PAXTON – A Vietnamese-born professional musician, storyteller and photographer who makes his home near Loda is asking Paxton-Buckley-Loda schoolchildren to give up their used toys to raise money for schools in Vietnam.
Tinh Mahoney, who prefers to go by the name Tinh, and his wife, Jodi, have raised enough money through their Village School Foundation since 2002 to build one school in Ninhthuan, Vietnam. Tinh, 42, plans to spend two weeks there later this month getting another school started.
Mahoney does not do any building himself. "I can hardly paint my house," he joked.
But the man who has recorded three albums and written children's books, oversees the hiring of local workers to build the schools for 30 to 40 elementary schoolchildren and two teachers. Although the Vietnamese government supplies the land and pays the teachers' salaries, the Vietnamese children must make do with very rudimentary school supplies.
That's where Mahoney sees the local schoolchildren can step up and help.
He's asking the kids at Clara Peterson Elementary School in Paxton to donate used toys for a sale at the school.
The money raised from the sale will go to buy books and school supplies for the children in the schools in Vietnam.
The sale is scheduled from 9 a.m. Nov. 19. They will gladly accept good used toys from the general public. Toys can be brought to the school, 580 E. Franklin, on Nov. 18 during the day or evening.
Principal Trent Eshleman said he likes exposing the students to diversity and charitable outreach.
"I like the idea that the money we raise will be used to pay Vietnamese villagers to build their own school," Eshleman said. Students at Clara Peterson will view Mahoney's PowerPoint presentation on the village school project during their computer lab classes.
"That is the first step in linking our children with children in Vietnam," Eshleman said. "The toys that we don't sell, we will donate to area charities. So the toy sale will serve as a widespread initiative that will help people both locally and abroad."
Tinh said that education is borderless, and he hopes there will be an open exchange between the Clara Peterson students and the sister school in Vietnam.
He said that first-grade teacher Linda Tammen, who has his son Liam in her class, is collaborating with him on the sale.
"She has a lot of heart, compassion and an open mind for other cultures," Mahoney said.
Though Tinh was about 12 when he left the country in 1975, three days before the fall of Saigon, he has strong emotions associated with his memories of a war-torn Vietnam. He keeps in touch with relatives there and it is from them that he learned about the lack of schools and the poverty that prevents children from getting an education.
He said it often takes a family's earnings for a month to pay tuition for just one child. And the child who gets to go to school is usually a boy, leaving the girl at home to care for the house "like a little maid."
Tinh attended Willamette University at Salem, Ore., and studied classical guitar under harp guitarist John Doan. While there, he was asked to open a show for folk-blues guitarist John Fahey. The two became friends and played together often. Fahey produced Tinh's first album, "My Vietnamese Suite," and Mahoney produced one of Fahey's.
Tinh and his wife moved to Paxton on the recommendation of his wife's brother, who said the schools were good. The couple built a home at Bayles Lake, Loda, and he said they've been happy in central Illinois.
He makes annual trips to Vietnam, and hopes to someday take parents of Paxton-Buckley-Loda schoolchildren overseas with him. "It is an amazing adventure," he said. Tammen said she's considering joining one of his trips to Vietnam. She is of the generation that grew up with the Vietnam War being played out on her television set.
Tinh "is very compassionate," she said. "It's incredible what he has done. He's setting a marvelous example by using the profits from being a musician" to help the Vietnamese children.
More information about the foundation can be found at www.vsfoundation.com.