VSA lights up McKeldin Mall with Lunar Lanterns to help stop human trafficking

SBS lanters on fountain
Students place lotus lanterns in the fountain on McKeldin Mall. Photo by Morgan Politzer.

By Grace Dille

As night fell on Sept. 26, students at the UMCP Vietnamese Student Association’s “Lunar Lanterns” event sent lotus flower lanterns down the fountain on McKeldin Mall. 

The event helped raise money for the Pacific Links Foundation (PALS), which aims to reduce human trafficking in Vietnam by empowering women and young girls and encouraging sustainable development in Vietnamese communities.

“We chose to raise money for PALS to help raise awareness [for human trafficking] and give back to our community in Vietnam,” senior chemical engineering major and VSA’s Internal Vice President Vivian Tran said. “It gives us a larger purpose and makes our members feel even more involved to contribute to a bigger cause.”

Students at the event were able to purchase lotus flower water lanterns, handheld lanterns, bubble tea and raffle tickets.

This event was to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, a holiday celebrated in Vietnam that brings family and friends together to give thanks for the harvest season and the moon.

SBS flower lantern
Event attendees light lotus lanterns and place them in the fountain on McKeldin Mall. Photo by Morgan Politzer.

Dennis Do, the president of VSA and a first year geospatial information sciences master’s student, said the moon was traditionally worshipped as a god, so farmers would give thanks to the moon for their harvest.

“This is our modern take on the festival,” Do said. “Yeah, we might not have crops and whatnot, but it’s a gathering of people in order to give thanks and give back.”

VSA Treasurer Steph Lee said this is VSA’s third year hosting this event.

“The turnout keeps growing each year, so we plan to continue hosting it from now on,” said Lee, a junior operations management and information systems major.

The night included a Chinese yo-yo performance, dancing, singing, a flute performance, juggling and a fire performance with poi spinning and hoop twirling.

Junior Agriculture and Research Economics major Sara Guerrieri spins a flaming hoop around her body and twirls it above her head. Guerrieri is a member of the UMD Juggling Club. Photo by Morgan Politzer.

The night ended with the lantern ceremony, in which students released their lanterns made from the lotus flower, a plant Do described as a “powerful symbol in Vietnamese culture.”

“[The lotus flower is] a gorgeous plant that grows through mud,” Do said. “It’s able to persevere through the hardships and adversity — which is the mud — representing what people have to go through.”

Last summer, Tran was lucky enough to visit Vietnam and watch people send off lanterns in the city of Hoi An. No matter what students decided to wish for as they sent off their own flowers on the ODK Fountain, they were able to help grant the wishes of many in need in Vietnam through the work of PALS.  

“It’s a tradition for people to make a wish as they send their lotus flowers off,” Tran said.

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