Visit of Mike Boehm to Olympia Friends Meeting

By Meera Shanti*

Since this last election, I have been thinking a lot about the state of our world, what itís been like in the past, what it is now, and what itís going to be like in the future. I guess I had been struggling with trying to figure out how to make a difference in the world, even when the contribution Iím making is proportionately small.

A couple of nights ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a man named Mike Boehm talk. He spoke about his experiences in serving in the Vietnam War from 1968-1969. In 1976, he went to a technical college in Madison, Wisconsin where he was given a GI education benefit for serving in the war. He turned the money down, because he didnít want to be getting money associated with killing people. He said that serving in Vietnam was a life-changing experience for him, and is what brought him to do work that he does now. This work still involves Vietnam, but in a different way.

Mike does work in My Lai, which is about 200 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City. He takes part in a lot of different little projects, but they are all part of a big project called the My Lai Peace Park Project. Quakers in Madison, Wisconsin undertook the My Lai Peace Park Project at the request of the Women's Union of Quang Ngai Province and the Quang Ngai Province People's Committee. The park in and of itself is supposed to represent hope for a peaceful future between our two countries, and I think it truly does. At the park, people come to plant trees in memory of veterans of the war, and people who were killed in My Lai.

 One of the other little projects that Mike initiated is a loan fund. This project helps provide loans for poor women, mostly war widows, without collateral. The women use the money to start small businesses like raising pigs, or cows, making fishing nets, or processing flour. Mike also helped start a project between the kids at the Marquette Elementary in Madison, Wisconsin, and the kids of the My Lai Primary School. Itís a way for the kids in both countries to express love, friendship, and concern for each other through artwork. When Mike started with this project, he would collect the art work from the school in My Lai when he was there working on the other projects, and he would deliver it to the kids here when he came back to Wisconsin. Now, the project has expanded to many different schools, both here and in Vietnam. He also said there are now some Girl Scout troops participating in this art exchange.

 Listening to Mike Boehm speak made me a lot more aware about lots of different things that are going on in the world right now, but also helped me clarify that with which I had been struggling. I realized I was right. My contribution to the world really isnít very large proportionately to the big problems in the world like world hunger, AIDS, or homelessness. However, when I think about all the little problems that bring about these big problems, my contribution seems a lot bigger. If I donít do anything or express my opinion about what is going on, it seems ten times worse then just making the smallest effort to try and help someone or a group of people even if I fail. I hope I help in a little way whether itís by giving money, holding up a sign, going to a meeting, or doing a piano recital. No matter what the contribution is, and even if it feels like youíre not doing much, or it gets tiring, itís good for you, for someone else, and for the world.

 Olympia Friends Meetingís Right Sharing Fund is a sponsor of the My Lai Loan Fund Project, and I encourage everyone to contribute to this project.

You can visit their web site at http://www.mylaipeacepark.org/ 

 

*Meera Shanti is the 14 year old daughter of David Albert & Ellen Sawislak