Resilient Livelihoods in Northern India

By Patricia Brick

Jay Devi, a farmer in Pritampur village in Uttar Pradesh, India, struggled for years to earn enough from the sale of her crops to pay for the fertilizers and pesticides she needed for her fields. Like many other women farmers in the region, she was entirely dependent upon purchased chemical fertilizers and pesticides for her crops of beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins. But the high cost of these products cut sharply into her earnings. She dreamed of saving enough money to purchase a water pump for her home so that she would no longer have to walk to a communal well for drinking water. But her profits were never enough; some seasons she could not even afford to buy the chemicals she needed, and as a result her crop yields suffered further.

This year, Jay Devi joined a women farmers’ group organized in her village by Oxfam India, through the “Prosperity through Resilient Livelihood” project funded by Buddhist Global Relief. A training in organic farming methods introduced her to vermiculture, and she began to make her own organic fertilizer using earthworm composting. In her first year of replacing the chemical fertilizers on her corn and bean fields with this organic manure, her harvest nearly doubled. “With the increased income, now I have started saving the surplus in my bank account,” she said. “With the savings we have installed a hand pump in our house. Now I do not have to walk 200 meters away to fetch drinking water.” She has begun using solely organic methods on all of her crops and continues to see her crop yields improve.

The Prosperity through Resilient Livelihood project established a women farmers’ collective and forty women farmers’ groups in the Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. These groups serve as spaces for women to share knowledge and support. The grant provided guidance and trainings in agricultural methods, community building, and financial management to nearly 800 women farmers through these groups, with an emphasis on climate-resilient agriculture practices—ecologically sound methods that have been found to increase crop yields and improve crops’ resilience to the effects of climate change, such as increased or decreased rainfall, periods of extreme heat or cold, and increasingly volatile weather. Women farmers learned about techniques including the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), mulching, rotational cultivation, rainwater harvesting, and the preparation and use of organic fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. The grant also supported the groups in obtaining government aid including assistance for seed banking, farmers’ field schools, and agricultural equipment and supplies.

For many women farmers involved in this project, the transition to climate-resilient agriculture practices has enabled them to achieve a new level of economic independence and security. More than 300 women farmers reported income increases after switching to sustainable methods, and many of these women have opened savings accounts for the first time in their lives.

Rajeshwari, a 38-year-old farmer and mother of four in Musadei village, also was caught in the precarious cycle of dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Recently she too had to choose between purchasing these chemicals and meeting the needs of her family when she found herself unable to afford tuition for her daughter, an eleventh-grader. Her daughter left school and joined the family in supporting the household. In October, the family’s tomato field was infected by a mosaic virus that destroyed the entire crop.

Rajeshwari discussed her experiences in her women farmers’ group. There she learned about matka khaad, an organic fertilizer made of a mixture of cow manure and plant materials (neem seed, fenugreek seed, and garlic). She and several other women farmers in the group used matka khaad on their fields, and all saw their crop yields, and their income, increase. “Because of the training I received from the project, I have become a self-reliant farmer,” Rajeshwari said. “My income increased this year with tomato cultivation using organic manure, and I have re-enrolled my daughter in the eleventh grade in Raja Lonak Inter College. I have used some money and saved some for my kids’ future.”

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


Technical Skills Training for Low Income Girls in Sri Lanka

By Patricia Brick

Young women in Sri Lanka face rates of unemployment nearly twice that of their male counterparts, with unemployment levels highest among women with secondary school diplomas. But the costs of vocational training and other higher education are prohibitive for many girls. While state universities offer free higher education, these schools accept only a fraction of qualified students. Those who are not accepted must pay to attend private or professional schools, where scholarship funding may be difficult to come by.

The BGR project, “Providing Access to Skills Development for Selected Out-of-School Girls from Low Income Families,” supports Sri Lankan girls and young women in pursuing higher education and vocational training. Administered by the Center for Women’s Research (CENWOR), the project helps young women prepare for careers in such rapidly expanding fields as information technology and civil engineering.

Sri Lanka has a strong history of educating girls and young women, with compulsory education for children of both genders through the lower secondary level and a 92 percent literacy rate. But a significant gender disparity in employment levels persists even among university and vocational school graduates. This CENWOR project aims to give more women a foothold in the labor market by providing funds for their education in high-growth, high-earning fields. The project also leads gender awareness education programs for both male and female students.

This year, a grant from BGR provided assistance to 69 young women pursuing vocational and higher education. Among them is Kanchana Somasiri, who is studying for a career in information and communications technology in Ratnapura. Kanchana lives with her mother, a farm laborer who earns a little over $3 a day at local tea plantations; her father died when she was a young child. Kanchana’s grant from CENWOR is allowing her to complete her vocational diploma at Ratnapura Technical College. She hopes to find a job in her field to reduce the burden on her mother while she continues her studies to the bachelor’s degree level.

Sajani Mandathilaka is pursuing a diploma in construction technology at the Technical College in Ratnapura. Her father, a carpenter, struggles with alcohol addiction; her mother suffers from asthma and is not able to work outside the home. Sajani intends to pursue her education to the senior management level and eventually to begin a career as a technology officer. She has used her grant monies to purchase materials for school. The assistance, she says, has given her encouragement to continue her studies in the face of financial problems and psychological distress at home.

Pramudika Dilmuni is a student in the physical sciences department at the University of Colombo. Her father is unemployed; her mother suffers from cardiac and kidney disease, as well as a recent acute injury complicated by her diabetes. Funding from the CENWOR grant is allowing Pramudika to continue her studies despite the costs of her mother’s medical treatment. “You gave me this financial assistance at a time that I most needed it,” Pramudika said. “It is this money I am now spending for my education. I use this money to buy the books I need and to print the assignments. My family members join me in expressing our gratitude.”

Additional sources

CENWOR article “Vocational Training for Low Income Young Women in Sri Lanka: Half Yearly Progress Report” (2013)

Brookings Institute publication “Why aren’t Sri Lankan women translating their educational gains into workforce advantages?” by Dileni Gunewardena (2015)

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

Being the First to Finish School  

By BGR Staff

The following article, from Suzanne Alberga, Executive Director of BGR’s long-time partner, the What If? Foundation, features an interview with Cadet Fridelène, a student in Haiti who recently graduated high school through a scholarship from Na Rive, a program that BGR has been supporting over the past few years. She also speaks about the Father Jeri School, which a grant from BGR has helped to equip and staff.      

 Na Rive scholarship student Cadet Fridelène will not be returning to school this year. And it’s for the best possible reason: she graduated in June!

cadetoneCadet is entering a world of possibility that would not be open to her without your support. She is a wonderful example of the intelligence, determination, and hope that our partner, Na Rive, see in their students every day. And as you’ll hear from Cadet, the financial support and encouragement she received over the last six years has changed the course of her life.

The Father Jeri School begins its second academic year in just a couple of weeks. With your support, we can change the lives of many more children and expand the grade levels offered at the school so students like Cadet can proudly graduate in their own community.


Congratulations, Cadet!
Hello! Thank you very much.

How long have you lived in Ti Plas Kazo?
I was born there, but had to move to Tabarre five months ago because my mom got a job there. We had to leave the house my grandmother lives in and everything I knew and was used to, which was hard.

cadet threeHow long have you been part of the Na Rive programs?
I’ve received scholarship support from Na Rive for six years, and have also attended the summer camp and field trips. I took music classes at summer school and I’ve been to museums, the library — I even took my first trip to the beach, all through Na Rive. I would be in a very different place without them.

What is your favorite subject? Why?
Philosophy. It was my last subject in school, so I made an extra effort for it so I could finish my studies.

Who is your favorite teacher? Why?
My physics professor. I just love physics.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I would like to have a job to take care of my family. I’m the eldest and my family is so poor so I want to provide for them. If I could keep studying, I would like to do business administration or accounting.

What do you think about the new Father Jeri School?
It’s amazing! I have lived in Ti Plas Kazo all my life, and there has never been anything else like this. I like everything about it: the beautiful building, the rules that teach students respect and leadership, the competent teachers. It’s excellent! I am excited for my younger friends who will be able to study there.

(On BGR’s sponsorship of the Father Jeri School, go here, and scroll down to Haiti: Education for Kids in Port-au-Prince.)

What is your proudest accomplishment?
Finishing school! I am the first to finish school in my family so it’s like a dream come true.


Students like Cadet represent the future of Haiti — they inspire us to do more, think more, give more. We wish all students a wonderful start to the school year, both in Haiti and wherever you call home. Stay tuned for more news about the Father Jeri School in the coming weeks!

With gratitude and hope,

Suzanne Alberga
Executive Director


BGR Meets World Food Program USA

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Twice over the past several months, BGR made emergency donations of $10,000 to the World Food Programme to help address the humanitarian crises in four countries—South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen—all of which are suffering from severe food shortages bordering on famine. Stephen O’Brien, the UN under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has called this “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations.” More than 20 million people across the above four countries face starvation and famine.

The World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, is the world’s largest body tackling hunger around the globe. Last year WFP assisted 76.7 million people in 81 countries with nutritional aid and related forms of assistance. They have been consistently effective in delivering aid to the four countries tottering on the brink of famine.  

World Food Program USA builds support and resources for the UN’s World Food Programme. Shortly after we submitted our donations, Zeenia Irani, Major Gifts Officer of WFP-USA, wrote to thank us and asked if we would be available for an in-person meeting in New York City. We replied positively and fixed the meeting for June 27th. On Tuesday afternoon BGR Board member Sylvie Sun and I met Erin Cochran, WFP-USA’s Vice President of Communications, and Zeenia for tea at the Roosevelt Hotel in mid-town Manhattan.

From left: Erin Cochran, Zeenia Irani, Bhikkhu Bodhi

We were deeply honored by the invitation and  touched to know that the two women came up from Washington especially for this meeting. Over tea we had a wide-ranging conversation that touched on many topics: my experiences living as a monk in Sri Lanka, the monastic practice of alms round, the origins of Buddhist Global Relief, the values that inspire and sustain us, the effectiveness of school meals for poor children, simple methods of curtailing food waste (namely, plastic silos for storing grain), and the need for the international community to collaborate in combating global hunger. I also invited them to visit Chuang Yen Monastery, where I live, on their next visit to New York.

Today I received a message from Zeenia:

It was an absolute pleasure meeting you in person yesterday. Thank you for sharing with Erin and me your commitment to making the world a better place as well as some of your values – “kindness, love, life, beauty, health and happiness.” The meeting was truly inspirational.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 5 (conclusion)

By BGR Staff

23. U.S.: Urban Farming in Detroit

Nearly 40% of Detroit residents live below the poverty line and 21% of metro Detroiters are food insecure. Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) was established to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. The aim is not only to provide residents with seeds to increase food security but to achieve “food sovereignty,” where residents are the leaders and beneficiaries of a transformed food system, able to make decisions about the health, wealth, and future of their families and community.

The grant from BGR will support KGD’s ongoing programs. These include: (1) The Garden Resource Program, which helps increase access to healthy food by providing technical and resource support to 1,500 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, including 400 new gardens in 2017. Together these gardens will produce over 180 tons of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce for predominately low-income families and engage more than 16,000 residents. (2) Twenty-two events including 16 educational workshops and 6 garden workdays reaching 440 residents. At these events a diverse pool of community leaders and instructors, many Garden Resource growers, will provide hands-on instruction on basic gardening, water conservation, and food preservation techniques to build the skills and confidence of urban farmers. Annually renewable project

24. Vietnam: Enhanced Homestead Food Production

This is the second year of a three-year partnership between BGR and Helen Keller International that addresses household food security for residents of Muong Lang Commune, in Son La Province, a remote mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. There is high malnutrition in this region, which is a contributing factor to 50% of infant and childhood deaths. The Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program trains multi-generation families to increase year-round food production with more diversified crops to improve nutrition and thereby to improve health. In all over 100 families in 10 villages will benefit from the program (approximately 550 individuals). The grant from BGR sponsors a third of the program.

In year two, an additional ten communities will benefit from the establishment of Village Model Farms (VMF)—a community based resource for training and technical support for the roughly ten families that typically make up each small village. Within each village a community husband and wife are identified and trained as the VMF demonstration farmers. These VMFs will provide agriculture resources for the community households (i.e. seeds),  educate families on nutrient rich crops, and  provide hands on training including bio-composting, crop diversification,  sanitation and hygiene, and even marketing strategies for income generation from sale of excess food production. The family model empowers women to actively contribute to the improved health of their village.
Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 4

By BGR Staff

16. India: Nutritional Support for Garden of Peace School


White Lotus Trust, an affiliate of Lotus Outreach, is a grass roots level organization in India working toward the development of a common school system, seeking to ensure the Right To Quality Education, especially in government schools. The Trust runs a holistic educational program called Garden of Peace, which provides students with the traditional primary school curriculum, English and Tamil courses, training in meditation and in philosophies of non-violence. The program supplies the students with school uniforms, books and other materials, transportation, and nutritional support twice a day. All of these services are critical to the holistic enrichment of the students’ lives and the long-term sustainability of their educational commitment. The nutritional component is at the program’s core, especially considering that the facilities are situated on an organic farm. The students and their parents are involved in farm activities, helping to grow a portion of the food served to the students. The school serves morning and midday meals to all students, which creates a further incentive for the support of the children’s continued education.

The grant from BGR will cover nutritional support for 174 students and assorted staff members for an entire academic year. This funding will facilitate Garden of Peace’s holistic educational and wellness objectives.  The grant will go toward the purchase of food items for direct nutritional support for the students. This includes rice, ragi (finger millet), gur (a sugarcane product), vegetables, cereals, oil and spices, and other items for the provision of two meals daily for the students and assorted staff members.

17. Jamaica & Haiti: Nutritious Morning Meals for Young Children

The Trees That Feed Foundation was founded in 2008 and is currently run by two Jamaican natives, Mike and Mary McLaughlin. TTFF has worked in the Caribbean for over eight years and maintains an intimate working knowledge of the people, economies, and agricultural sectors of both Jamaica and Haiti. In Latin America and the Caribbean more than seven million children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, which has a far-reaching negative impact on health and cognitive development. To address these challenges, TTFF has partnered with BGR on a school-feeding project in Haiti and Jamaica that provides children in both countries with nutritious, locally-sourced morning meals at their local schools. These meals will be produced by local small businesses. In addition to alleviating hunger, this model encourages a gradual increase in availability and accessibility of nutritious food within communities and a gradual decrease in reliance on continuous charitable food donations.

The key objectives of this project are: (1) to alleviate hunger, (2) to provide nutritious food for children in need, and (3) to build economic opportunity so communities can become self -sufficient. This project will provide approximately 36,000 meals to young schoolchildren at ten schools within Haiti and Jamaica. Each of the ten schools will be able to provide a breakfast meal to three classrooms of 30 children, about three times per week, for a full semester. This project will dovetail with other separately funded TTFF programs that help to build local markets for nutrient-rich food. Annually renewable project Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 3

By BGR Staff

10. Haiti: A School Feeding Program for Students in Jacmel

BGR’s partner in this project, the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC), is a US-based organization (founded 1999) whose mission is “to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries and dynamic thinkers who are empowered to better their lives and their world through the arts and education in Jacmel, Haiti.” The partnership with BGR will provide the students at ACFFC with at least one nutritious, filling meal per day on each of the six days of the week they attend school. Many children in Haiti will not attend daily education programs if meals are not a component of the program. For many of the students enrolled at ACFFC, the meals they receive there are their only opportunity to eat. Without the feeding program many of the children would spend their days either looking for food or working rather than attending school or being part of an art program. The feeding program is implemented by the staff of three kitchen personnel who prepare a minimum of 360 meals per week. BGR’s grant covers about a third of the total budget for the program. Annually renewable program

11. Haiti: Improved Production and Diversification of Crops in the Artibonite Valley

This project, with our partner Oxfam America, supports improved rice production and backyard vegetable gardening in the Artibonite Valley in Haiti. Agricultural activity is one of the main sources of income for this population, focused on rice produced in the Artibonite Valley. Attempts to increase the production of rice face structural constraints. In spite of this, Oxfam has worked for approximately five years to help smallholder producers to develop the potential for rice cultivation and maintain the livelihoods of poor families. Previous projects have encouraged the adoption of innovative farming practices such as the Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI) techniques, irrigation, post-harvest improvements, and improving production practices in vegetable gardening.

The proposed project will leverage the grant from Buddhist Global Relief to expand upon existing activities in the small rural community of Délogner, in the third communal section of Petite-Rivière. This vulnerable population (pop. 5,139, 90% poverty rate, 50% food insecure) experienced a flood in January 2017, which nearly annihilated agricultural production, their primary means of subsistence. By reinforcing ongoing efforts in response to this recent shock, the project will directly reach 224 beneficiaries through a suite of activities including SRI training, establishment of an agricultural credit fund, rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures (5 km of canals), agricultural diversification with backyard vegetable gardening, provision of specialized SRI equipment and plastic sheeting for drying of harvested rice, establishment of collective local nurseries, and local partner capacity building. Continue reading