Defending the Forests in Cambodia

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Cambodian Monks and Trees

Photograph: Chantal Elkin (Flickr) for Alliance of Religions and Conservation

Forests are the lungs of the world. Their trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen, thereby controlling carbon emissions and helping to maintain a viable planet. They serve as homes to countless varieties of animals, birds, insects, and plants, many with rare medicinal properties. In tropical countries the forests provide a blanket of coolness that protects against the heat of the day. And for centuries the forests have given shelter to Buddhist monks, who resort to them to pursue their quest for peace of mind, wisdom, and the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, nibbāna.

Yet all around the world the forests are in danger. With the growth of global population and the need to expand agricultural production, the world’s forest cover has shrunk drastically. In almost every continent, trees are being cut down at alarming rates by loggers, land developers, and large agricultural firms in order to make room for mono-culture plantations and industrial-scale farms.

Deforestation has been occurring especially rapidly in Cambodia. According to the human rights organization Licadho, between 2000 and 2013 14.4 percent of Cambodia’s jungle disappeared. Over 12 percent of the trees were cut in protected areas. The loss of forest cover portends danger for people, animals, and the climate. As in so many poor countries, profit takes precedence even over survival, as people pursuing short-term aims recklessly undermine the prerequisites for our long-term future.

But the forests have a determined corps of guardians who have risen to their defense: Buddhist monks. The German news agency DW recently posted an article about an organization of Cambodian monks—the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice—that is battling to save the country’s forests. The organization’s leader, Venerable But Buntenh, explained: “No one has told me that I should go out there to protect the forest, but for me it was a logical thing to do. I am doing all I can to save it. I plant new trees, I help the people who live from the forest, I am reminding the government of the promises they’ve made.” A younger monk named Horn Sophanny, who was inspired by Buntenh to join the movement, states: “It is our job to lead society to a better place. We are the symbol of compassion. The pagodas are the roots of our knowledge.”

The monks hold workshops at which they teach local people how to use social media to protect themselves and the jungles near their homes. They receive staunch support from the villagers who live near the forests but have faced strong opposition from the authorities. They have been spied on, threatened, and sued; their workshops are interrupted by village chieftains; their temples have been raided by the police. Even the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist order has criticized them, saying that monks shouldn’t be involved in protests.

But the monks remain undeterred in their determination to protect the forests. Buntenh says: “I don’t think I’m a good monk, because I am mean to the police and to the military. But I’m ready to give everything for my people and the forest. If I have to give my life for it today or tomorrow, then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

Marching on Behalf of the Planet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo credit: jomilo75 via Flickr / Creative Commons

Walking in unison can be a powerful means of social and political transformation. Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 challenged British authority in India and began the long process of civil disobedience that culminated in India’s independence. African Americans in the 1960s won their civil rights by undertaking long walks and marches through the South and in the nation’s capital. Millions of people in the 1960s marched against the Vietnam War, and again in 2003 to protest U.S. plans to attack Iraq. Just two years ago, almost half a million people converged on New York City to join the Peoples’ Climate March, showing that climate consciousness was no longer the concern of a minority. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution, to take place in Philadelphia on July 24th, continues this practice of using our legs to express the ideals that stir in our hearts.

As a Buddhist, I see our commitment to march as an expression of the two cardinal virtues of Buddhism: wisdom and compassion. It is, firstly, an expression of compassion. Compassion means being moved by the suffering of others, and if our approach to stemming climate change continues at the present gradualist pace, millions of people around the world will be forced to face catastrophic suffering, suffering on a scale we can scarcely imagine. We’ve already started to see the impact of the slow heating of the planet, and what we’ve seen should stir in us a sense of urgency. We’ve seen people overwhelmed by unprecedented heat waves, torrential floods, uncontainable wild fires, and long droughts. Millions have lost their homes, faced crop failures, exorbitant food prices, vanishing water supplies, and rising sea levels. Millions of climate refugees migrate in search of more temperate lands. Several island-nations will soon be swallowed up by the sea.

Unlike other natural catastrophes—an earthquake, a hurricane, a volcano eruption—climate change affects everyone. We are all immersed in the same web of life; we all live within the fold of the same terrestrial climate. The devastation threatened by climate change will reach us all; there is no escape. The impact extends far beyond the human sphere, as we move into what has been called “the sixth great extinction,” whereby 25–30 percent of all species of animals and plants may be forever lost.

The March for a Clean Energy Revolution is, for me, an expression of compassion, but it is also an expression of wisdom. The function of wisdom, according to Buddhism, is to pierce through the darkness of delusion that conceals the true nature of things. In the case of climate change, it’s all too easy to wallow in the darkness of delusion because the most treacherous changes in the climate do not occur suddenly and dramatically but slowly and gradually, beneath the threshold of perception. Thus, until and unless disaster strikes us personally—or those dear to us—we can become complacent, thinking, “It won’t happen to me.”

BGR at Peoples Climate March, September 22, 2014

We have been engulfed in this delusion, not only because of our own complacency, but because we have been deceived. We’ve been deceived by the titans of the energy corporations and their compliant political agents. They have long known the truth about the dangers posed by escalating carbon emissions, but because they profit from our ignorance, they have endeavored to hide the facts from us beneath a barrage of lies, doubt, and denial.

When the light of discernment dawns, we clearly see that climate change is real and understand that it is not occurring through purely natural causes—because of solar activity or periodic fluctuations in the temperature—but because of human choices. It occurs because we have treated the earth as a mere source of resources, turning its atmosphere into a death trap and its landscapes into mountains of waste. It occurs because we have relied on fossil fuels to power our gargantuan economy, an economy built on the premise that the good life is to be achieved through the endless, ever-expanding production and consumption of commodities.

True wisdom points us in a new direction. It shows us that happiness is to be found, not in an infinite variety of ever-novel consumer goods, not in extracting the resources of the earth and exploiting others for our own profit, but in a life of simplicity and contentment, of sharing and caring for each other—in human solidarity and harmony with nature. Wisdom also shows us that the means for powering a new, sustainable economy are already at our disposal. They lie waiting for us to tap them, in the wind and sun, in the movement of the tides, in the natural heat of the earth.

In one of his discourses, the Buddha compares the heedful disciple, who learns his message and puts it into practice, to a horse that begins to run as soon as it sees the shadow of the goad. The heedless disciple, lazy and negligent, is like the horse that moves only when it is struck by the goad. We have been bad disciples. For decades we’ve been warned by the best climate scientists about the risks we are taking; we’ve already felt the first blows of a changing climate, yet we’ve delayed taking action, finding it more convenient to deny the facts or settle for tepid half-measures, including those adopted in the Paris Agreement forged last December.

“We must act with an unprecedented sense of urgency”

When the U.S. entered World War II, if we had sent just a few thousand troops to fight against Japan and Nazi Germany, the Allies would likely have lost the war and tyranny would have prevailed. We won because we fully mobilized for the war, and we gave it all we could. Similarly, if we settle for compromises and half-measures in addressing climate change, we will see carbon levels rise to 450, 500, and even 600 ppm, and we’ll experience a rise in global temperature of at least 4 degrees Celsius—which means utter catastrophe. To avert the worst consequences, we need a complete climate mobilization comparable to our commitment to fighting World War II. We can’t despair, thinking the challenge is too great, the levers of control too remote from our hands. We need the conviction that by uniting, “We can do it.”

While time is running out, we still have a slim chance to prevail, to avoid the complete demise of human civilization. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution is a way of saying: “Let’s not settle for minor reforms but go all the way.” We must act with an unprecedented sense of urgency if we are to save everything that we hold dear, to preserve human life on this planet along with the earth’s rich multiplicity of other life forms.

Note: Links to sources of further information were added by the editor of the website of the blog.

The “We Can Do It” poster was made by J. Howard Miller, an artist employed by Westinghouse. The poster was used by the War Production Coordinating Committee during WW II. The image is from the scan of a copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society. Public domain from Wikipedia.

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality.

Another controversial use of aid funds that donor countries can now make is for security reasons – fighting ‘violent extremism’ or training the military, for example. These objectives have little or nothing to do with “promoting the economic development and welfare of developing countries”, as purported by the official definition of aid. Not that donors shouldn’t fight violent extremism or other security threats. The point is that aid already represents such a tiny percentage of donor countries’ Gross National Income (0.30 percent on average) that these governments should really be looking for other sources of funding to pay for their non-aid interventions.

To me, however, the most troubling trend from analyzing figures from the last few years is how little aid is given where it is needed the most, to the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’ or LDCs. These 48 nations, gathering almost a billion people across Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, all have in common the lowest levels of socio-economic development on earth. Yet, despite their dire condition, aid to LDCs represents just a minor part of the overall total and has actually declineduntil 2015, when it rose by only 4 percent. How is it possible when for some of these countries, like Malawi, aid represents as much as 40 percent of their national budgets?

As part of my personal mission to listen to people living in the least developed countries, I have been trying to find more information about how these challenges play out from sources in those affected countries. Easier said than done. Apart from declarations of good intentions prepared for conferences every so often – the last one, a mid-term review, dating a few weeks ago – it is pretty silent out there.

There is no concrete plan to systematically increase aid to LDCs, just generic calls for at least 0.15 percent of aid to go to these countries and an invitation to include them into global decision-making. If you want to get a better sense of what LDC governments actually think about the situation, you have to go through their individual reports. Afghanistan, for example, has given up on the possibility to graduate from LDC status by 2020, as originally planned, choosing the more realistic target of 2030. So does Zambia, despite the fact that it was promoted to lower middle-income country in 2011. Other countries, like Guinea Bissau, do not explicitly rule out the possibility but note how aid is still largely fragmented, unpredictable and uncoordinated.

On the civil society front, there seems to be a bit more information and discussion about the challenges of declining aid numbers.  Last February, representatives from about a dozen African civil society organisations signed a statement to denounce the declining aid levels to sub-Saharan Africa, where 43 countries still rely on aid more than on any other external financial flow to provide their populations with essential services, like health care. The statement also defended the positive impact that aid can make when allocated properly. Yet, to find a Southern voice speaking specifically about aid to LDCs we need to go back at least five years, when LDC Watch, a civil society network based in Nepal, reported major disparities in the way aid to LDCs had been distributed in previous years – more than half of it had gone to just eightcountries. In another recent statement LDC Watch calls the plan of having half the number of LDCs graduate from their status by 2020 just “a distant dream”.

Despite record-high aid figures, it is not only a question of ‘how much’ but also of how aid is allocated.  Figures may well be on the rise, but if the funds do not target the populations most in need, then numbers risk becoming irrelevant.

 Farida Bena is an aid effectiveness expert with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness. This article has been taken from It has been adapted from the original version “When more aid is less” published on Kiliza – Listening to Southern Citizens.

Seeing Haiti with My Own Eyes

David Braughton

DB_Meals on Steps

The children started filling the large cafeteria 90 minutes before lunch. They came, two, four, nine at a time and squeezed quietly 10 to 12 onto row after row of wooden benches. By the time the food was ready, over 600 kids, and the occasional mother cradling an infant, packed the room. Late arrivals were directed outside to large concrete steps where they sat unshaded beneath the afternoon sun or stood in line hoping that there would be enough food to go around.

Before the meal, adults led the kids in songs and repeated in unison, “Piti piti na rive!” The old Creole saying is a testament of hope and means “Little by little, we will arrive!” Then the other volunteers and I were instructed to form four long lines stretching from where the plates were prepared down the aisles and, like a fire brigade, started passing steaming plates of red beans and rice and a small chicken drumstick to each other and then along to the waiting youngsters.

For many of the children this would be their first and only meal of the day—even though it was 2:30 p.m.  I was struck by how kind they were. No one grabbed for a plate and all willingly passed the food on to the child sitting next to them before taking a plate for themselves. Most, even those four or five years old, had an even younger child with them, who they made sure was taken care of before helping themselves.

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One lanky boy dressed in blue jeans and a faded t-shirt, upon seeing my name tag, beamed and called out to me, “Mwen rele David!” (My name is David too!) I joked with him and his friends, then spied a toddler staring up at me with large round eyes. I made faces and talked in a funny voice to see if I could make her smile. But she shyly drew back instead, watching my every move.

I was in Haiti to observe the work of our Buddhist Global Relief partner, the What If Foundation and its Haitian counterpart, Na Rive.  The last time I had been in the country was 1988 after the fall of Baby Doc, Jean-Claude Duvalier. I had spent nearly two weeks traveling the country, visiting orphanages and witnessing first-hand the human toll of colonialism, dictatorship, and oppression. I had hoped that I might see progress since my time there nearly 30 years ago, but I did not. As a result of continued political unrest, lack of natural resources, absence of basic infrastructure, social, political, and economic inequality, a devastating earthquake in 2010, and calloused disregard by the U.S. and other developed countries, Haiti is worse off today than ever before.

DB-POP Today

Port-au-Prince Today

Poverty, for the average Haitian, is their life. The gross per capita income is $1710. But with 26% of the wealth held by the richest 2% of the population, 77% of Haitians survive on less than $2 a day and 54% on less than $1 a day, with children suffering the most.

According to the World Bank 73% of Haitian children 6–24 months are anemic; 30% under the age of five are stunted, 19% are underweight, and 10% are wasted; 25% of infants are born with a low birth weight; and 68% of children aged 6–24 months are not fed according to recommended infant and young child feeding practices. While nearly 88% of Haitian children attend some form of elementary school, few than 20% will enroll in a secondary school and only about 2% will receive any post-secondary education.  Given that the average time spent in school is 4.9 years, it comes as no surprise that Haiti has the highest illiteracy rate in the Western Hemisphere with fewer than 62% of Haitians able to read or write as compared to 87% in Jamaica or Cuba and 99% in the Dominican Republic.

WIF School children dsc_0258

The Lamanjay feeding program and Father Jeri School, which I visited, are located in the Ti Plaz Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, a jungle of flimsy tin shacks built back to back and covered with blue USAID tarps, reminders of the 2010 earthquake. The community is a 30-minute drive from the airport along crowded, litter-strewn streets, brightly painted buildings, and hundreds of sidewalk stands, where residents eke out a living buying and selling their meager wares.


The Lamanjay Food Program feeds over 1000 children, five days a week and Father Jeri School will house upwards to 400 children by running two shifts a day. Both were the dream of the late Father Gerard Jean-Juste, an outspoken advocate for Haitian refugees abroad and the poor of his country. The food program was established in 2000 through the efforts of Margaret Trost, founder of the What If Foundation. But it has taken over 16 years for Margaret and her foundation, with the help of Buddhist Global Relief and other donors, to finish the school.

DB_New School

The New School

Returning to Haiti was a disheartening reminder that poverty is a plague born out of fear, ignorance, and greed. It infects everyone it touches, including those who perpetuate it. Built on slavery and human exploitation, Haiti was once the richest and most productive colony of the French empire. With the slave revolt of 1891, Haiti became the Caribbean’s first independent nation, but was forced to pay what would in today’s dollars amount to billions in reparations to France. For its first 60 years, the U.S. refused to recognize Haiti out of fear that the Haitian revolt might spread to the slaves at home and European nations refused to trade with it. In the early 20th century, thep U.S. invaded Haiti, trained its military. and then left, opening the door for Duvalier and decades more of exploitation and oppression. International aid has often lined the pockets of the ruling elite and done little to benefit Haitian citizens. And when a democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was elected in 1990, the U.S. conspired to have him overthrown.

DB_Hearts and Hands

With heart and helping hands, we can accomplish anything.

There are no simple solutions to Haiti’s myriad of challenges. But compassion isn’t interested in simple solutions. Compassion demands that we take action and do what good we can, no matter how overwhelming the circumstances. When we started BGR several years back, we were inspired by the dream of engaging people from around the globe to help in easing the suffering of children, women, and men who seldom have enough to eat. We know that hunger is a scourge on humankind, not because we don’t have the resources to ensure that everyone gets enough to eat, but because we lack the political will to end this plague. The involvement of Buddhist Global Relief in feeding and educating young children is an affirmation that you and I can make a difference and that our dream can become a reality.

DB_Kids at Table-1

After the food ran out, I watched the throngs of children exit through a small opening in the steel gate that sequestered the Father Jeri School from the surrounding neighborhood.  Some were running and jumping or playing games and laughing as all children do, and I wondered where they were going and what the future held for them. Would this small island of good in the midst of such dire poverty really make a difference?

DB-Hope for Future

A beacon of hope for the future

My thoughts were interrupted by the tentative touch of a small hand encircling my little finger. When I looked down, I saw the little girl I had tried to make smile earlier staring up at me with those two stunning eyes. I picked her up and she gave me a hug and smiled. Then she wiggled out of my arms, took her sister’s hand, and walked away. As she did, she stopped and turned and waved as if to reassure me that the good we do, no matter how insignificant it might seem, when born out of compassion, does make a difference and always will. Piti piti, na rive!

David Braughton is the vice-chairperson of Buddhist Global Relief.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

21. Peru: Vocational Education Training for Poor Women

Founded in 1989, the Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) is devoted to providing vocational education to women and mothers employed in domestic work while teaching them about their human and labor rights. The Association runs an employment agency, La Casa de Panchita, to help women find jobs with adequate pay and respect for their skills.

This BGR partnership–along with the Nicaragua project our first in Latin America–will benefit women who have been employed in domestic work from childhood. The women find themselves struggling to provide proper nutrition, shelter, and other amenities to their families due to a paucity of employment options.These women are trapped in poverty, and as a result their daughters too will be trapped, thus perpetuating the cycle.

To break the poverty trap into which many girls are born, AGTR empowers women and mothers through vocational educational training. Through a grant from BGR, AGTR will provide training to 100 marginalized women who wish to undertake domestic work, while also giving access to employment through their employment agency. Utilizing an adequate salary, these women and their families will escape the misery of hunger, while their daughters escape the need to work and can remain in school. The women will be taught about their human and labor rights and will be given access to AGTR’s in-house employment agency, which upholds the standards of the organization.

Woman and Boys

No more kids under 14 working

The Vocational Educational Training (VET) workshops are divided into three 3- hour sessions. The women will learn about their labor rights as domestic workers, become better prepared to negotiate a just salary, and learn about the social benefits such as healthcare available to all individuals who are employed full time. After students complete the training, they are equipped to begin their search for just and decent employment.

22. South Darfur, Sudan: Helping Farmers Affected by Conflict and Drought     NEW PROJECT

South Darfur_Picture3

This project with long-time BGR partner Oxfam America will be launched in the Belail locality of South Darfur, in Sudan. On account of conflict and drought, the population of this region has experienced continued displacement, food shortages, poor living conditions, shrinking household income, and lack of employment opportunities. The current food shortage associated with the drought (El Nino) is preventing the local population from producing sufficient household crops to meet consumption and income needs. As a result of depleted assets, households spend most of their income on basic needs and poor families are unable to cope with the stresses and shocks. Women and girls suffer most of all from the impact of conflict and food shortages.

The project aims to address the problem of food insecurity by increasing crop production through improved access to agricultural inputs and training. The objectives of the project are; (1) to increase production of food crops by 20% per household; and (2) to increase farmers’ knowledge of improved agricultural techniques.

Training on improved agricultural techniques will be conducted for 150 farmers. Each trained farmer will in turn train 3–4 additional farmers. The training will focus on improved agricultural techniques and practices as well as practical training in seed spacing, cultivation, mulching, intercropping, and weeding. It is expected that 510 households (3,000 individuals) will benefit from the project.

23. Vietnam: Meals for Hospital Patients

Vietnam_Hospital Scene

In Vietnam, the price of a hospital stay does not include food.  Already challenged by the hospital expenses, most families have difficulty providing food to their hospitalized relatives. The Vietnam Red Cross Society, founded in 1946 and a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross since 1957, aims to improve the lives of those affected by poverty. The Tam Binh and Cam Duong Red Cross offer humanitarian assistance in remote villages in the Mekong Delta region.

In partnership with the Tam Binh chapter of the Vietnam Red Cross, BGR has been providing thousands of free meals to patients at the Tam Binh hospital since 2009.  This year another grant from BGR will enable the organization, in collaboration with the local government, to feed poor patients in need. A team of volunteers manages a budget of $585 and serves 3500 vegetarian meals per week; the team switches each week. The BGR grant will fund approximately a third of the program for the year. Annually renewable project.

24. Vietnam: Scholarships for Poor Children

Vietnam-School Kids

Since 2009, BGR has been sponsoring scholarships to students in elementary and middle schools in both the Cam Duong and the Tam Binh areas of Vietnam. The scholarships are given through the Red Cross of Vietnam to children from the poorest families who achieve good grades and display good conduct. Without this aid, these students would not have the means to continue studies at the primary and middle school levels. BGR’s support of this project since 2009 has enabled thousands of children to attend school.

Funds from BGR provide enrollment fees, uniforms, books, and school supplies. The BGR grant will cover 50 primary school students, 120 middle school students, and 135 high school students for the 2016-2017 school year. Annually renewable project.

25. Vietnam: System of Rice Intensification

Vietnam_Rice Field Scene

This annually renewable project is conducted in partnership with the International Cooperation Center of Thai Nguyen University. The project aims to  expand the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) on a large scale among village farmers in Phu Binh in Thai Nguyen province. The project supports farmers in applying SRI on large-scale fields to help them increase rice productivity and create products with the same quality, which increases the value of the products, thereby increasing the income of rice growers. The project activities also help people strengthen the connection in production and promote natural resources management to minimize the harmful effects on the environment.

Workshops will be organized to demonstrate SRI and allow farmers to practice techniques in the field; farmer groups will be trained in marketing thau dau sticky rice, a local delicacy. ICC will continue to organize the Thau Dau Rice Festival in Xuan Phuong to increase awareness and sales of the sticky rice. About 230 people are the beneficiaries of the project–farmers from nine villages of 3 communes in Phu Binh district and 3 local agriculture extension staff. Annually renewable project.

26. New York: Nutrition and Vegetarian Cooking for Homeless Youth

For the past 10 years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13–26 in their transformation from impoverished persons living in a shelter to educated, employed youngsters playing a leadership role in society. Having worked with nearly 2,000 homeless youth since its inception, Reciprocity Foundation has won numerous awards for its groundbreaking use of contemplative approaches to addressing youth poverty. This year Reciprocity will be putting a renewed focus on upstate retreats and a smaller cohort of homeless youth in New York who will receive more individualized attention, meals, and nutrition education.

In 2016–17 Reciprocity will start a home cooking program, helping youth to learn how to shop, stock their kitchen cupboards, and prepare simple, fresh vegetarian meals in their shelter or residence where they usually have limited cooking facilities.  This will require more time spent per youth but is expected to create more sustainable results for each dollar of funding.  They plan to offer this program to 20-25 youth in New York City.

With BGR support, Reciprocity will expand its Urban Food Project, taking youth upstate to spend time working on small organic farms where they will learn the basics of planting, harvesting, and cooking fresh organic meals. They anticipate bringing 30-40 New York City-based youth upstate for training and to offer them placements in culinary jobs. Once they establish new headquarters, they also plan to to offer their Healthy Meals program to homeless youth on a weekly basis. Annually renewable project.

27. Detroit: Community and Home Gardens in an Urban Desert

KGD_Boc Choi-1

Keep Growing Detroit (registered 2014) operates in one of the most neglected cities in the U.S., where 20% of the residents are food insecure and the city’s jobless rate is 13%. Residents have limited access to grocery stores due to an unreliable mass transit system; many buy their food at gas stations or convenience stores with bulletproof windows in monitored transactions.

The mission of Keep Growing Detroit is to promote food sovereign so that the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within city limits. The long-term strategy is to foster healthy relationships with food by increasing knowledge of food and farming, nurturing leadership skills, cultivating community connections and capacity, changing the value of food, and developing food assets.

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Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi visited the KGD urban farm in Detroit this past September.

The goal of this year’s project is to enable urban farmers to increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables and to facilitate educational and community events that promote healthy relationships of people to good nutritious food. The first objective is to support more than 1500 family, community, school and market gardens that will produce 180 tons of produce for predominately low-income families. The second objective is to facilitate 20 educational workshops and community events that will engage approximately 400 residents. Annually renewable project.


Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 5 (of 6)

BGR Staff

17. Kenya: Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition     NEW PROJECT


In Kenya, undernutrition is a major problem among children. According to a 2014 survey, the rate of stunting among children in Kenya is 26%, wasting 4% and underweight 11%. Undernutrition is also a major contributing factor to the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates. Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-time BGR partner, is working together with the Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services for mothers, newborns, and children (MNCH) in five counties in Western Kenya.

Among these, Kakamega County, which is densely populated with more than 1.6 million people and a poverty rate of over 50%, requires additional support in improving health and nutrition outcomes for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children. A grant from BGR, the first in a three-year program, will enable HKI to provide critically needed technical support, improve access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children, and strengthen accountability.

During the first year, HKI will increase demand for health services in Kakamega County and improve service delivery by the Ministry of Health. HKI will identify and promote locally appropriate mother, infant and young child feeding practices (e.g., the promotion of nutritionally dense locally available complementary foods) and improve the access and uptake of nutrition supplements provided by the Ministry of Health. The project will also strengthen Health Information Systems (HIS) through improved data collection and analysis of data in order to inform local and national decision-making.

This project has been made possible through a generous grant to BGR from the Chao Foundation. Year one of a three-year project.

18. Kenya & Malawi: Improving Food Security & Nutrition


Our partner, Ecology Action of the Midpeninsula, founded in 1971 and based in California, disseminates the GROW BIOINTENSIVE system of agriculture worldwide through publications, classes, workshops, internships, apprenticeships, and outreach programs. GROW BIOINTENSIVE improves agricultural productivity and soil building methods, using less land area and water in degraded areas. Using this methodology, Ecology Action has helped start sustainable agriculture projects in Mexico, Russia, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Africa, providing solutions to the challenges confronting small farmers.


With BGR support, a couple in Kenya, Samuel and Peris Nderitu, who have 13 years experience training farmers at the Grow Biointensive training center in Kenya, will train hundreds of farmers from African countries in the system. In Malawi, now in the grip of a severe drought, Ephraim and Charity Chirwa, trained at the Grow Biointensive center in Kenya, will work to train other farmers in the village of Mbowe. Many of the trainees are widows and their families include young children. The projects are expected to improve the health and life-expectancy of malnourished children, increase diversity and quantity of household food, and facilitate knowledge of health and care-giving – increasingly important as drought ravages crops in southern Africa. Annually renewable project.

19. Nicaragua: Sponsoring the Education of Poor Girls

Two Girls Laughing

BGR’s partner in this project, the North Country Mission of Hope, is a spiritually-based humanitarian organization committed to fostering hope and empowering relationships with the people of Nicaragua. The organization began in 1998 as a direct ministerial response to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Mitch on the impoverished villages of Chiquilistagua and Monte Verde in Nicaragua. The first mission team immediately recognized that direct, long-term assistance was vital in order to improve the lives of the people. Working hand-in-hand with local community leaders, the Mission’s primary objective is to empower the people to help themselves.

In Nicaragua families with limited financial resources choose to send their sons to school rather than their daughters. This leaves another generation of young females uneducated and at increased risk of rape and childhood pregnancy. Mission of Hope aims to break the cycle of poverty by sponsoring the education of as many girls as financially possible. In partnership with Mission of Hope, BGR will sponsor the education of 94 girls ranging in age from prekindergarten to university level. The girls are currently on the waiting list.


With BGR sponsorship, each student will receive coverage of tuition and/or registration fees; the schoolbooks appropriate for their grade level; an insignia, which every student must have sewn on their school shirt; and the government-mandated school uniform, along with black shoes and white socks. Additionally, each student will receive bi-annual parasite medicine treatment and a free physical at the medical clinic located on the Mission of Hope compound in Chiquilistagua. Females on the waiting list will be sponsored on a first in – first out basis, with no preferential treatment to any particular person(s).

This partnership with North Country Mission of Hope is BGR’s first in Latin America.

20. Sri Lanka: Education in Technology for Girls from Low Income Families      NEW PROJECT

Girls at computers

Founded in 1984 the vision of CENWOR—the Centre for Women’s Research—is gender equality and the empowerment of women in Sri Lanka. Its mission is to promote research, training, lobbying, advocacy and monitoring gender-related issues facing women and girls in Sri Lanka.

This project is intended to provide financial support to female students seeking to enroll or continue in middle level technical education courses to facilitate their access to higher technical education, upward career mobility, and sustainable employment. The project will provide financial support to: (1) twenty women in low-income families with the appropriate qualifications who are seeking entry to—or are enrolled in—the Diploma in Technical Education (level 5) and Advanced Diploma in Technical Education (level 6) programs of the state Colleges of Technology in each province; and (2) twenty women in low-income families enrolled in the second year of the Bachelor of Information Technology program conducted by the University School of Computing (UCSC) of the University of Colombo. The program will also conduct complementary gender sensitization sessions to motivate the women to challenge negative gendered norms that limit their opportunities for upward career mobility.

To be continued

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 4 (of 6)

BGR Staff

13. India: A Girl’s Hostel & Women’s Community Center in Nagpur

bcttanov2014 039

The Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. With funding from BGR, Bodhicitta has established a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 16–22, who are being trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The hostel helps them escape poverty, trafficking, and the sex industry. The girls, chosen because of their dedication to their studies, come from the poorest regions in India: 10 from Bihar, 10 from rural Maharashtra, and 10 from urban Nagpur slums.

The girls are now in their third year of training, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls. In this way, the thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future. Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The other portion of the BGR grant to Bodhicitta supports a women’s job training and community center, where women receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year three of a three-year project.

14. India: Helping Widows Rebuild Their Lives      NEW PARTNER

Mass of Women

Our new partner, Building Bridges India, is registered in India as a non-profit organization. Founded in 2006, the basic of mission of BBI is “to help widows and families in ten villages in Sangrur District, Punjab, to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of suicides of male family members.” They have expanded to other districts as well.

Widows Sewing

BGR will be partnering with Building Bridges on two projects. One will provide skills training in tailoring and running a business to 250 widows in Sangrur. Upon the suicide of their husbands these women have been left with many dependents, no skills, and heavy debts. Moderate to severe anemia and malnutrition are common among them. BGR funding will allow BBI to expand and upgrade the design of phulkari embroidery products to include mats, napkins, and other household items. It will improve women’s sewing skills and provide them with better sewing machines and appropriate sewing patterns. A design consultant will be hired to upgrade the design of products and workshops will be offered in five centers to train women in basic marketing, budgeting, and other entrepreneurial skills. BBI will also develop a marketing strategy for the program as a whole in order to scale up the project over time.

Women with Veggies

The second project will provide training in organic farming to 250 widows in Sangrur. BBI has already set up “kitchen gardens” in five centers to provide fresh, nutritious vegetables and small farm training to the women and their families, improving their nutrition and self-confidence. BGR’s grant will be used to set up five more gardens and provide training for the women. The program will unfold in three phases: Phase One will offer the women ten workshops for training in organic farming techniques; Phase Two will provide four workshops on health, nutrition, and sanitation; and Phase Three will provide additional training for selected participants, surveys to evaluate the effectiveness of the training, and study of the program’s effectiveness in improving nutrition.

15. India: Prosperity through Resilient Livelihood    NEW PROJECT

Woman Farmer

This agriculture project, with partner Oxfam India, aims at improving the livelihood of small and marginal farmers, especially women farmers, through enhanced resilience of agriculture in Uttar Pradesh. Over 70% population in the state depends on agriculture for their livelihood. However, frequent drought, flooding, and localized climatic variation have put the agricultural production system under tremendous stress. This has resulted in poor and unsustainable productivity leading to chronic poverty for farming families, especially those having small land holdings.

The project intends to build the capacity of farmers in sustainable and climate resilient cropping practices, set up a pilot to initiate a federation for self-sustainable agriculture, develop work in the project area, and link the community with government schemes for convergence of resources at the village level. The goal of the project is to contribute to increased resilience and improved income among smallholders, specifically women farmers. At least 1,500 women farmers will be taught integrated climate resilient agriculture practices. The farmers will be linked to government schemes, and household income of the 1,500 women farmers is expected to increase by 30%.

The project will be implemented in 20 villages of five gram-panchayat in Mitauli block of Lakhimpur Kheri, covering about 3,000 households. Assistance will be provided by partner organization Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

16. Jamaica & Haiti: Breakfasts for Hungry School Children

The Trees That Feed Foundation is a U.S.-registered non-profit based in Chicago. Its mission is to plant trees to feed people, create jobs, and benefit the environment, with a focus on planting trees in school gardens in low-income countries with food shortages. They presently have projects in Jamaica and Haiti and are branching out to include projects in Africa.

In Haiti and Jamaica, government support of childhood education is severely constrained by weak budgets. Teacher salaries are modest and school facilities are often in poor condition. School meal programs are limited, and for some schools non-existent. Hungry schoolchildren are unable to realize the benefits of education.

Girl eating cereal

The grant from BGR will enable TTFF to provide over 30,000 meals, plus corollary benefits to the teachers and producers. This program will benefit approximately ten schools in Haiti and Jamaica (five in each country) with three breakfast meals per week, for three classrooms of 30 children each, for one full semester. These are locally produced, healthy and nutritious meals, not imported foods, and thus the project benefits local industry. The porridge mix includes equal parts of breadfruit flour and cornmeal flour, plus coconut and other seasonings. The porridge mix is packaged in one- or two-pound bags. The schoolteacher or staff person mixes one pound of flour with eight cups of boiling water to produce enough porridge to serve a classroom of 15 children. The project will commence in both countries with the fall semester, which begins in September.