More than 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, a Korean Buddhist monk has made it his mission to help heal the deep wounds the conflict created between his country and Vietnam. Running thousands of miles to raise funds and demonstrate his solidarity with the people of Vietnam, Venerable Jino has dedicated his life to helping Vietnam and to improving the lives of Vietnamese migrants in South Korea.
To date, Ven. Jino has run some 15,000 kilometers across Cambodia, Ecuador, Germany, Nepal, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam—averaging around 50 kilometers per day—since 2011, and in the process raising about 400 million won (US$358,000).
Expressing a profound sense of remorse for the role the South Korean military played in the conflict—including atrocities committed by Korean troops against Vietnamese civilians—Ven. Jino told The Korea Times: “There are Vietnamese [living in South Korea] who are from the regions that had witnessed Korean soldiers’ atrocities during the war. I reserve a special heart for them.”
Between 1965 and 1973, 312,853 South Korean soldiers fought in the Vietnam War. According to domestic sources, Korean infantry and marines killed an estimated 41,400 North Vietnamese Army soldiers and some 5,000 civilians. Approximately 5,000 South Korean soldiers were killed in the conflict, with many others returning home injured and with ailments caused by exposure to defoliant chemicals such as Agent Orange.
To manifest his efforts, Ven. Jino has been working in cooperation with Making Dreams Come True, a private organization based in the city of Gumi, in North Gyeongsang Province, which provides support for migrant workers in South Korea. But in order to achieve his objectives, Ven Jino has had to go the extra mile—literally, by running charity marathons as a demonstration of his sincerity.
“If I didn’t commit to running and only had words coming out of my mouth to promote my charity mission, that wouldn’t have impressed donors,” Ven. Jino emphasized. (The Korea Times)
Making Dreams Come True runs three accommodation centers for vulnerable members of migrant communities: one for homeless unemployed workers, one for women fleeing abusive Korean husbands, and one for single mothers and their children.
Collecting pledges of 100 Korean won (US$0.09) for each kilometer run, Ven. Jino’s accomplishments include covering 300 kilometers in Ecuador and 300 kilometers from Kathmandu to Lumbini in Nepal in 2016, 330 kilometers from Angkor Wat to Phnom Penh in Cambodia in 2017, and 330 kilometers from Kandy to Matara in Sri Lanka in 2018.
His longest record to date took place in Vietnam from 2015–16, where he covered some 2,200 kilometers in two runs from Cao Bang Province to Da Nang, and from Ca Mau to Da Nang.
The proceeds raised from the monk’s charitable races have funded a four-floor temple, residential buildings for Making Dreams Come True, food the organization’s residents, and has even covered the salaries of seven staff members.
Such is Ven. Jino’s commitment, he is rarely available for public appearances. “I tell the faithful wishing to meet me to seek other monks, because I am busy looking after the compound and all,” said the monk. “If they insist, I make appointments with them for meet-ups and remind them to bring an offering—say 100,000 won (US$90).” (The Korea Times)
Ven Jino’s humanitarian assistance also extends to Vietnam, where he has pledged to address limited public sanitation by constructing 108 public toilets around the country.
The inspiration for the initiative came to the intrepid monk after running 108 kilometers in Vietnam in March 2011 to raise 5 million won (US$4,500) to provide medical assistance for a Vietnamese worker in Korea who had been badly injured in a car accident.
After Mai Van Toan received the much-needed medical attention in Korea, funded by the proceeds from the charity marathon, he travelled with Ven. Jino to his hometown in Vietnam’s Tien Giang Province.
“I excused myself to use a washroom in the [local] school and saw the facility in a horrific condition,” recalled Ven. Jino. “That got me thinking after I returned to Korea.” (The Korea Times)
The first public toilet built in Vietnam under the initiative was completed in 2012 at Mai Van Toan’s old school. Forty-four similar facilities have so far been constructed, at a cost of 4 million won (US$3,600) each.
“Buddhism holds a toilet as ‘a place where one empties worries,’” said Ven. Jino. “I hope my toilet project contributes to improving South Korea-Vietnam ties damaged by the Vietnamese animus from the Vietnam War.”
Despite his successes to date, Ven. Jino remains committed to his cause, with plans to cross the continental United States with a 5,130-kilometer run from California to Manhattan over 120 days, beginning in June 2020.
According to data from the 2015 national census, the majority of South Korea’s population—56.1 per cent—holds no religious affiliation. Christians make up the largest religious segment of the population at 27.6 per cent, while Buddhists account for 15.5 per cent.
Korean Forest Gump’s race for Vietnam (The Korea Times)