Cooking Porridge and Training Health Workers in Côte d’ Ivoire

By Randy Rosenthal

One of the leading factors in infant mortality in Côte d’ Ivoire, where about 40% of the population lives in poverty, is malnutrition. This is especially the case in Korhogo District, in the northern region of Poro, where malnutrition is the most prevalent. That’s why Buddhist Global Relief chose to support Helen Keller International’s (HKI) effort to greatly reduce instances of malnutrition among women of child-bearing age in Korhogo, and especially among children during their first 1,000 days of life.

Compared to their projects in other countries, the way HKI approached their effort in Côte d’Ivoire is quite unique. And this is because they focused their efforts on training local community health workers, who could then continue to share knowledge locally, rather than solely holding information sessions.

Originally, the plan was to train an average of five health workers in each of the 77 clinics in the Korhogo District, for an estimated total of 385 health workers. Entering the third year of the project in 2018, this target was increased to 93 clinics and a total of 465 health workers. Similarly, the original target was to provide approximately 77,000 pregnant and lactating women with nutritional education and services, but the target was then increased to 93,000 women. These increases show that the project has not only met its original targets but is exceeding them. In fact, 82,000 pregnant and lactating women and their children have already benefited from nutrition counseling. That is to say, the project is going according to plan.

These information sessions are based on the Essential Actions in Nutrition (ENA) framework, a set of proven and achievable nutritional practices aimed at reaching mothers at the right time with the right message. These practices focus on women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding a sick child, and fighting against anemia as well as Vitamin A and iodine deficiency. During three-day training sessions, local health workers are coached for two days, and then spend the third day in practical training by practicing their nutritional counseling skills with community members.

Another aspect of these training sessions is cooking demonstrations. Health workers train mothers how to make nutritional porridge using local foods, and also provide basic information about things such as food groups, which many women were not familiar with. At the end, mothers know how to make affordable, nutritious porridge to feed their families.

Combined with the ENA training, these sessions are having a direct impact. As Mrs. Ouattara Pékalawelé Natogoma, a Registered Nurse at Nagakaha Health Center, said: “Some of our moms had been struggling to feed their baby from 6 to 9 months. With the methods learned during the nutrition education sessions and through the cooking demonstrations, their children are now enjoying healthy porridge.”

Since these trainings started, it’s been reported that more women and their children are frequenting the community health center. If they are malnourished, they are screened and given care and treatment. But otherwise they are given information and training that will reduce the instances of malnutrition in Korhogo in the first place, and for years to come.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

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Helping Indian Dalit Girls Rise Up and Shine: The Mission of the Bodhicitta Foundation

By Patricia Brick

The Bodhicitta Foundation provides schooling and job training, legal assistance, social justice and women’s rights education, and other services to impoverished Dalit women and girls in Nagpur, India. Founded by the Australian Buddhist nun Ayya Yeshe, the foundation operates a girls’ hostel and a women’s job training and community center in slum areas of Nagpur. A three-year Buddhist Global Relief grant supports both of these projects.

The Dalits in India–the people formerly known as “outcasts” or “untouchables”–have historically been relegated to jobs considered “below” even the members of society’s lowest caste.; Their work traditionally involved such tasks as cleaning or processing human waste or animal carcasses. Women and girls in this group face additional gender-specific burdens including domestic violence and child marriage. An estimated 30 percent of Indian women experience physical or sexual domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the U.N.’s Global Database on Violence Against Women. More than a quarter of Indian girls are married by age 18, and 7 percent are married by age 15.

The Bodhicitta Foundation seeks to break the cycle of poverty by giving women and girls the tools they need to financially support themselves and their families. An estimated 2,000 people benefit from the foundation’s initiatives in Nagpur each year.

Over the years, grants from BGR have been supporting Bodhicitta’s women’s job training and community center in Nagpur, where 300 women a year enroll in courses in English, computers, sewing, and cosmetology. In addition, the center offers business management and entrepreneurship training, legal assistance, domestic violence counseling, medical care, and a library. Here women also find a space for dialogue and communal support. Reflecting the Bodhicitta tenet that supporting women and children helps to lift entire communities out of poverty, the center offers two hours a day of schooling to 120 children as well as 6,000 meals a year to undernourished children.

BGR grants also support Bodhicitta’s hostel in Nagpur, which houses 30 girls and young women from the Dalit community, in their teens and early 20s. While they are in residence here, the young women train for a three-year degree in social work, health care, education, or midwifery and nursing. Their training also includes coursework in anti-poverty principles and women’s health and economic issues. Upon completion of the program, each student commits to six months of part-time service in her home community in the form of women’s job or entrepreneurship training, education for poor children, or other support.

The young women who live at the Bodhicitta hostel are a remarkable group. The stories they tell about their experiences are grounded in the realities of their lives and also imbued with a sense that they are empowered to bring about real change in their world.

Swati, 17, is majoring in science and intends to become a gynecologist/obstetrician, “to give women safer and more dignified births,” she said. She studies photography and is a creative writer of stories and poetry. She writes:

Looking at the veiled form of a bent beggar woman,
I could not see her face,
Her face was shrouded in suffering,
Like the darkness and uncertainty of her future.

 Swati’s father is a cycle rickshaw driver and her mother a laborer. Before she came to Bodhicitta, she said: “I almost quit school to get a low-paying job to support my parents, but then we found the hostel. Now I don’t have to leave school or feel hungry all the time. My stomach is full of food, my heart is full of the love of our community, and my mind is reaching for my dreams!”

Prianka, 20, is studying to be a lawyer. “I want to fight for the rights of poor people, and I volunteer with senior lawyers at the Bodhicitta Foundation programs for women to know their rights,” she said. “We have taken on many cases of domestic violence and families threatening to kill or throw out widows from their husbands’ land.” Prianka comes from a poor farming family, though her father cannot work because he is paralyzed. Her older sister was married as a teenager and died in childbirth, at 19. “Because of the hard lives of the village people,” Prianka said, “I am determined to become educated and escape that life of early marriage and backbreaking work and to advocate for my Dalit community,” 

Sonali, 15, lives with her younger sister Pari at the Bodhicitta girls’ hostel. Sonali describes herself as “a total nerd” who loves math, reading, karate, and her social work studies.

The sisters arrived at the hostel as orphans. Their father abandoned the family when the girls were toddlers, and their mother became a sex worker to support the family and contracted HIV. She died before Sonali’s tenth birthday. The two girls moved from family to family, working in exchange for basic sustenance. “By the time I reached high school, I did not really believe in the goodness of people,” Sonali said. “I knew the world was cruel to poor girls.”

“I found out about the Bodhicitta Foundation because their social worker visited my school talking about women’s legal rights and girls’ rights to inherit land,” she continued. “They said they had a girls’ home, and we immediately applied. They have a long waiting list, but because we are orphans, they moved us up the list. For the first time since my mother died, I really feel I have a home where I feel loved and supported and not alone.”

When she finishes high school, Sonali intends to go on to study global politics and gender studies at university. “I think women have to stand up for their rights and education and proper paying jobs,” she said. “If my mother had been educated and found a proper job, she would not be dead now. Gender inequality literally kills women.… But I do believe in human goodness now.”

Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.

From Me to We. My New Year’s Resolution

By David Korten

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/

It’s not likely that many of us will mourn the passing of 2018. It’s been a deeply troubled year defined by wildfires, floods, earthquakes, water shortages, financial chaos, political gridlock, flows of displaced persons, growth in the gap between rich and poor, the rise of dictatorial leaders, and a dire consensus warning from scientists on the impact of climate change.

I’ve been pondering my New Year’s resolution for 2019. Deep change is clearly needed. But what can I do that might measure up to the magnitude of the problem? A promise to turn down my thermostat? Buy an electric car? Give to a charity? Take in a refugee? The possibilities that come to mind—even those that might involve serious commitment—seem trivial, given the scale of the problem.

The problem isn’t me. It isn’t you. Nor is it those folks over there. The problem is we. The big we, humanity: What we believe, how we live, how we relate to one another and Earth. We have gotten something terribly wrong that we must now get right. But what? Do we even agree on the problem?

Perhaps moving forward begins with honoring our African roots—the birthplace of our species that produced the wisdom of “Ubuntu,” often translated as “I am because we are.” Ubuntu is a profound truth long ignored by so-called Western civilization, but now confirmed by the leading edge of contemporary science: Complex life exists—can exist—only in living communities in which organisms together create and maintain the conditions essential to their individual and collective existence.

Not only do we depend on one another, but our ability to live rests on the services contributed by the many members of Earth’s community of life—the bees that pollinate the flowers, the trees essential to the water cycle, the beetles that aid the decomposition of plants after their death, the microbes that digest my food so my body can use its energy and nutrients. Without these many, wondrously diverse beings, Earth would be just another dead rock floating in space.

I sense that humanity is awakening to a profound truth: We—the big we—thrive together, or we expire together. This comes with a recognition that many of the myths by which we live are falsehoods so divorced from reality that they threaten our mutual existence.

It is deeply deflating to realize just how much of what we call Western civilization is built on deceptions: The myth of the lone individual; the myth of freedom without responsibility for our neighbor; the myth that societies built on the exploitation of people and nature are advanced civilizations morally superior to the peoples they devastate; the myth that rule by the richest among us is a form of democracy.

And also, our society is built on the myth that our well-being is enhanced by institutions, technologies, and infrastructure that substitutes financial transactions for caring relationships, isolates us from one another to the point that too many of us live alone, moving us in single-person cars, and encouraging us to buy whatever we need from Amazon.com with no need for contact with another living being. As we celebrate our “freedom,” we wonder why mental health declines and suicides grow.

As we approach 2019, I see hopeful signs of widespread awakening to the truth that either we embrace the responsibilities of community life and thereby thrive, or we will perish together in the faux freedom of our isolation.

Everywhere I turn—from the spontaneous conversation a few nights ago with neighbors gathered for Christmas, to recent meetings in South Korea that included the mayor of Seoul, and to global strategy conversations with fellow members of the Club of Rome in Europe and Africa—I am finding an eager readiness for discussions about our global crisis and the path beyond it. These discussions cross the lines of race, religion, and class beyond anything I’ve previously experienced.

Conditioned to think and act as an isolated “me,” we may find it difficult to hold to the “we” space. Yet the “we” conversation is essential to the task of creating a truly civilized and democratic civilization that works for the whole of life.

So, my resolution for the New Year? To devote my time and energy at every opportunity to encouraging and engaging these conversations about getting from me to we. I hope you may consider making this a resolution for yourself as well.

Originally published in YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

The author, David Korten, is co-founder of YES! Magazine, president of the Living Economies Forum, a member of the Club of Rome, and the author of influential books, including “When Corporations Rule the World” and “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” His work builds on lessons from the 21 years he and his wife, Fran, lived and worked in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on a quest to end global poverty. Visit him at davidkorten.org. Follow him on Twitter @dkorten and Facebook.

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Yemeni Victims and Rohingya Refugees

By Tom Spies

In the second week of December, BGR made emergency donations to the World Food Program USA to provide assistance to two communities facing severe food shortages.  An emergency donation of $8,000 will help the World Food Programme provide aid to the people of Yemen; the other donation, of $4,000, will provide food assistance to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in displaced persons camps in Bangladesh.

In Yemen, over the past two years a sustained air assault by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions of people internally displaced. An outbreak of cholera, the worst in the world, has affected hundreds of thousands of people, 30 percent of them children. One child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes due to preventable diseases.

As a result of the conflict, tens of thousands of Yemenis are enduring famine conditions, while half of Yemen’s 28 million people are on the brink of starvation. A U.N.-brokered ceasefire agreement was signed in early December and on December 13, the U.S. Senate voted 56 to 41 to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. However, in November, the House of Representatives already voted to block the passage of a bill that would have ended U.S. military support for the coalition.

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The conflict has been particularly destructive in the port city of Hodeidah. The WFP is working around the clock to provide emergency rations to people fleeing violence. Many people have been displaced from their homes to different parts of the city without income or means of survival except for WFP food aid. The agency provides families with food including beans, peas, and fish. Any disruption to the functioning of the port in Hodeidah will hamper critical commercial and humanitarian flows of food, fuel, and medicine.

This year, WFP began a school meals program in Yemen to provide nutritious, ready-to-eat food to 140,000 school children. WFP hopes to scale up aid to assist 600,000 students a month. WFP will also begin providing cash assistance in areas where markets are working well to allow up to 1 million people to have greater choice of food.

Over four decades, Rohingya refugees have been fleeing to Bangladesh from Rakhine State, Myanmar, where they have faced discrimination and targeted violence. The largest and fastest Rohingya refugee influx into Bangladesh began in August 2017. Approximately 800,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar to nearly 920,000. Over 80 percent of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are women and children.

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The refugee population is highly dependent on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic food needs, while over 38 percent of the local host community are vulnerable to food insecurity, with households that are headed by women being even more vulnerable. WFP provides life-saving assistance to refugees through in-kind food distributions of rice, pulses and fortified oil. Entitlement size is adjusted as per family size. Nearly 650,000 refugees are benefiting from monthly food distributions.

Nutrition programs are implemented in refugee camps and host communities. A nutritious supplementary food (fortified wheat soya blend) is distributed to pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under the age of five years. The program also provides nutrition assessments, growth monitoring counselling, behavior change communication sessions on nutrition, health and hygiene and the preparation and conservation of the monthly ration of supplementary food.

WFP distributes micronutrient fortified biscuits to all primary school children from the local host community and in learning centers for refugee children. Over 258,000 children benefit from this daily snack, which helps allay hunger and supports them to learn better. The biscuits are locally produced in Bangladesh.

Tom Spies is executive director of BGR. Information in this article has been taken from the website of the World Food Programme.

A New Vocational Training Center for Marginalized Women in Cameroon

By Patricia Brick

A partnership between BGR and a community development center in Cameroon is helping to to lift women and girls out of poverty by providing them with practical vocational education and entrepreneurial training.

The signs say: “We want to thank the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development working together with Buddhist Global Relief (BGR).”

The Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon) is a nonprofit working to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger in Cameroon through community-driven programs promoting education and vocational training, inclusion, and gender equity within a framework of environmental sustainability. Its projects focus on fostering social and economic empowerment among marginalized and disadvantaged people, with a focus on women, youths, and indigenous people.

In June 2017, in partnership with Buddhist Global Relief, CCREAD established a vocational training center for women and girls in Buea’s Mile 16 Bolifamba, a slum community of 17,850 people, 98 percent of whom are peasant farmers. More than 85 percent of the community lives below the U.N. poverty line. Residents here struggle to pay for food, medicine, housing, and school fees for their children. A recent influx of refugees and other migrants has further narrowed the resources and jobs available to impoverished people. Families headed by widows and single mothers are at particular risk, as these women traditionally encounter barriers in finding work. More than 60 percent of children in these families do not complete a single year of schooling. Continue reading

Improving Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health in Kenya

By Randy Rosenthal

BGR has partnered with Helen Keller International to strengthen the health system and reduce maternal and child mortality in densely-populated Kakamega County, in western Kenya.

Malnutrition is a major problem in Kenya, where nearly half of the population lives in poverty. That’s why Buddhist Global Relief has partnered with Helen Keller International on a three-year project to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services in Kenya. HKI is working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger (AAH) to address Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) and to combat poor nutrition outcomes in five Kenyan counties. BGR is supporting HKI’s ambitious effort to strengthen the health system and reduce maternal and child mortality in densely-populated Kakamega County, in western Kenya. The grant from BGR sustains HKI’s Kakamega program in its entirety. Continue reading

Children: The Face of Hunger

By David Braughton

Introduction

 

Look into the eyes of someone who is hungry and one out of five times it will be a child under age five staring back at you. The child will probably bear little resemblance to the graphic images found on the internet of a little wizened skull with sunken eyes sitting atop an emaciated body that more resembles a skeleton than a small living being grasping for life. What you will see is an otherwise ordinary kid who appears stunted (too short for its age) and wasted (underweight for its age). Or, you may see a child who is both too short and, at the same time, obese, another seemingly paradoxical symptom of chronic malnutrition.

Stunting and wasting represent two key markers of child malnutrition.  In 2017, there were 151 million children who were abnormally short for their age.  There were also 51 million kids who were seriously underweight for their age and 38 million who were overweight.  What is particularly alarming is the growing number of children who are overweight and stunted, although no reliable statistics are available to determine the true scope of the problem (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank). Continue reading