Hot Meals and Mentoring for Poor Kids in Mongolia

By BGR Staff

One-third of Mongolia’s population experiences extreme poverty and is unable to afford basic food and shelter. The Tibetan monk, Ven. Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche, was determined to do something about this.

Born in Eastern Tibet in 1939 to nomadic parents, Ven. Rinpoche received full monastic ordination in 1961 under His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He completed his formal studies in India and was awarded the highest degree of Geshe Lharampa, equivalent to a Doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. In 1995, the Dalai Lama asked Rinpoche to go to Mongolia to teach Buddhism to the Mongolian people. After his arrival in Mongolia, he set about finding ways to overcome the high levels of poverty he encountered there. He established Asral NGO in 2001 with the objective of keeping families together and preventing children from going onto the streets. Asral is the Mongolian word for “care.”

As part of Asral’s mission, Ven. Rinpoche established the Hot Meal Project in partnership with local government and community leaders. Since 2003, the project has provided essential nutrition to approximately thirty-two children annually ranging in age from six to seventeen, offering access to education they would otherwise have to forgo. In addition to the lunches, Asral further supports the children with mentoring, educational supplies, and vitamins.

Last year, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) entered upon a partnership with the Washington State-based organization Maitreya Charity, which has worked closely with Ven. Rinpoche to support Asral. In 2018, with the hot meals program underfunded and in jeopardy of ending, BGR awarded a grant to Maitreya Charity to enable Asral to purchase groceries and educational materials, to fund an allowance for teachers, and to provide partial funding of a cook’s position to ensure the continuation of the project for the 2018-2019 school year.

Thirty-two  children were enrolled in the Hot Meal Project at the beginning of the school year, in September, 2018. Two children moved away and four were added, totaling 34 children as of January 2019. Of the 34, 19 are girls and 15 are boys. In the first six months of the grant year, these children have received a daily hot lunch that is eaten in small groups, mentoring before or after school, educational supplies, and advocacy by committed staff, enabling access to education that would otherwise not have been available to them.  A typical lunch is hearty and nutritious and may consist of soup with buckwheat, a main meal of meat, vegetables and potatoes or rice, and fruit juice. For many of the children this meal is often the only substantial meal of the day. 

The program also distributes clothing and vitamins regularly, teaches the children basic hygiene, and offers games and activities for socialization. For mentoring, one teacher specializes in math, a subject that is difficult to master by Mongolian children; the other teacher specializes in the English language. The staff works hard to purchase groceries in the most cost-effective manner possible. This past year, individuals donated $156 worth of groceries to supplement the budget.

Many challenges beset the project. One identified challenge is the maintenance of hygiene standards to prevent the spread of diseases, including sickness from H. Pylori bacteria, common among Mongolians. As a result, a portion of the funds budgeted for the cook’s salary is being used to pay for a newly created cleaner position. The 8.2% annual inflation rate and the rise in cost of food prices by 9% make it difficult to stay within the budget. Also, Mongolian law dictates the minimum wage rate, which rose in January 2019.

Further, the staff has identified poor dentition as a significant problem, with 13 of the 16 children examined recently by volunteer dental professionals having an average of 4 to 5 dental cavities. When asked what would help the Hot Meal Project improve its goal of treating the child holistically, staff has stated that a well-stocked children’s library, a dish sterilizer, daily vitamins, and funds for dental work partially comprise their list of needed items. With their capacity to serve 50 children, additional funding would enable the project to serve more than the present 34 children.

Beneficiary Stories

Namuunaa is a 14-year old girl who is in the eighth grade at the 113th school in the Bayangol district. She has two brothers. Her older brother is married and the family lives in a ger. He works for a carbon-paper-making company. The second brother is 15 years old and attends the same school as Namuunaa. He lives in the same ger with his girlfriend and their newborn child. Both brothers are extremely poor. These three siblings’ father died in a car accident and their mother left the family a long time ago. She had a drinking problem and her whereabouts are unknown.

Namuunaa lives with her deceased father’s older brother’s wife. She does not have a secure, permanent place to live and moves between her relatives’ homes. She looks after her relatives’ children and helps around the house. She has little time for studying or attending other activities at school. She is interested in the social sciences. She is quiet, humble, a very good student and is kind to others. Her health is not good; she has stomach problems and her teeth need a good deal of dental work. She is not dressed adequately for winter, and sometimes goes to the Asral Center without warm shoes.

The Hot Meal Project provides the nutrition to help Namuunaa survive the harsh winter, keeps her within a circle of friends, and provides a quiet space where she can study. Last year, Asral Center found a donor to pay for some of her dental work, which has helped to improve her studies, sleep well without dental pain, smile more, and chew her food better. When Panchen Otrul Rinpoche visited in summer, 2018, she received donated clothes that helped to build her confidence to remain in school.

Khuselbaatar and Khurelbaatar are 9-year-old twin boys. They are third graders who attend the 113th school in the Bayangol district. Their father is deceased and they live with their mother and seven siblings. The mother is a seamstress who is unable to find work. She collects bottles and other types of garbage. The family has no stable income except for the US $8.00 per month per child subsidy that the government provides for every child under 18 years of age. The family struggles to pay for food and electricity. The children share their books, school bags, uniforms, shoes, and outdoor winter clothes. During the winter months, the family heats their small house with collected old tires and garbage.

These twins started going to school this year, not having attended school from age 6 to 9. Due to their late start, they lag behind their peers. At home, the children do their homework by candle light. The Hot Meal Project provides a free hot lunch after school and volunteer teacher Dagdan is providing extra tutoring sessions, resulting in some visible improvement.

Egshiglen, an 11-year-old girl, and Enkhtur, a 6-year-old boy are siblings. They both go to the 113th school in the Bayangol district. Egshiglen is in the fifth grade and Enkhtur is in the first grade. Their father died in a car accident in 2012. They live with their mother and grandmother. The mother’s speech disability prevents her from working. Although this school is government funded, its teachers regularly ask for money for books and other expenses. As a result, the mother cleans their school instead. She is extremely committed to obtaining a good education for both children.

Both children work hard at their studies and are very interested in their school work. Egshiglen likes her Mongolian language classes and Enkhtur likes his math classes. The family’s ger is very old and in poor condition; it leaks in the summer and loses heat quickly in the winter. It is heated with collected garbage because they cannot afford to buy coal. The children do not have adequate winter clothes and share their clothes. During a recent home visit, Enkhtur was dressed in his sister’s winter clothes, pants and summer shoes, and Egshiglen did not have winter shoes.

The project allows the siblings to concentrate on their studies in a peaceful and friendly setting with necessary supplies. Staff has built up their motivation and confidence to remain in school and to feel positive about their future. Their health is good, but they need a great deal of dental work.

This blogpost draws upon the six-months report that Maitreya Charity recently provided to BGR. All photos courtesy of Maitreya Charity.

 

 

 

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BGR Exceeds Its EWEC Target

By Tom Spies

 

In 2016  BGR made a commitment to the Every Woman Every Child initiative (EWEC) that it would help to advance EWEC’s global strategy through our projects.  Here is some background on EWEC:

Every Woman Every Child is a multi-stakeholder movement to implement the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, launched by the UN Secretary-General in September 2015 in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Since its launch in 2010, Every Woman Every Child has mobilized hundreds of partners for maximum effect, with hundreds of organizations having made commitments to advance the Global Strategy. The partners include governments and policymakers, donor countries and philanthropic institutions, the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, civil society, the business community, health workers and their professional associations, and academic and research institutions.

BGR had committed to expending $1,600,000 over the 5 years from 2016 through 2020 towards programs to advance the EWEC goals, benefiting an estimated 16,000 individuals.  A few days ago we made an interim measure of our progress to date, and found that after 3 years we have already exceeded our 5-year commitment, expending $1,844,317 towards the EWEC goals, and benefiting an estimated 30,000 individuals.

This is an achievement truly worth celebrating. From this you should know that your donations are part of a worldwide movement helping to ensure the health and well-being of women, children, and adolescents around the world. Thank you all for your compassionate concern in supporting this endeavor!

Tom Spies is Executive Director of Buddhist Global Relief.

 
 
 
 
 

Training Single Women in Cameroom

By BGR Staff

BGR has been supporting the Cameroon organization CCREAD (Centre for Community Regeneration and Development) since 2017 on projects that provide livelihood training to widows and single mothers. In 2018, through the grant given by BGR, CCREAD was able to establish a second tailoring and design training unit, which enabled the organization to conduct more training sessions and enroll 68 new women and girls into the program.

As of February 2019, 68 widows and single mothers are undergoing full-time training, spending three days per week on intensive practical sessions in smaller groups split from the main training hall. Thirty-eight of the current 68 women in this cycle of training had been displaced as a result of political crisis and are now being empowered at the training center. Each of those 38 displaced women came to the training with children below the age of 10. CCREAD is helping to feed these children at the training center while their mothers undergo training.

In this current session, more than 52 trainees have achieved a fair degree of mastery over sewing, while 22 of the 68 are already producing garments on their own, with very limited guidance from the trainers at the center. Current trainees see this project as the only opportunity for them to become self-reliant. CCREAD is confident that within the next six months all the 68 trainees will have completed their training, giving opportunities for more women to enroll in the training program. 

The text of this post has been adapted from the six-month report of CCREAD-Cameroon to Buddhist Global Relief.

‘Terrifying’: Rapid Loss of Biodiversity Placing Global Food Supplies at Risk of ‘Irreversible Collapse’

By Julia Conley,
Staff writer, Common Dreams

Deforestation for palm oil in central Kalimantan, Indonesia. (Image by Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace)

“This should be at the top of every news bulletin and every government’s agenda around the world.”

A groundbreaking report by the United Nations highlighting the rapid, widespread loss of many of the world’s plant and animal species should be on the front page of every newspaper in the world, argued climate action and food access advocates on Friday.

Go here for a concise summary of the 570 page report.

The global grassroots organization Slow Food was among the groups that called for far greater attention by world leaders to the “debilitating” loss of biodiversity and the disastrous effects the decline is having on food system, which was outlined in a first-of-its kind report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“This should be at the top of every news bulletin and every government’s agenda around the world,” said Slow Food in a statement. “Time is running out, we must turn things around within the next 10 years or risk a total and irreversible collapse.”

According to FAO’s study of 91 countries around the world, the loss of thousands of plant and animal species is affecting air and water quality, tree and plant health, and worsening the spread of disease among livestock—all with dangerous implications for the human population and humans’ food sources.

“Less biodiversity means that plants and animals are more vulnerable to pests and diseases. Compounded by our reliance on fewer and fewer species to feed ourselves, the increasing loss of biodiversity for food and agriculture puts food security and nutrition at risk,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO’s director-general.

“Consider biodiversity as a global puzzle,” Switzerland’s secretary of state for agriculture, Bernard Lehmann, said Friday. “Losing too many pieces makes the picture incomplete. Thus, biodiversity loss for food and agriculture represents a big risk for food security.”

Along with the report, FAO shared a video on Youtube outlining the dire implications of biodiversity loss. “Today only nine crops account for 66 percent of total crop production,” the organization said. “Our forests are shrinking. As they disappear so do the plants, insects, and animals they host…Now is the time to act.”

According to FAO, at least 24 percent of nearly 4,000 wild food species, including plants, fish, and mammals, are declining in abundance—but the report is likely giving a best-case scenario of the crisis, as the status of more than half of wild food species is unknown.

Changes in land and water management, pollution, the warming of the globe and the climate crisis are among the factors that FAO is blaming for the catastrophic loss of biodiversity.

Declining plant biodiversity on working farms has meant that out of 6,000 plant species that can be cultivated for food, fewer than 200 are used significantly as food sources. The report pointed to The Gambia as a country where the loss of wild food sources has led the population to rely heavily on industrially-processed foods.

Of more than 7,700 breeds of livestock worldwide, more than a quarter are at risk for extinction, according to FAO, while nearly a third of fish species have been overfished and about half have reached their sustainable level, meaning humans must immediately stop driving them toward extinction in order to save the species.

In the United Kingdom, MP Caroline Lucas of the Green Party pronounced FAO’s findings “terrifying” and demanded that governments take notice immediately to save world food sources.

Leaders must incentivize the use of sustainable practices for farming, Lucas argued, as well as pushing for a worldwide ban on dangerous pesticides like neonicotinoids, which have threatened the world’s pollinators and in turn have put at risk every third bite of food that humans take.

Combating the loss of biodiversity “relies on combining modern knowledge and technology with its traditional counterparts, and redefining our approach to agriculture and food production, placing the preservation of biodiversity and ecology on equal footing with profit and productivity,” said Slow Food. “On every level, from small-scale farmers and producers, to the highest levels of government, and through regulations like those in the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), must be geared towards a food system that protects biodiversity.”

Originally published by Common Dreams under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Climate Change and World Hunger

By David Braughton

Climate Change and the World’s Poor

For the 821 million people across the globe who face chronic hunger, climate change is no theory, but an ever-present reality.  Fully 80% of the world’s chronically hungry and malnourished people live in rural areas, surviving only on the food they grow from their rain-dependent farms.  Variability in the amount of rainfall, when the rain falls, days between rainfall, or daily temperatures – all the result of climate change – can quickly transform what is at its best a marginal existence into almost certain starvation.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2018 report, The State of Nutrition and Food Security in the World: Building Climate Resilience for Food Security and Nutrition, devotes 75 pages of its 112 page publication documenting climate change as a major contributor to the recent increase in global hunger and food insecurity following a decade-long decline in the number of hungry people around the world.  In 2014, the incidents of chronically hungry people had declined from 945 million to an estimated 784 million. By 2017, the count had risen to 821 million, an increase of 37 million people! Continue reading

Learning about Home Gardens, Nutrition, and Public Speaking in Vietnam

By Randy Rosenthal

With so many problems in the world, it sometimes feels like nothing we do can makes a difference. But Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) is showing that by improving the lives of individuals, we can in fact make a difference. A great example of this is BGR’s partnership with Helen Keller International (HKI) on the Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) project in Vietnam, which is now in its third year.

With BGR support, during 2018, HKI expanded their EHFP project to the provinces of Hoa Binh, Son La, and Lai Chau, which is one of the poorest areas of Vietnam. In July, the latter two provinces were heavily hit by tropical storm Son Tinh, which caused flash floods and landslides, but the program’s goals were successfully reached in all areas. These goals focused on alleviating hunger mainly through training mothers and pregnant women about nutrition and horticulture. Continue reading

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. Continue reading