vietnamese workers, overseas students, and brides still make massive contributions to today’s South Korea. We’re thus conducting this program in gratitude to our Vietnamese friends,” the monk noted.

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