On Saturday, April 23, BGR team members held their annual general meeting, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the U.S., including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State.
This year, at the Saturday meeting, we were honored by the presence of Ayya Yeshe, the Australian nun who founded and directs the Bodhicitta Foundation in India, a long-term BGR partner. Ayya Yeshe, who arrived from India just a few days before the meeting, gave a deeply moving presentation on her activities in Maharashtra, where she works with girls and women of the Dalit community, the former “untouchables” or “outcasts,” leading them in their endeavors to emerge from poverty and social exclusion and rediscover their innate dignity and potentials for high achievement. She poignantly reminded us that the statistics that testify to the success of BGR’s work are not mere numbers but represent real human lives, people who have been touched and transformed by our support for her projects and those of our other partners.
At the board meeting on April 24, the BGR board approved 26 projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total outlay of about $580,000, a big jump over last year’s $375,000. Several projects are renewals of annual projects, while others are new projects with established partners and new partnerships, including one in Nicaragua, our first in Latin America.
This year our capacity was bolstered by an extremely generous offer from the Chao Foundation to provide BGR with grants of $100,000 per year over a three-year period to support several multi-year projects. The three projects we agreed to sponsor are: (1) a partnership with the Helen Keller Foundation to improve health services and access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children in Kenya; (2) a partnership with Moanoghar to construct a permanent residential facility for boy students at their school in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (the girl students already have a secure residential facility); and (3) a partnership with the What If Foundation to fully equip a new school for extremely poor children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. These projects will be described more fully in this series of posts. We are deeply grateful to the Chao Foundation for this grant, an extraordinary expression of compassion and trust in the mission of BGR.
This is the first of a six-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts.
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1. Bangladesh: Food Support for School of Orphans
Our partner, the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, was founded in 1977 by Ven. Jivanananda Mahathera, a Buddhist monk who has dedicated his life to the service of suffering humanity. BBMS is a non-sectarian, non-communal, non-governmental organization officially registered in Bangladesh in 1979. Its purpose is to provide humanitarian assistance to the needy, especially orphans and widows. The Orphan’s Home Complex is located at Betagi in the rural Chittagong Hills region, near the Karnaphuli River. The number of orphans has increased, food prices have risen, and government grants are not adequate to the need. The Orphans Home Complex will use the BGR donation to feed 54 children for 12 months. An annually renewable project.
2. Bangladesh: Educating Ethnic Buddhist Minority Girls
The Jamyang Foundation (founded 1988 by Ven. Lekshe Tsomo) supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that are harmonious with their unique Buddhist cultural backgrounds.
This BGR project will fund a school lunch program for 116 students studying at Visakha Girls’ School in a remote location about 10 km from the small town of Manikchari. The program was designed by the teachers at the school together with the parents of the girls for the first time last year in response to a serious need for nourishing food for the students. The project includes hiring a cook to help with purchasing food, preparing the meals, and managing the dining room where the lunch is served. The majority of the funds are allocated for the purchase of rice, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. The school lunch program at Visakha Girls’ School provides the nourishment the students might otherwise not receive.
Since the school lunch program was introduced last year, the teachers have observed increased attendance at the school, improved physical health, psychological development, and overall better wellness. Families are also relieved, knowing their children will get valuable schooling and at least one substantial meal per day.
3. Bangladesh: A Permanent Dormitory for Boy Students in the Chittagong Hill Tracts NEW PROJECT
Our project partner, Moanoghar, was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently 805 residential children at Moanoghar, 55% boys and 45% girls. Many of these children lost one or both parents in the decades-long conflict that plagued this backward part of Bangladesh, a poor region in an extremely poor country.
While the girl students have a permanent dormitory, the dorms for boy students are built with bamboos and wood poles and all of them are more than 15 years old. These are temporary structures that require constant repair and maintenance. The grant from BGR will sponsor the construction of a three-storey building with each floor providing accommodation to 40 children. It will be built from bricks on a solid foundation. When the building is complete, it will accommodate 120 children in total–a permanent solution to the problem of accommodation for the students. This will be the first year of a three-year project entirely supported by BGR, made possible through a generous donation from the Chao Foundation. This project testifies to the value of partnership in the effort to provide better opportunities for those in need. Year one of a three-year project.
To be continued