'60 Phut Mo' (60 Open Minutes), which debuted on May 29 with the topic ‘Why do we share on social networks,’ aired its second episode around another debate-provoking question: 'For whom we do charity: those in need or ourselves?'

Host Ta Bich Loan was joined this time by Dr. Dang Hoang Giang, a Vietnamese-Austrian expert who is now vice head of the Center for Community Support Development Studies (CECODES).

The guests included Dang Nhu Quynh and Nguyen Hoang Anh, leaders of the 'Xay Truong Vung Cao' (Build Schools for Mountainous Areas) charity group.

Quynh and Anh were invited to join the show as their January trip, aimed at providing food to children in a village in the mountainous province of Son La to celebrate Tet, or the Lunar New Year, was rejected at the last minute by local authorities.

The group had already transported 3,600 gift packages, including banh chung (rice cake) and Vietnamese bologna, all delicacies used to observe Tet, to the village when authorities said they were not allowed to hold a party for the children as planned.

'Xay Truong Vung Cao' eventually had to bring all the food back and destroy it, having failed to negotiate with the authorities.

Ta Bich Loan then invited Dr. Giang on stage to discuss why “there were cases when we brought gifts to needy people but were perceived to be trying to do something to ‘polish’ ourselves,” as was the belief in the case of 'Xay Truong Vung Cao.'

Giang said that the 3,600 gift sets brought by 'Xay Truong Vung Cao' were an example of Vietnam’s ‘obsession’ with setting records by making massive, yet wasteful things, such as the biggest banh chung or the largest bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup with beef).

“It seems like the charity groups were trying to show the world they were doing something marvelous, rather than a good deed,” Giang said.

The charity group representatives immediately fired back, saying they had no intention to make a name for themselves. “We prepared 3,600 gift sets because there were 3,600 children who needed them,” Anh said.

The host then asked the charity group whether their failed trip was initially “meant for the children or yourselves?”

With Loan repeatedly asking “what for?” three times, Anh replied calmly that they wanted to “satisfy the desire to bring love to others,” to “lead a serene life” and to “be able to do other good things.”

The host then changed tact, saying charity can sometimes do harm to those in need, prompting Giang to express his view that people should be aware of the negative effects of charity work.

For instance, he said, children in mountainous areas might not really need modern, western-style clothes commonly used by those in the lower lands.

“In the longer term, these choices of gift might encourage children to gradually stop wearing their traditional brocade costumes, eventually posing a threat in that they will lose their ethnic cultural distinction.”

Giang continued with another example, saying that if mountainous children keep being gifted with candy, they will stop going to school and spend the whole day doing nothing but waiting for the next charity trip to visit them.

Similarly, adults will not go to work as there will always be people bringing money to them.

“This can destroy their entire social system,” Giang said.

Strong protest

Anh, the charity group leader, said the idea that giving children clothes to keep them warm would destroy their ethnic cultural distinction could only come from a man who stays in his air-conditioned office or car.

“You may never know how the children have to suffer cold weather of below zero degrees Celsius while not having a single piece of clothing,” Anh said, aimed squarely at Giang.

Local viewers also took to social networks to express their objections towards the show, criticizing the host and Giang as emotionless and heartless.

Tran Dang Tuan, a seasoned journalist widely known as the man behind a charity group that raises funds to help needy children in mountainous areas to have meat in their meals, apparently found it hard to keep silent against such a strange view on charity.

“Whoever says warm clothes destroy cultural values, please show me a jacket with ethnic cultural design,” he wrote on his Facebook.

Tuan said there was not enough time to design warm clothes that suit ethnic cultural styles.

“We need to bring durable and affordable warm clothes to the kids before they die freezing,” he said. “The children need to be warm to be able to protect the ethnic cultural characteristics.”

Nguyen Son, a freelance photographer and an influential Facebook user, also said Giang was emotionless in his comments.

Son said the donations of warm clothes and rice would enable children to continue going to school, or else they would have to either stay at home or go to the paddy fields with their parents, even as early as the age of five or six.

The first episode of '60 Phut Mo' resulted in the Internet meme, ‘What is your motive for doing something,’ as host Ta Bich Loan insisted that people should have a specific motive when they share on social networks.

Tuoi Tre News - June 7, 2016