Reverend Park, Chung Soo, is a Won Buddhist from South Korea. On Love, Life, Light, she details some of her involvement in charity works, divided up by country. It reads almost like a diary at times- it is heavy on the places and people she met at those places, many of whom do not mean anything to the average reader (although perhaps may if you are Buddhist or from the country she is visiting). A whole range of things are given equal weight in her writing, which we may normally consider insignificant- for example, she talks of the cleanly pressed sheets and aesthetically pleasing decoration in a room she is provided with on one of her journeys in great detail, and she feels the love and welcome of her host in every item in the room.
The book is written very much from the Reverend’s point of view, so although it focuses on the situation of the poor in Cambodia, Ladakh and Africa, and some aid work being done there, it is by no means a full, unbiased representation of those countries. Reverend Park had a few areas of focus, and her main source of knowledge seems to be the various people she spoke to. Readers interested in aiding developing countries should not use this as a reference book- there are plenty of international groups who have done detailed research many of which you can access on the internet (1)- but more as a window into an interesting person and some interesting places.
At times she is probably politically incorrect (eg the section on Africa is subtitled ‘the Black Continent’, the people in developing nations being her poor children that the rich country she comes from should help), but I am inclined to let that slip, and think favourably of her- she is a person who is coming across a whole range of new things, with a heart that wants to help. She also shows an openness to learning and adjusting her world view. The most dramatic instance of this would be when she sees a newspaper article about medical care in Africa, and initially doesn’t recognise the pygmy woman in the picture as being human. She immediately feels guilty, realises it was because of racism ‘because the colour of my skin was not black’, then tries to right the wrong by reading the article, calling the author and talking more- educating herself, and as is her way she proceeded to find a way to donate to charities in the area, visit the country, and talk with locals.
When I was partway through the book, there were a while range of things that I wished she would have included- a broader view of situation of the countries she visited, information on the beliefs of Won Buddhism etc. But by the end I found I was quite satisfied- because there were many things you learn just by seeing the world through another’s eyes for a bit, and I had in fact learned a few interesting things. For example, did you know that there are deserts in the Himalayas? Up in the snow capped mountains, which are covered in ice and snow for more that half the year, there is a desert in Ladakh- because the mountains create a rain-shadow!
A good place to start if you are interesting in developing nations and how culturally appropriate, long lasting change can come about is to learn a bit about public health. Coursera with John Hopkins University often has a few modules on offer, eg (as of when this post is published), this one. Other useful/interesting websites include: the World Health Organisation, this long article, globalcitizen, givewell…
This post is also part of WordHigh July- for the word: Dalisay (adj) pure, undiluted- as Ladakh, a mountainous region >3000m above sea level is described as a very pure, simple place.