Enhanced Homestead Food Production in Côte d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

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Mother and child with recently harvested eggplant

In May 2013, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) awarded Helen Keller International a three-year grant to support their Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) and Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) production in Côte d’Ivoire. The project extended from September 2013 to August 2016. The goal of this project was to improve the nutritional status of children and families in the Gebke Region of Bouake District. In this region, as elsewhere across Côte d’Ivoire, people face a constant struggle with food security, availability of micronutrient-rich foods, and accessibility to markets.

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Group members in the garden

With BGR’s support, HKI piloted a three-year adaptation and expansion of its proven Food Production program model. They integrated EHFP into an existing community group and promoted the production and consumption of vitamin A and micronutrient-rich crops, including orange sweet potatoes. In an effort to improve the local group’s capacity to adapt to ever-increasing water shortages that threaten production, the HKI team helped pilot a drip irrigation system on the group’s model farm, which was used to train group members on improved agriculture techniques.

HKI also collaborated with local organizations to implement various other project activities and to provide direct support to the women’s group benefiting from BGR’s support. The women’s group is called “Kolotiolo Hokan”, which means “God Gave Us Grace” in the Senoufo language. Group members learned to apply improved agricultural techniques that have brought them recognition by their village leaders, community, and family members who help them as they have now seen their activities and incomes increase considerably over the life of this project.

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Kolotiolo Hokan members

Members of the group and their neighbors have learned about the fundamentals and importance of improved nutrition and hygiene. The group has formalized their legal status, opened a bank account, and improved their ability to manage and market the surpluses they grow. This has empowered the women and led to increased autonomy. The health status of the group’s families and neighbors has also improved as they increasingly consume micro-nutrient rich food products they grow themselves. They have also learned about Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) and Essential Hygiene Actions (EHA). The group members have also seen their social status improve as their income has increased as a result of this project.

Home visits to reinforce ENA and EHA intensified over the last months of the project. After the mass awareness campaigns concluded, district health workers and NGO workers conducted 1,140 home visits to reinforce behavior change messaging. Most of these visits took place during this final reporting period. In total, over 700 families benefitted from the behavior change campaign.

Home visits focused on a monthly theme in order to reinforce behavior change messaging provided in months prior. In March 2016, home visits focused on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. In April 2016, the focus was on the nutrition and feeding of expectant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as complementary feeding of children from six months to two years of age. May’s focus was on feeding sick and malnourished children. In June, the focus was on vitamin A deficiency, in July on iodine deficiency and handwashing, and in August, the home visit focus was iron deficiency.

Group members as well as other community members expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the home visit component of the project. HKI undertook an informal focus group discussion with home-visit recipients, and everyone in the group stated that they enjoyed the visits, learned a lot from them, and would now change their behavior based on the new information they obtained.

For example, one woman said that she did not know that she should not give water to her newborn child in addition to breastmilk and has now stopped doing so. Another mother was not aware that she was not supposed to give her newborn infant porridge until he was six months old and has now stopped force-feeding her baby. Many mothers in the community who are not currently members of the women’s group have also expressed interest in obtaining orange-flesh sweet potato vines from the group members so that they can start growing them at home to provide their families increased vitamin A as well.

Staff at the local clinic that previously benefited from HKI’s ENA and EHA training has promised that they would continue promoting essential nutrition and hygiene actions in the community after the conclusion of the BGR project.

HKI linked members of “Kolotiolo Hokan” to the local “Producers Sales Office” (BVP) in Bouake. BVP is now assisting “Kolotiolo Hokan” members to make decisions about marketing their produce and choosing the best income crops to plant. Group members know the importance of maintaining a healthy, nutritionally-balanced diet and they also see great opportunity in being able to increase their incomes from growing produce. The support of BVP will help to improve the household income of the group members for years to come.

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Seed distribution group

In July 2016, members of HKI staff held a series of meetings with the members of “Kolotiolo Hokan” to help them plan for the end of the project. The meetings were very productive. The “Kolotiolo Hokan” members expressed their gratitude to BGR for the tremendous help that has been provided over the past three years.

This article is based upon Helen Keller International’s Final Progress Report to Buddhist Global Relief.

Worldviews Clash at Standing Rock

 Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The standoff at Standing Rock offers a choice between two worldviews: one that can lead to a new economy of shared prosperity and one that will hasten the devastation of the planet.

 

The struggle to stop construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline marks not only a difference in economic policies but a contest between two radically different orientations to life. The struggle, which pits Native Americans and their allies against a company that constructs oil pipelines, has a profound significance that extends far beyond the plains of Standing Rock. The contest is both ethical and existential, and how it is resolved may well determine the future of human life, whether for harm or for good, on this beautiful but fragile planet.

On one side of the conflict stands Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation that is building the pipeline. If completed, the pipeline will extend 1,200 miles and will transport approximately 500,000 barrels daily of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to existing pipelines in Illinois, from where it will reach markets in the Midwest, the East Coast, and the South. The pipeline will thus be a vital artery in maintaining an economy powered by fossil fuels. Construction of the pipeline, however, cuts across land sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe—land they claim was recognized as theirs by the US government in a treaty going back to 1851. Moreover, the pipeline does not merely cross sacred land. If construction continues, it would pass beneath the Missouri River, putting at risk the water supply of the Native Americans and millions of other people living downstream who also depend on the river for their water.

So far, environmental assessment of the pipeline’s impact has been called “seriously deficient.” Such a hasty assessment is precarious enough, but even when they have passed rigorous scrutiny, oil pipelines have split, leaked, and even exploded, sometimes seriously enough to pollute the waters they traverse and leave behind a trail of toxic waste. These chemical spills are far from innocuous. For those living close by, the pollution has caused cancer, strange illnesses, permanent disabilities, and premature death. Birth defects and childhood leukemia are also possible dangers caused by exposure.

The pipeline represents a worldview that sees the earth as in essence a source of raw materials to service our economy. From this perspective, humanity’s task is to exploit the earth and bend it to our purposes, primarily the production of commodities to feed the fickle appetites of a consumerist culture. It is a worldview that prioritizes monetary profit over a vibrant planet; that puts immediate gain over the needs of future generations; that commodifies everything it sees and looks with disdain at the very idea of the sacred.

Those who subscribe to this worldview give little heed to population groups outside the citadels of corporate wealth and power. Without concern for the consequences, they would extract and market all the oil they can find for the purpose of enhancing the company’s bottom line. The results of such a worldview appear in the once-fertile lands that are turning into deserts, in the transformation of seasonal rains into irrepressible floods, in the long droughts and brutal heat waves, in the threat to the world’s food supply. The results are also manifest in the movements of people who choose to migrate from their traditional homelands to strange and sometimes hostile countries, preferring a dangerous sea passage to the risks of drought and famine.

Those arrayed against the pipeline—the Native Americans and their allies—hold a different worldview that entails a different set of priorities. This is a worldview that esteems life values over market values. It is a worldview that understands water is the source of life, an irreplaceable substance far more essential than petroleum. It recognizes that, with sufficient funding and political will, we can obtain all the energy we need from the sun and wind and geothermal sources. And it sees the ideal relationship of humankind to the earth to be one of care, stewardship, and reverence rather than reckless exploitation.

The stakes in this struggle are high. Deep ramifications lie just below the surface, beneath the daily skirmishes that erupt between the pipeline staff and the water protectors. Although the Dakota Access Pipeline can be viewed as just one pipeline among a multitude of others, circumstances have turned the project into a symbol for the crossroads at which humanity has finally arrived, the juncture where the road of energy development branches off in two different directions. If we stand up against the demands of Big Oil and reject the pipeline, we can pivot away from the old economy that feeds on the resources of the earth toward a new system that offers untapped promise. We can turn away from the barren moonscapes of destruction, away from the maltreatment of peoples whose lands are stripped from their hands, whose lives are ruined by oil spills and pools of toxic waste. We can stop heating up the planet in ways that imperil the future of humankind. By shifting to a new worldview, we can hasten the emergence of an economy that promotes a shared prosperity within the limits of the biosphere. We can adopt a new outlook on the earth, one that reveres the majesty of its mountains, the splendor of its forests, the sanctity of its natural rhythms.

The choice between these two orientations has grown starker over the past decade, ever since the reality of climate change impinged on public consciousness. The two alternatives have come to a head at Standing Rock. Denial is no longer tenable. Either we go on burning fossil fuels without concern for the impact, or we finally say, “It’s time to change course.” The choice now rests with President Obama. It’s up to him to show courage. It’s up to him to choose wisely, mindfully, and compassionately. And we can let him know what we want. We can send him a petition asking him to reject the Dakota Access Pipeline, to reject it once and for all. Let’s act skillfully, remembering that our future is at stake, that our action now affects generations as yet unborn, both in America and throughout the world.

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people.

In the face of Trump’s victory, we are likely to feel dejected and demoralized, but this is exactly what we must resist. Yes, we should feel saddened. Yes, we should feel worried—very worried. We should feel moral outrage at what his victory portends. But we should not feel despondent and resign ourselves to a passive acquiescence in our fate. We have to preserve hope. We have to arouse courage to withstand the tides of hatred, bigotry, and resentment that may be unleashed by a Trump administration. We need to resist the growing tide of fascism, in whatever guise it may appear, and to root out the lies and disinformation that nourish it. No matter how ominous the coming years may be, we must remain determined to preserve our democracy from being undermined from within and transformed into an autocratic plutocracy—government by the rich and privileged.

In my view, the struggle that lies ahead requires that those devoted to a progressive vision of American society transcend the particular interests of the groups with which they are personally aligned and form alliances to create a broad-based progressive movement rooted in a recognition of our shared values. Whether one’s calling be with Black Lives Matter, with the living wage campaign, with women’s reproductive rights, with gender rights, with environmental and climate issues, with contemplative spirituality, or any other, we must come together under a common banner, recognizing that it is only by standing together in a unified front that we can prevail against the regressive forces that will be trying to destroy our noblest ideals and greatest democratic achievements.

While Trump’s victory probably stemmed largely from the support he gathered from white working class people whose jobs had been exported overseas through free trade agreements, it is far from certain that the policies he adopts will actually benefit these people. If he fails to meet their expectations, it is possible that white working class people, whether in the Rust Belt or the South, will come to see that their interests, too, align with those of other members of the “underclass.” This could result in the emergence of a stronger united front, one that brings together minorities and white working people in a common demand for a new moral economy, a social and economic order that works for everyone and enables everyone to flourish.

For the present, however, we have to be prepared to face dark times. To prevail against the darkness, we must hold fast to our cherished ideals of truth, love, compassion, and justice. We must also maintain the faith that, while ignorance and hatred may at times be dominant, through concerted action patiently pursued we can finally usher in an era of justice, love, and human unity.

The above essay represents the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the view of Buddhist Global Relief as an organization.

Bodhicitta-BGR Solidarity Walk in Nagpur, India

Ayya Yeshe

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Many women and children from central Nagpur, India, as well as girls from our girls hostel-girls home, which is sponsored by BGR, joyfully walked together to raise awareness of poverty and to express our deep gratitude and solidarity with all our friends around the world who have raised money to fund BGR, our NGO partner. Without your care and hard work, we would not have 125 slum children in extra study classes, 25 children sponsored for school, several hundred women trained in small businesses like sewing, beauty therapies and computers. We would not have been able to run countless workshops on health, women’s rights, and children’s rights, or offered emergency health and accommodation services and counseling to thousands of people. Without you we would not have prevented child marriages, saved lives, kept girls in school, and cooked 5,000 meals per year for undernourished children. You are our heroes, you march for us, and we in turn light candles in dark places. Together, we can make the world a better place!

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Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, is the founder and director of the Bodhicitta Foundation, BGR’s project partner in Nagpur, India.

Free School Lunches as an Educational Incentive in Cameroon

BGR Staff

The article below is adapted from a report sent by BGR’s partner in Cameroon, CENCUDER. The mission of CENCUDER is “to enable rural youths and women [in Cameroon] to acquire survival skills in order to secure a better future for themselves through education and training in life and vocational skills.” Ebase village is among the most marginalized rural areas in the Kupe-Muanenguba Division in southwest Cameroon. Ebase village operates a local community primary school as the only social facility. Families are unable to send their children to towns and cities for their schooling because they cannot afford to pay house rents and buy requisites like uniforms and books. Only 58% of children complete primary school. The BGR-sponsored school feeding program aims to enhance the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children by distributing meals to them. It promotes literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet. Introduced last year with support from BGR, the feeding program has helped solve many problems faced by the local community. Many more children now attend school and parents have seen improvements in their children’s academic and moral output. It is quite astounding that in this country—which is 40% Catholic, 30% Protestant, 18% Muslim, and probably 0% Buddhist—it is a Buddhist organization in far-off America that has come to the assistance of the poor children of the region.

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A BGR project in the Bangem subdivision of Cameroon, in West Africa, is making big news. The project, which started last academic year, aims at enhancing the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children attending the Ebase-Bajoh primary school. The core of the project is the distribution of a hot school lunch to the pupils, many of whom are girls and orphans. The feeding program, which is intended to promote literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet, is the first of its kind to be undertaken by an NGO in the Bangem subdivision.

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The program is having a strong positive impact on the lives of these children, many of whom might have had to forgo their primary education without the meal program. In the 2016–17 academic year, which just began, the Ebase-Bajoh primary school has witnessed a rise of 15% in school enrollment. Many pupils have left neighboring primary schools to join the pupils of Ebase just because of the delicious meals their peers in Ebase shared with them when they met during youth week and the national day’s activities. The pupils of Ebase-Bajoh often regret vacations or holidays in the course of the academic year since they know they would have to miss their balanced meals at this time. Each time the director of CENCUDER arrives at Ebase, the children always rush and scramble around him just to find out the next type of meal to be served to them.

So far, many parents have testified to the improvement of their children’s health, academic performance, and behavior at home. Absenteeism on account of ill health, which affected the students’ academic performance, has been significantly reduced. Through this feeding program, pupils whose parents can’t even afford a meal are ensured of a balanced meal each day. The pupils and parents are deeply grateful to BGR for this program. They thank BGR for the joy and smiles its generosity has brought in the lives of these needy kids and parents in Ebase village and for boosting CENCUDER’s image in the Southwest Region of Cameroon.

Through this program, the government of Cameroon and other stakeholders will understand that fighting illiteracy requires more than just making primary education free. It also requires promoting initiatives that will serve as an incentive for children to attend school and remain healthy throughout the school year.

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Sign reads: “Thank you CENCUDER & Buddhist Global Relief for the wonderful meals you are providing to us.”

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Haiti After Hurricane Matthew Hits Hard

BGR Staff

(Photo : NASA/Public Domain) Hurricane Matthew as captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite hours after the storm hit the southwestern region of Haiti.

BGR began its relationship with Haiti in 2010, when we launched a partnership with the US-based What If Foundation to provide meals to hungry children in the Tiplaz Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince–children who were left mostly homeless by the powerful earthquake of 2010. Since then our relationship with the island-nation has grown ever closer, and we have formed partnerships with several other organizations working in the island, including Oxfam America, the Trees That Feed Foundation, and the Arts Creation Foundation in Jacmel. This past April, our vice-chair and treasurer, David Braughton, visited the country to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Father Jeri School established by the What If Foundation to provide free education to children who would otherwise never have had the chance to attend school.

Just last week, Haiti was slammed hard by Hurricane Matthew, which swept over the island, leaving in its trail widespread devastation, shortages of food and fresh water, power failures, and a death toll of over a thousand. BGR responded immediately to the disaster. Meeting by email, we decided to provide emergency aid to three organizations. We made a $5,000 donation to the What If Foundation for food assistance through its partner on the ground, Na Rive, in Port-au-Prince; a $5,000 donation to CARE for emergency relief to the Jeremie and Southwest regions of the island, which were hit especially hard; and a donation of $3,000 to BGR partner, Trees That Feed, to assist with its feeding program and general recovery.

Though BGR is not an emergency aid organization but sponsors long-term development projects, we will closely monitor recovery efforts in the country after the hurricane to see how we can help most effectively in ways that correspond to our mission of combating hunger and malnutrition.

BGR Provides Emergency Donations to Help Syrian Refugees

BGR Staff 

ALEPPO, SYRIA - FEBRUARY 11: A Syrian 2 year old baby Zehra and Eye Halip, who fled bombing in Aleppo, are seen with their mother Belkiz Halip at a tent city close to the Bab al-Salam border crossing on Turkish-Syrian border near Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on February 11, 2016. Russian airstrikes have recently forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in Syrias northern city of Aleppo. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A Syrian 2 year old baby Zehra and Eye Halip, who fled bombing in Aleppo, are seen with their mother Belkiz Halip at a tent city close to the Bab al-Salam border crossing on Turkish-Syrian border near Azaz town of Aleppo, Syria on February 11, 2016. Russian airstrikes have recently forced some 40,000 people to flee their homes in Syrias northern city of Aleppo. (Photo by Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In late August, Buddhist Global Relief made emergency donations of $5,000 each to two respected aid organizations assisting refugees fleeing from the fighting in Syria. One is Oxfam America; the other is CARE. Driven from their homes, many families daily risk their lives in a dangerous flight for safety. Millions of refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries– many of them children – travel long distances to other lands where they hope to find a place of safety and refuge. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people, both within Syria and outside, are in critical need of adequate food, shelter, healthcare, and warm clothes.

BGR’s donations to CARE and Oxfam will:

  • Deliver food baskets, baby items, and other emergency essentials to families cut off from supplies.
  • Provide access to clean water, including water purification tablets for individual families.
  • Increase access to health care for pregnant women and communities affected by conflict.

Readers who wish to help Syrian refugees should contribute directly to these two organizations, or to other organizations with a similar mission, rather than to Buddhist Global Relief.