Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Supporting Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project: An Appeal to the Global Buddhist Community

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group traditionally resident in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, have fled their country because of the extreme violence directed against them by the Myanmar military. Their villages have been burnt, their people (including elders and children) shot in cold blood, and women subjected to sexual cruelty. The violence, sadly, has been supported by extremist Buddhist monks, contrary to the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness and communal harmony. Close to a million refugees have sought sanctuary in neighboring Bangladesh, where they are being accommodated in overcrowded, unsanitary makeshift camps with pressing needs for food and health care. The refugees want to return to Myanmar but are afraid for their safety.

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The global Buddhist community has a responsibility to show that such violence is not the Buddhist way.

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project is an initiative of the Clear View Project, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Hozan Alan Senauke, former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The project has launched a new website to garner support for the Rohingya refugees.

To learn more about this project and its activities, you can visit the website at:

http://www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org/

At the website you can learn the various ways you can help to ameliorate this heartrending crisis.

  • Among other things, you can sign a letter to the Myanmar State Sangha Council and government officials, urging them to reject the violence and support the refugees.
  • You can donate to respected nonprofit organizations working on the ground in the Rohingya refugee camps. The website offers a list of reliable organizations.
  • You can also share this information on social media and by email with friends and members of your sangha or community.

 Your support can say to Rohingya peoples and to the world that the rain of the Buddha’s compassion falls on all beings equally.

To learn more about the crisis and how to support the refugees, visit:

www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org

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Hot Breakfasts for Schoolkids in Jamaica and Haiti

By BGR Staff

In Caribbean island nations like Jamaica and Haiti, it is not unusual for bright, eager kids to show up for school without having eaten breakfast; perhaps they have had only a cup of herb tea. It is hard, however, to learn on an empty belly! Determined to do something about this, over the past few years BGR has been partnering with the Trees That Feed Foundation, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to growing breadfruit trees and other trees that can be grown to feed people. TTFF also purchases breadfruit powder to provide breakfast cereal for schoolchildren.

TTFF used the grant provided by BGR for its 2016–17 funding cycle to purchase over 3,000 pounds of porridge mix from two vendors in Jamaica and one in Haiti. The dry mix ingredients include breadfruit flour, cornmeal, powdered cow’s milk or coconut milk, spices and sugar. The mix is packaged in one- or two-pound plastic bags, appropriately labeled. The near-instant powder is mixed with water, cooked for 5 to 10 minutes, and served as a hot breakfast cereal in the morning prior to the start of the school day. Needless to say, the young students learn much better after a good breakfast.

The BGR program supported ten schools, five in Jamaica and five in Haiti. This program is vital because the governments in these two countries do not support “basic” schools, that is, kindergarten and pre-school. There were approximately 925 beneficiaries, ranging in age from 3 to 6 years. Half were male and half female. The beneficiaries of this program, however, were not only the young schoolchildren who got a nutritious meal. The beneficiaries also included the teachers and the school cook.

Needless to say, the teachers benefited by gaining a classroom full of young students who are nourished and eager to learn. But the cook also benefited. When TTFF founders Mary and Mike McLaughlin traveled to Jamaica in February 2017 and visited the Jeffery Town Basic School, they saw the little children licking their porridge bowls clean. Then the cook, an older lady, came up to Mary and thanked her. Mary replied, “Oh it’s wonderful to help the children.” The cook said “No, you’re helping me … this job (as school cook) is my only income.”

TTFF is intentionally paying a price somewhat above fair market value for the breadfruit flour and porridge mix. The local suppliers are very small capacity producers—and the foundation hopes to support them as their main customer for 2 to 3 years, with the expectation that they will make a modest profit and reinvest in their business, lowering costs, improving quality and increasing capacity, ultimately to make their business fully self-sustaining. A win-win situation all the way around!

School Lunch Program for Marma Girls in CHT

by BGR Staff

 In 2016, BGR provided a grant to the Jamyang Foundation to support the free school lunch program at the Visakha Girls’ School in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The grant covered the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. This article, based on the final report from the Jamyang Foundation, describes the challenges faced by the school and the benefits of the project.

 

Visakha Girls’ School is located at Dhosri, a remote village in the district of Khagrachari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The school was founded in 2005 and began offering free education for girls with the generous support of the Jamyang Foundation, which is under the direction of the American bhikshuni, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Initially, the Visakha Girls’ School offered classes to students in the 1st grade only. Later, more classes were gradually added. Now the school offers classes up to 5th grade.

The school still faces significant challenges. For decades the indigenous people throughout the Hill Tracts have been the subjects of genocide perpetrated by the Bangladesh military. The situation is critical and has required the UN and others to intervene several times, but for the most part the situation has received little or no international attention. Land grabs and aggression against the indigenous population occur continuously and any resistance to these injustices is met with extreme retaliation, including rape and murder by the Bangladesh army. The indigenous peoples of the CHT are victims of forced displacement and discrimination in all aspects of life in Bangladesh. The theft of their lands continues to have enormous social, economic, and political consequences for the people. Educating Marma girls is one of the only ways to protect them from exploitation and strengthen them to face the difficulties that lie ahead.

Visakha Girls’ School currently has 125 students, all girls, with an age range from 5 to 13 years. The girls study in classes from pre-school to 5th grade. All students receive free education, daily lunches, and school supplies such as books, notebooks, pens, pencils, and so on. The school employs six full-time teachers and one cook. The girls are mostly from the ethnic Marma community, one of several Buddhist minorities who are native to the CHT. About 10 percent of the girls are ethnically Chakma, another Buddhist community that is native to the area. Centuries of economic injustice, social deprivation, and cultural marginalization have brought these minorities to the brink of extinction in a predominantly Muslim country.

Visakha Girls’ School is located in a remote place where no educational opportunities are available for the girls’ desperately poor families. The families survive by subsistence farming on the hill slopes and narrow stretches of land between the hills. Their homes are scattered across these small hills, which makes it difficult for them to reach essential services for social development or to create economic opportunities.

The community that the school serves often suffers terrible injustices perpetrated by state actors due to ongoing conflicts in the CHT. Many of the families are internally displaced refugees. In this situation of perpetual unrest, girls are the most vulnerable population. Girls are less likely to receive basic education and health care and they are the most likely to suffer in the conflict situation. Before Visakha Girls’ School was started, almost all the girls lacked access to even a basic level of education. Thanks to the establishment of this school program, now almost all school-age girls in the neighborhood attend school. Many of them are also furthering their education after finishing 5th grade at Visakha Girls’ School.

Project Benefits, Successes, and Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for these girls is that they must walk for hours over hilly terrain to reach the school. They are already tired even before they arrive at school. Due to chronic poverty, they are weak and often sick. Often they come to school hungry. The free lunch program at the school is of great benefit to them. The nutritious lunches help them stay healthy, so they can focus on their studies while at school. Since the lunch program was introduced, their health has greatly improved, their school attendance has dramatically increased, the dropout rate has dropped, and their overall performance in their educational program has improved. They demonstrated this with their scores in the state-run evaluation test for 5th grade students. The food program also incentivizes families to send their girls to school rather than employ them at home for domestic labor.

Along with their education the lunch program at Visakha Girls’ School is the most essential support the girls receive. The Visakha Girls’ School received a generous grant from BGR for its lunch program in 2016-17. The funds were funneled through Jamyang Foundation. With that grant, lunches were offered to students daily. The meals included freshly cooked rice, dhal, and locally grown vegetables. The BGR grant was used to pay the salary of the cook, and to purchase cooking pots, kitchen utensils, storage cabinets, and so on. Since meat is not served, vegetable sources of protein are offered instead.

Personal Stories

Here are the stories of three girls at Visakha Girls’ School:

  • Ushyang Marma Marma is a 3rd grade student. Her parents are day laborers and earn extra cash by collecting and selling firewood from the forest. She and her two sisters attend Visakha Girls’ School. Her parents cannot afford the financial burden of educating these girls. She is grateful that she and her sisters receive free education and lunches at school. The lunches and the opportunity to attend school are a great help to her family.
  • Mamanyeu Marma is a 5th grade student. There are 11 members in her very poor farming family. Her parents never received any education at all. Four of her other sisters also attended Visakha Girls’ School. Her eldest sister is now a 2nd year college student. Despite the poverty of her family, she is hoping to receive a college education, too, so that she will be able to help her family. All of these advantages have been possible because of Visakha Girls’ School. The free education and free lunches at school have made a very significant difference in her family.
  • Ushainda Marma is a 4th grader. Her father is a poor farmer. There are five sisters in her family. Her home is 2 km from the Visakha School. Before the school lunch program began, she got tired and hungry after walking this long distance each day. The school lunch program benefits her and her family a lot. She does not need to worry about whether her family has food or not, because now she gets at least one meal a day and education at school. She aspires to become a teacher when she grows up.

Conclusion

The lunch program is a great help for the families and girls who attend Visakha Girls’ School. It is beneficial in all the ways described above. It helps to draw students to school and helps with retention. In an area plagued by chronic poverty, malnutrition, lack of basic hygiene, poor transportation, and other challenges, the school lunch program supported by BGR has been a dream come true for the girls. We deeply appreciate the kind help of BGR. Thank you.

Increasing Food Security for Families in South Darfur

By Tricia Brick

BGR’s partnership project with Oxfam Sudan, “Increasing Household Food Security in South Darfur,” provides needed seeds, agricultural tools, and field training to people in the South Darfur region of Sudan, who for over a decade have endured devastating violence and human rights violations as well as climate-related agricultural disruptions. In 2014, a rash of violence by government forces led to the displacement of more than 100,000 people across the Darfur region, as well as to the destruction of water sources, food stores, and other essential infrastructure.

A 2016 Buddhist Global Relief grant enabled Oxfam Sudan to provide groundnut and sorghum seeds and hand tools to 510 farming households in seven villages in Belail Locality, South Darfur. The project also trained 150 farmers in water-harvesting practices.

Oxfam Sudan reported that many farmers participating in the project faced climate-related difficulties, including a combination of some flooding during the rainy season and drought during the September period of crop maturity. Furthermore, land disputes at times resulted in threats of violence, and some farmers harvested crops prematurely to prevent the grazing animals of nomadic pastoralists from consuming the plants.

Despite these challenges, Oxfam Sudan estimates that farmers produced enough sorghum and groundnuts to meet 60 to 70 percent of their families’ annual food requirements, on average, with surplus groundnuts to be sold at market, providing funds to be used for food, education, health care, clothing, and other needs.

Among the displaced persons who received support through the Oxfam–BGR partnership was Sumaiya Adam Ahamed, a farmer in Eshma village in South Darfur. With her family she spent two years in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). “All people of my village [were] displaced to Kalma IDPs camp and stayed there for two years without farming, and our children missed two years of education, especially my elder daughter, Ishraga Hassan,” she told an Oxfam Sudan team member as she harvested groundnuts with two of her daughters. She wore her youngest child, an infant, in a cloth carrier as she worked. “My family was selected by the Oxfam team for support, and we were given groundnut and sorghum seeds in addition to two hand tools. This enabled us to cultivate one acre of groundnuts and one of sorghum.” She estimated that the crops would feed her family of seven for five months; she also supports her family by raising chickens and livestock.

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

Tackling Maternal and Childhood Malnutrition in Cote d’Ivoire

By BGR Staff

The following article is based on the final report for the first year of a three-year project being implemented by Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-time BGR partner. The project, which is being funded in its entirety by BGR, aims to improve nutrition for pregnant women, infants, and children in the Korhogo District of Cote d’Ivoire. Cote d’Ivoire is among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 172nd out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micro-nutrient deficiencies, is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five. Together, HKI and BGR are doing something to address this problem.

With the support of Buddhist Global Relief, Helen Keller International has launched this project to tackle malnutrition in the Korhogo Health District, located in the Poro Region in the northern part of the country, where child malnutrition is most pronounced. The overall goal of the program is to reduce the incidence of malnutrition among women of childbearing age, expectant and breast-feeding mothers, and children during their first 1,000 days of life. This enables newborns to reach a healthy start in life, decreasing the incidence of stunting and improving children’s cognitive development.

The program utilizes the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework, a package of proven, achievable interventions focused on expectant mothers and their newborn children during the first 1,000 days. Drawing on this framework, HKI is promoting optimal nutrition practices using all available platforms to reach mothers at the right time with the right message. The program promotes women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding the sick child, vitamin A and iodine supplementation, and the integrated control of anemia.

The project aims to train an average of five health workers at each of 77 clinics in the Korhogo Health District over a three-year period, for an estimated total of 385 health workers. HKI expects to provide approximately 77,000 expectant and nursing mothers and their children with nutrition education and services. It intends to increase the use of recommended ENA interventions—such as iron, zinc, oral rehydration salts, deworming tablets, and malaria prophylaxis—in every clinic involved in the project.

In September 2016, HKI contracted Mrs. Salimata Coulibaly to serve as master trainer in nutrition practices in the Korhogo Health District. Salimata benefited from special “train-the-trainer” sessions organized by HKI to build her capacity to reinforce health workers’ understanding of the ENA framework during a regional workshop organized for nutrition experts from French-speaking Africa.

Subsequently, Salimata trained 181 health workers in charge of nutrition at 76 health centers in Korhogo on the Essential Nutrition and Hygiene Actions during four training sessions organized at the Regional Hospital Center of Korhogo. The following topics were covered during the course: (1) nutrition of expectant and breastfeeding mothers; (2) exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a newborn’s life; (3) appropriate complementary feeding and continuation of breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life; (4) feeding the sick and malnourished child; (5) vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc deficiency; and (6) essential actions in hygiene.

Over 34,000 expectant and breastfeeding mothers and their children benefited from nutrition coaching and cooking demonstrations. In addition, three-day coaching sessions were organized on a site-by-site basis in 32 health centers in Korhogo District in order to improve the community-based nutrition services provided. Two days were devoted to training the health workers, and one day of the training provided the health workers with an opportunity to practice their nutrition counseling skills with community members.

The project has so far been very successful. As a result of project activities, health workers are better equipped and aware of nutritional advice to provide to expectant and breastfeeding mothers, and are better prepared to provide community trainings on improved nutrition practices.

Here are a few testimonies HKI collected from health workers in the Korhogo Health District:

“The training has enabled us to start providing nutrition education, screenings for malnutrition, and treatment of moderate malnutrition cases. In the past, we were not providing those services. Following the training, we tasked a nurse from our center to implement Essential Nutrition Actions. We set up a weighing calendar for children. The women who attend our newly established cooking demonstrations are very satisfied and continue bringing their children to be weighed and measured at our center.” Dr. Traore, Lead Doctor, PMI Clinic, Korhogo

 “The training was very helpful. Since we received the training, our center has started providing regular cooking demonstrations and nutrition counseling sessions to expectant and breastfeeding mothers. However, we hope to be able to better treat moderately malnourished children with the support of our partner HKI through the supply of improved porridges.” Mr. Adingra, Monitoring and Evaluation Director, Social Center 2, Korhogo.

 “From the day I received the awareness training, I understood that the number of meals and the quality of food I eat plays a very important role in the health of the mother and her child. We don’t necessarily need a lot of money to eat well. Also, now I pay attention to what I eat.” Mrs. Cisse, expectant mother.

“After the awareness session in the center, I understood that because of my misunderstanding of the nutritional composition of food, I lost my first child who I did not breastfeed because I thought my own milk wasn’t good. I didn’t have enough money to buy milk powder in the pharmacy, and so I gave my child cow’s milk and porridge I bought in the market. Now I understand that for the sake of this child, I must eat well myself in order to produce milk, and I learned how to make porridge that is good for my baby.” Ouattara Karidja, breastfeeding mother.

BGR Provides Emergency Grants to the World Food Program USA

By BGR Staff

 This past week Buddhist Global Relief provided emergency grants totaling $12,000 to the World Food Program USA for three projects–in Yemen, South Sudan, and among the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh. The contribution is to be divided evenly among them, with $4,000 going to each project. While this is just a tiny fraction of the aid needed, given the dire conditions all of these peoples are facing, every little bit–as an expression of compassion and concern–will be welcome

Yemen

In Yemen two and a half years of violence and conflict have pushed two-thirds of the population to the brink of famine. Limited access to ports has hindered the ability of the World Food Programme to deliver aid and at present some 17 million people across the country do not know where their next meal is coming from. What’s worse, the collapse of government services and a shortage of potable water has led to a cholera epidemic. Despite the obstacles, WFP implements general food assistance in 19 of Yemen’s 22 districts, including some of Yemen’s most hard-to-reach areas. The program’s targeting strategy assists the districts with the highest levels of food insecurity and global acute malnutrition rates. To ensure that the programs are thoroughly monitored, WFP contracts third-party monitoring companies to conduct on-site distribution monitoring and post-distribution monitoring. 60 Minutes aired a segment on Yemen in November that featured WFP’s intervention there. The clip can be viewed here.

South Sudan

A second grant will go to South Sudan, where continued conflict is driving the country towards famine and leaving an estimated 6 million people with acute levels of hunger. Because of the ongoing fighting and the breakdown of virtually all infrastructure, WFP has turned to airdrops to deliver aid. Airdrops are generally more expensive and more time-consuming than ground level delivery, but they become necessary when there are no alternatives to providing life-saving food.

The Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar

A third grant will go assist the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who have sought safety in neighboring Bangladesh. At present approximately 650,000 refugees have fled their homes in Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh; more than 80% of them need food assistance. WFP has been rapidly expanding its emergency nutrition programs there to stave off malnutrition in young children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Its funding shortfall for aid is currently at about $32 million.

Silke Buhr, a communications officer with the World Food Programme (WFP), describes the situation in the refugee camps thus: “The squalor of the camps around Cox’s Bazar is hard to imagine, the nervous energy, the pressing masses of people, the mud and the grit and the smell. Surely every form of human tragedy can be found here.”

Poverty Is Both a Political and a Moral Choice

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty reports that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion.” Isn’t it time to wake up, discard both dreams and illusions, and act on the basis of the truth?

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A woman walks through the streets of Manhattan with her belongings on December 14, 2017 in New York City. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4 percent in 2017 as the number of homeless people nationwide grew to about 553,000.

The U.S. views itself as the exceptional nation, the beacon of freedom and justice for the world. In the popular imagination, it is the land of plenty where everyone can thrive, the land of opportunity where anybody who works hard enough can realize the dreams of their heart. But is this really so or just a comforting illusion?

For two weeks this past autumn, Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, sought to find out, traveling over the U.S. to assess the state of extreme poverty in this country and its impact on human rights. His travels brought him to California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico. His report, published in mid-December by the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, pulls the curtains on the illusions this country cherishes about itself and reveals the startling truth about where we stand and where we are headed. Although the extent of poverty and income inequality in the U.S. has been documented several times in the past, it is still telling that the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty would undertake such an investigation in America, of all places, and expose the U.S. as an outlier among the economically advanced countries.
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