Category Archives: Social justice

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 1

BGR Staff

Over the first weekend of May, BGR team members held their annual general meeting on Saturday, May 2, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library of Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the US, including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State. Others from California and Florida joined via the internet.

At the board meeting on May 3, the board approved twenty-two projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $375,000. Several projects are renewals of repeated annual projects, while others are new. In addition to our long-term partners, we also established several new partnerships. Projects approved include several multi-year programs, which allow for the pursuit of bolder goals than is possible with one-year projects.

In addition to the regular projects, the board also agreed to provide two further emergency donations for relief work in Nepal: $2,000 to Karuna Shechen and $2,000 to the Tzuchi Foundation. Both are Buddhist-inspired relief organizations working to provide care to victims of the April 26 earthquake. These donations are in addition to the $10,000 emergency relief BGR provided immediately after the earthquake, which was divided evenly among five organizations: UNICEF, CARE, Direct Relief, Oxfam America, and the International Medical Corps.

This is the first of a five-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Charles Elliott, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts.

1. Bangladesh: Making Markets Work for Women           

Our partner in this project, Helen Keller International (established 1915), works in 22 countries to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged through programs in vision, health, and nutrition. BGR will enter the third year of a three-year partnership with HKI on a program in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) called “Making Markets Work for Women.” In CHT, women are mainly responsible for agricultural production. The program teaches extremely poor women how to effectively utilize communal plots. It builds agricultural skills such as pest management, organic fertilizer use, and intercropping, as well as food processing techniques. It will also establish community marketing groups so participants can work together to process and sell products, helping to combat discrimination at local markets. Courtyard sessions focus on topics of gender and nutrition for men and women, including feeding practices for children from birth to 2 years of age. The project will improve food security for 75 households (375 individuals) across five villages, additional to those already being served in the first two years of the project. Year three of a three-year project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Our project partner, Moanoghar, was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently more than 1,250 children sheltered at Moanoghar, approximately 40% of them girls. Many of the children were left homeless or orphaned as the result of a decades-long ethnic conflict. All children at Moanoghar receive free or highly subsidized education. This will be the third year of a three-year project to establish a sustainable educational system that can generate income to support the institution and the children being schooled there. The BGR grant will provide continued educational stipends for food and educational expenses for students and enable the planting of fruit trees and crops. Year three of a three-year project.

3. Bangladesh: Food Support for School of Orphans       NEW

Our partner, the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, was founded in 1977 by Ven. Jivanananda Mahathera, a Buddhist monk who has dedicated his life to the service of suffering humanity. BBMS is a non-sectarian, non-communal, non-governmental organization officially registered in Bangladesh in 1979. Its purpose is to dispense humanitarian services especially to helpless orphans, distressed widows, and other indigent men and women. The Orphan’s Home Complex is located at Betagi in the rural Chittagong Hills region, near the Karnaphuli River. The number of orphans has increased, food prices have risen, and government grants are not adequate to the need. This BGR grant will provide a six month’s food supply for 54 orphans at the school.

4. Bangladesh: Educating Ethnic Buddhist Minority Girls     NEW

The Jamyang Foundation (founded 1988) supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that are harmonious with their unique Buddhist cultural backgrounds. About 275 girls are currently enrolled in their schools. This BGR project will fund a school lunch program at Yashodhara Girls’ School in the the Marma community, located in Ruma Village, Bandarban, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. There are 106 students, all female, enrolled in the school; all are from the ethnic Buddhist minority. These girls live in substandard conditions with poor food, yet are happy to be there because it is a good opportunity for them to gain an education. The grant will cover the costs of cooking equipment, a cook for one year, and school lunches.

Buddhists at the White House

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  110Last week, on May 14th, I was privileged to be part of a group of Buddhist monastics, teachers, and leaders who converged on Washington DC for a conference on the role of Buddhism in the public square. The idea to convene such a conference originated with Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Officer for Soka Gakkai International–USA, who began to lay plans for the gathering as far back as December 2014. He established a steering committee, which eventually came to consist of Danny Hall (also of SGI), Professor Duncan Williams, Professor Sallie King, Matt Regan, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, and myself. The list of invitees, originally set at 80, increased incrementally until it amounted to approximately 125, the maximum that could comfortably fit into the facilities provided. Representatives included monks, nuns, ministers, academics, yogis, lay Dharma teachers, and Buddhist activists from all traditions, with a balanced blend of Asian immigrant Buddhists and convert American Buddhists.

The original goal of the event, as Bill Aiken conceived it, was to “to utilize the convening power of the White House to bring together a wide range of Buddhist community leaders to affirm our shared commitment to preventing climate change, sharing community best practices, and hearing from Obama administration representatives on issues of concern to us.” As preparations unfolded, two main points of focus emerged. One was climate change, which poses an ever-escalating threat to the security of human life on earth. The other, highlighted by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed people of color, has been the need for this country to finally implement full racial justice in all spheres of our communal life.

The conference was divided into two segments. In the forenoon, we met in a spacious hall in George Washington University to hear presentations on climate change, racism in America, and efforts to express Buddhist values in the public sphere. After a video message from  Mary Evelyn Tucker on faith as a catalyst for action to protect the planet, I gave a presentation on climate change. In the 20 minutes allotted to me, I used the four noble truths as a template to uncover the causes behind climate change and to highlight the need to make the transition to a new, environmentally benign economic system powered by clean sources of energy. Angel Kyodo Williams spoke next, giving an incisive talk on the interconnection between racism and the despoliation of the natural environment. She pointed out that the way we degrade the planet is symptomatic of the same mental frame that permits us to degrade people; thus, she said, to dig up the roots of climate devastation requires us also to cut the roots of racial discrimination and violence. Professor Duncan Williams spoke about the experience of Japanese Buddhists in America, emphasizing how deep biases simultaneously devalued their religious commitments and subjected them to constant suspicion as an alien menace, particularly during the Second World War. This was followed by a series of talks about Buddhist groups working for social upliftment. During this period BGR’s fundraising chair, Sylvie Sun, gave a presentation on the work of Buddhist Global Relief.

In the afternoon we all convened in the Executive Offices Building of the White House for presentations by Administration officials on the issues at the center of the morning’s gathering. After an initial welcome from the White House Office of Public Engagement, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki led a group of monastics and Dharma leaders in a short Vesak ceremony, certainly the first ever held in the White House. This was followed by presentations, including question and answer sessions, from representatives of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs, the Council on Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Institute for Peace. During the proceedings we submitted two statements to government officials, signed by all attendees, one calling for action to stem climate change, the other calling for a need to address racism.

The day’s events concluded with a short talk by Jack Kornfield, who gave voice to the shared recognition that this day marked a significant step forward for Buddhism on American soil. Jack pointed out that in coming together to articulate our common concerns to see Buddhist values taken as guideposts for public policy, Buddhists were not breaking new ground but were continuing a tradition that goes back to the Buddha himself, who traveled through northeast India advising kings, princes, governors, and citizens how to establish a rule that conforms to the Dharma, the timeless law of goodness, truth, and justice. As Buddhists we do not seek to impose our religious beliefs on government, a violation of the separation of church and state, but to see that government policies conform to the standards of compassion, social equity, peace, and environmental responsibility at the heart of Buddhism and all the world’s great faith traditions.

All who attended felt that this year’s gathering marked only the first of what is likely to become an annual event–a major first step, but only a beginning. Bill Aiken suggested that next year’s conference might culminate in a visit with our legislators on Capitol Hill. My personal feeling is that a one-day conference is insufficient to exhaust the potentials of such an encounter. While meeting on the single day gave us the opportunity to make new contacts and articulate our shared concerns, for such a gathering to bear effective fruit, the conference would have to be extended over at least two days. The extra time would allow for additional full-length sessions devoted entirely to group discussions on the issues at the center of concern. In such additional sessions we would be able to assess the points made in the presentations and draw up plans for lines of action to exert pressure on public policy decisions.

I also believe that, given the small number of Buddhists in the US relative to the general population, it would be delusional for us to imagine that on our own we can exercise a significant influence. Rather, our best prospects for giving Buddhist values a role in public affairs would be to join hands with other faith-based organizations that share our values and to present a collective front, rooted in our respective faiths, advocating for greater social justice, ecological responsibility, an end to militarism, and efforts to establish global peace. Such a convergence of faiths has already emerged in the environmental movement through such organizations as Green Faith, Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, and Our Voices. Through networking, a wider collective voice might emerge that could well set in motion the forces needed to articulate and embody a new paradigm rooted in perceptions of human unity, the intrinsic dignity of the person, and the interdependence of all life forms with each other and the natural world. Such collaboration could serve to promote values and a new way of life that offers a sane alternative to free-market corporate capitalism with its blind imperatives of exploitation, extraction, consumerism, and endless economic growth.

Here are a few photos from the gathering (all photos by Phillip Rosenberg):

Bill Aiken opens the conference

A section of the attendees

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  49

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi talks on climate

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  50

rev. angel Kyodo williams

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  73

Sylvie Sun speaks on BGR

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  108

Vesak ceremony in White House

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  109

Vesak ceremony in White House

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  123

Talk by Administration official

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  145

Jack Kornfield gives concluding talk

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  148

Group photo

 

BGR’s 4th Concert to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

IMG_4970

On Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 7:00 p.m., legendary saxophonist David Liebman, bassist Larry Grenadier, singer/songwriter Rebecca Martin, jazz and blues vocalist Sandra Reaves-Phillips, drummer Winard Harper, organist Akiko, and pianist Mijiwa Miyagima celebrate International Jazz Day as headlining artists at Buddhist Global Relief’s 4th annual Concert To Feed The Hungry. The Concert To Feed the Hungry perpetuates the global diversity of jazz in Harlem.

This annual concert, produced by jazz saxophonist Dan Blake, brings together an all-star lineup of leading jazz artists with a global mission to assist impoverished communities around the world. Buddhist Global Relief sponsors projects around the world that help poor communities overcome hunger and malnutrition and provides education for women and girls in at-risk communities.

The day-long event will commence with 2 music workshops organizaed by Jazzmobile and The New Heritage Theatre Group.

Visit www.concerttofeedthehungry.org for more information about the concert and the artists.

Ending Extreme Poverty by 2030: A New Initiative

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

HKI-Bangladesh Markets

Over the past few months, global leaders representing a wide spectrum of faith communities collaborated on a  project convened by the World Bank Group to send forth a collective moral call to end extreme poverty by 2030, a goal development experts consider feasible. The group worked together to draft a narrative titled “Ending Extreme Poverty: A Moral and Spiritual Imperative,” due to be officially released tomorrow (April 9th) at noon EDT. The statement, which grounds the imperative to end extreme poverty in humankind’s spiritual and religious traditions, should open a new front in our global efforts to create a more just and equitable world, a world that works for everyone.

Buddhist Global Relief has been an integral partner in this project, whose aim corresponds to our own guiding vision: “the vision of a world in which debilitating poverty has finally been banished; a world in which all can avail themselves of the basic material supports of a meaningful life.” I had the privilege of serving as a member of the committee responsible for drafting the statement and helped to ensure that the final formulation would be acceptable to Buddhists as well as to representatives of the monotheistic faiths.
Continue reading

Small Is Not Only Beautiful … It May Be the Key to Our Survival!

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

As climate change advances ever more ominously and leads us closer to climate chaos, the key to reducing carbon emissions may lie not in ambitious market-based solutions but in a transformation of the dominant model of food production.

Members of peasant farmers group La Via Campesina demonstrating outside the UN climate talks in Copenhagen. (Photo: Friends of the Earth International)

Last month the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists announced that it had moved the hand of its Doomsday Clock ahead from five minutes to three minutes before midnight, a decision due to the unchecked advance of climate change and the modernization of nuclear weapons systems. At almost the same time, the National Climatic Data Center of NOAA confirmed that 2014 was the hottest year on record. They also pointed out that the previous ten hottest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1998.

These revelations that our survival as a species–or at least as a civilization–is in jeopardy add to the urgency of the UN’s climate conference, COP 21, to be held in Paris next December. While hopes ride high that a rigorous and legally binding agreement on reducing carbon emissions will finally emerge in Paris, it would be a mistake to assume we can just sit back and trust negotiators to devise an effective accord on their own. We should never underestimate the power of the fossil fuel corporations and their allies. Time and again, at COP conferences from Copenhagen to Lima, they have used their influence to dash hopes and shatter promises, and it’s unlikely they will keep aloof from the talks in Paris. Strong pressure, indeed relentless pressure, will be necessary to prevail against them. 

Continue reading

Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.
Continue reading

Many Americans Don’t Get Enough Food

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

While the United States proclaims itself the land of limitless opportunity, the shining “nation on a hill” where dreams of prosperity and success become true, the reality on the ground often belies this pastel rhetoric. The reason for this failure is not lack of resources but policies determined by voodoo economics and rabid cruelty. Too many people are unemployed or underemployed. Too many workers are earning poverty-level wages. Too many programs that provide critical assistance to the neediest of our fellow citizens are being cut. Yet the big shots in Congress, who lecture the poor about the need to work hard, still subscribe to the belief that cutting taxes for the rich and granting subsidies to big business will result in rising incomes for everyone else.

One of the most effective measures in assessing a country’s real economic health is the extent of food insecurity among its population. Figures from reliable sources indicate that a shocking number of Americans perpetually live in the shadows of hunger. Over 46 million Americans–roughly 1 in 7 people–are dependent on SNAP, the food stamps program, which has been in the crossfires of a radically regressive Congress. If funding for the program is cut still further, the number of SNAP recipients will go down while the number of people unable to obtain sufficient food will rise.
Continue reading