Category Archives: Children’s education

Feeding Needy Children in Haiti’s Capital

By Shae Davidson

A grant from Buddhist Global Relief to the What If Foundation supports the Lamanjay Food Program in the Ti Plas Kazo community of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The program serves up to 800 free meals each day at the Lamanjay community cafeteria and also provides lunches for 350–400 students and staff of the Father Jeri School in Port-au-Prince.

Awaiting distribution of the meal

Five-year-old Riber Jean has been eating at the Lamanjay Food Program since he was born. He loves eating at the cafeteria—which is only a few blocks from his home—with his mom and younger sister, and looks forward to a chance to see his friends.

Lamanjay is the co-creation of the Berkeley, California­–based What If Foundation and the Na Rive community development program in Haiti. Over the last twenty years, the two groups have worked closely together to develop Haitian-led programs to provide food assistance, educational opportunities, and disaster relief to the residents of Port-au-Prince’s Ti Plas Kazo community. For the children and families served by Na Rive’s community cafeteria, the meals provided are often their only food of the day.

The United Nations World Food Programme describes Haiti as having one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world. Half of the population was undernourished in 2018, and 22 percent of Haitian children are chronically malnourished. The situation facing children in Port-au-Prince has worsened since a political crisis began in 2018, which saw shortages of water, food, and fuel, as well as rising violence and increasing inflation. Over the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic and rising food prices have made Na Rive’s Lamanjay food program more critical than ever.

A grant from Buddhist Global Relief has allowed the What If Foundation to continue supporting the Lamanjay Food Program. The support helps purchase food and cooking supplies, provide stipends to workers who prepare and serve meals, and pay for storage space for dry goods.

The community cafeteria serves up to 800 meals each day. The program also provides lunches for 350–400 students and staff members of the Father Jeri School, which was partly furnished and equipped with BGR assistance.

Na Rive continues to support the needs of community members who have been displaced from Ti Plas Kazo. In 2016 the government dismantled the tent camp created for survivors of the 2010 earthquake, forcing families to move far from Ti Plas Kazo. Na Rive opened a food pantry where displaced families can pick up rice and beans to cook at home. The pantry supplies up to 60 families each week, saving them from having to walk miles back to the neighborhood’s community cafeteria.

In 2020, Lamanjay’s three programs served approximately 5,000 meals per week. Over the course of the twenty years that Na Rive and the What If Foundation have worked together to serve the people of Port-au-Prince, they have provided over 5.5 million meals.

Jeanty Simon enjoys a meal

The food program also nurtures a stronger sense of community. Lamanjay provides a welcoming space for residents of Ti Plas Kazo. Rolande, a 7-year-old who relies on Lamanjay, said, “I feel safe and happy here.” Many people who benefit from the project volunteer to help support it. The What If Foundation and Na Rive celebrate this spirit of communal effort, seeing it as an essential part of creating a feeling of togetherness and a valuable tool for helping residents and program workers build a more secure community. This sense of engagement and local ownership has led beneficiaries to share the story of Na Rive, putting more families and children in contact with the group.

This emphasis on safety and inclusion has helped Port-au-Prince residents like 4-year-old Jeanty Simon. Jeanty used to live in downtown Port-au-Prince with her grandmother, parents, and siblings, but the family moved to Ti Plas Kazo to escape the growing influence of gangs in their neighborhood. Jeanty’s father had to abandon his job, and the Lamanjay program helps the family make ends meet while providing a safe, welcoming space as they resettle.

Margaret Trost, a business owner and young mother, founded the What If Foundation in 2000 with human rights activist Father Gérard Jean-Juste. Jean-Juste saw child nutrition as the first step on a path leading to education, opportunities for growth, and more vibrant communities. As they began organizing in Haiti, Jean-Juste and his supporters found inspiration in the Creole saying, “Piti piti na rive”—”Little by little we will arrive.” The expression reflects the group’s belief in the power of small acts of love to improve lives.

Community organizer Lavarice Gaudin became the leader of Na Rive following Father Jean-Juste’s death from leukemia in 2009. He has skillfully guided the Lamanjay Food Program as well as the education and relief projects the What If Foundation funds in Haiti. Catherine Lelong, interim executive director of the What If Foundation since the spring of 2019, is of Haitian descent. A graduate of the London School of Business’s MBA program, Lelong has used her skills in nonprofit marketing and strategy to work with Na Rive and donor groups like Buddhist Global Relief to help the Lamanjay Food Program continue to serve the people of Ti Plas Kazo.

Riber Jean, 5, has been eating at the Lamanjay Food Program since infancy

Support from Buddhist Global Relief allows the What If Foundation to give families and children vital resources, helping build a better future for residents of Ti Plas Kazo who rely on the Lamanjay Food Program. The What If Foundation projects that the grant from Buddhist Global Relief will allow Na Rive to reach 22,000 people, continuing a sustainable, community-based food program that helps families most in need. According to the foundation, the partnership “provides the children not only the food to survive but the knowledge that they are not alone and that there are donors in other places who care and stand in solidarity with them.”

Shae Davidson holds a PhD degree in American history. His dissertation research explored the importance of inclusive community partnerships in building food systems.  He has served as a museum director and taught history and public policy.

Improving Children’s Health and Education in the Himalayan Foothills

By David Braughton

Providing food support to undernourished students in the Arunachal Pradesh branch of the Maha Bodhi Maitri Mandala not only improves their health, but also enhances their capacity to succeed in their studies.

Praying for world peace before classes begin

The Arunachal Branch of the Maha Bodhi Maitri Mandala is situated in a remote corner of northeastern India at the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. The branch falls under the umbrella of the Maha Bodhi Society of Bengaluru (Bangalore), founded by the late Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita and currently administered by Ven. Buddharakkhita’s monastic disciples. Ven. Buddharakkhita had long wished to start a branch of the Maha Bodhi Society in Arunachal Pradesh, where most of the inhabitants are traditional tribal Buddhists. The Mahabodhi Maitri Mandala (MMM) was founded in Diyun, a remote place in Arunachal Pradesh, on 3rd January 2003 with a primary school and hostel. 

The branch was established to serve the poor and needy people of the region, most of whom are members of the Chakma tribes. Originally residing in the Chittagong Hill Tract region of what is now Bangladesh, since the early sixteenth century the Chakmas have struggled for sovereignty and stability. After centuries of conflict with Muslim invaders, their plight only worsened with the colonialization of the Indian subcontinent under the British. From 1777 to 1789 the Chakmas waged war with the East India Company, which ended when the king of the Chakmas agreed to accept the company’s hegemony and pay tribute in the form of cotton.

With the partition of India following its independence from Britain, the Chittagong Hill Tract region was ceded to Pakistan, even though its population was 98% non-Muslim. The creation of East Pakistan, as the area was called, paved the way for ongoing war, violence, and conflict, and the first mass migration of Chakmas to India. Later, when East Pakistan was established as a separate country, named Bangladesh, the Pakistan government that still held sway in Chakma areas responded by building the Kaptai Dam to punish the Chakmas. Over 54,000 acres of Chakma farmland was submerged, leading to a second mass migration to northeast India.

Although the Chakma lands surrounding Diyun are rich in natural resources, the Chakmas lag behind the rest of India due to the prevalence of subsistence farming, a weak industrial base, poor infrastructure, political unrest and violence, and a reliance on public sector employment. The last major road building occurred over four decades ago, and the closest modern hospital is 13 hours away in the state of Assam. Most schools are government-run and may house as many as a hundred children in a single classroom. Children commonly drop out of primary school, resulting in an adult literacy rate of only 67%.

Surviving on subsistence farming, nearly 35% of the population falls below the Indian poverty line, which is equivalent to U.S. $361 US annually. According to a report published in 2013, over 50% of the area’s adult population is either unemployed or not participating in the workforce.

Given the area’s social and economic challenges, it is no surprise that the Maitri Mandala focused on opening a school for young children as its first venture. Classes and a youth hostel for orphans and the poorest students were originally housed in bamboo huts. Later, the organization was able to acquire land and build a school along with dormitories for girls and boys. Today there are 640 students enrolled in the school and 253 children living in the dormitories.

When the Maitri Mandala approached BGR for assistance in 2018, its leadership was struggling with a complex set of interconnected challenges. The children who came to the school were malnourished and grappling with a variety of health-related concerns that limited their ability to concentrate, study, and learn. Funds needed to operate the school and serve even more children had to be diverted to healthcare. Poor educational outcomes also meant that students would drop out and the school and other programs could lose community support.

Distributing fruits at meal time

In response to these many challenges, the Maitri Mandala developed a simple theory of change: provide three nutritious meals to students daily to improve student health, which, in turn, would improve educational outcomes. When they came to BGR for assistance, the BGR Board applauded their proposal and awarded the organization a grant to support their project.

Presenting schoolbooks to happy students

At the end of the first grant year, the Maitri Mandala reported that BGR support had enabled them to vastly improve both the quantity and quality of food served to the children. They had added rice, dal, fried vegetables, boiled vegetable curries, and fruit! In addition, they could now offer kids an afternoon snack. The impact was almost immediate. The number of children each month who complained of physical weakness, skin disease, and other illnesses related to malnutrition dropped by 50%, and more children were participating in sports and other physical activities than ever before. Equally significant, 94% of senior students passed the Central Board of Secondary Education exams, a standard test required in order to advance academically. The reduced cost of healthcare meant that the organization could increase teacher and staff pay by 1000 rupees a month, the equivalent of $13.38.

The onset of the pandemic required still more innovation on the part of the Maitri Mandala. Confronted with a nationwide lockdown, they used BGR support (which had now doubled) to provide rice, sugar, flour, milk, and other food items to the families of their poorest students. And when the children were finally able to return to school, the emphasis was on improving their health through a rigorous feeding program. As with the first year of funding, the results have been impressive with even more children passing their Central Board exams.

Often, it is hard, if not impossible to measure the good we do. Certainly, this is no less true for the over 45 organizations and projects that Buddhist Global Relief funds each year. Solving hunger is especially challenging because there is no single cause for hunger. If it were simply a matter of providing enough food to meet the nutritional needs of a child or its family today, we could do that. The issue becomes how to ensure that this same child and family continue to have sufficient food tomorrow and the day after, particularly when they are faced with the overwhelming challenges of civil strife, climate change, outdated farming techniques, poverty, illiteracy, natural disasters, inflated food prices, inadequate infrastructure, poor health, disease and now a pandemic.

Expressing thanks to Buddhist Global Relief

The experience of the Maha Bodhi Maitri Mandala Arunachal Branch is proof that by joining together, we can make a difference, no matter how intractable or complex the problem. People of good heart, motivated by compassion and focused on what is essential, can open up the future to a child and to a community, if only they are focused on the fundamentals and are willing to try.

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. He has worked for over 35 years in human services related to a range of human needs including refugee resettlement, employment and youth services.

Feeding Schoolchildren and Elders in a Himalayan Township

By Carla Prater

Since 2019 BGR has been funding the food program of the Mahabodhi Centre in Tawang, in the Indian Himalayas. The program provides three nutritious meals daily to over 200 people:165 children, elders, resident monks, and staff.

Students enjoy a meal at the Mahabodhi school, Tawang

Tucked into a valley more than 11,000 feet above sea level, in the Himalayan mountains of Arunachal Pradesh in northern India, there is a small town called Tawang. In this beautiful region, there is a side of life most summer tourists don’t see.

Because of heavy snowfall from November through March, during the winter Tawang is nearly cut off from the rest of the world. Few vegetables and fruits are available in the markets, and those that are are too expensive for most people to buy. For this reason, residents have to survive on cheese and dry vegetables until spring arrives, when the roads to Assam state, stretching 200 miles, again become motorable. Lacking nutritious food, children and vulnerable elders are subject to malnutrition and chronic health problems.

In 2010 Ven. Panyarakkhita, a monk who was born in Tawang and had come back to found the Mahabodhi Positive Living Society, met an eighty-year old widow living by herself in a bamboo hut. With no relatives to care for her, she was neglected and lonely. This encounter inspired him to found the Mahabodhi Old Age Home, where elders in need of care and protection would be treated with love and kindness and can live in safety, dignity, and peace.

Feeding elders at the Mahabodhi Old Age Home

On its six-acre campus, Mahabodhi Centre Tawang also provides housing, food, quality education, and health care to local children, with boys’ and girls’hostels housing over 160 children. There is a school for children in grades K-8, and a new effort supporting young women pursuing higher education.

The school offers a broad-based modern curriculum, while seeking to promote the development of compassion, self-knowledge, wisdom, and responsibility for others. Knowledge and skills are balanced with attention to attitudes and values.

The school children visit the elderly residents on Sundays and holidays, helping them with simple tasks. The elders are encouraged to continue their traditional customs, with a kitchen of their own where they can prepare their favorite dishes. Visitors enjoy hearing of the many experiences the elders have lived through.

Since 2019 BGR has helped to fund the center’s food program, which provides nutritious meals three times a day to over 200 people, including 165 children, the elderly residents, monks, and organization staff. With adequate food, the children and elders enjoy better health and are thriving in a supportive environment. Your generous donation will mean a great deal to the future of the children of Tawang!

Fruits are essential to good health

***

Beneficiary testimonies

Vayama, a 10th grade student:

Since 2014 I have been a student here. I am happy to know that food aid is provided by Buddhist Global Relief. Due to the food support, we are receiving healthy and nutritious food and all the children are fit and fine. We also get healthy fruit three times a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, such as apples, oranges, grapes, pears, plums, and pomegranates.

Your support is helping us immensely to keep physically and mentally strong. We feel deeply grateful and thankful to Buddhist Global Relief for your most important support in terms of education and food aid.

Suvaca, also in the 10th grade, writes:

I have been associated with Mahabodhi Tawang Centre since 2013. I am very happy to know that Buddhist Global Relief is supporting our education. We are getting tuition in such subjects as mathematics, science, English, and history. We also get to listen to Dhamma and practice meditation, which helps us to develop our mind and concentration. We go to study in a government school, but we are provided a good education with special classes by Mahabodhi Tawang Centre. Apart from special classes, we receive career counseling, personality development, health tips, and other self-development programs.

If there was no support from BGR and MTC, we would not have received a good quality education. I feel very lucky to have such support. On behalf of all the school children I express our big thanks and gratitude to Buddhist Global Relief for your invaluable support to us.

Norbu Drema, teacher at Mahabodhi School:

I have been closely associated with the Mahabodhi Society since my childhood days. I completed all my education from schooling to teaching profession in Mahabodhi centers across India. And I feel truly privileged and honored to be back in the same institution where I was brought up and educated. I have joined Mahabodhi School in Tawang to render my service as a teacher. I am blessed to be serving in this center because of what society has offered me till today. I am deeply grateful and thankful to Buddhist Global Relief for supporting our education and food project programs in Mahabodhi Tawang Centre.

The center is striving its best to impart good education with your committed support. Children are given extra tuition in various subjects. Educators and resource persons are invited to give career counseling, self-skill training, and other important educational information. Graduates of the school also visit and involve the children in sports, games, and cultural events to enhance their personal development and confidence level.

On the other hand, this center is also providing wholesome food to the beneficiaries. The novices, staff, children, and elders are living happily and taken good care of by the society.

I look forward to your continued support to Mahabodhi Tawang Centre through education and food aid projects.

Carla Prater is assistant director of Buddhist Global Relief.

Rice Support for Girl Students in Cambodia

By BGR Staff

Through its partnership with Lotus Outreach International, BGR is helping provide poor girls in Cambodia–and their families–with rice support, thereby enabling them to continue their education through high school and even to pursue university degrees.

Lotus Outreach International (LOI), a trusted BGR partner since 2009, works to improve the lives of women and girls in Cambodia and India through initiatives that increase girls’ access to education, provide counseling and safe havens for victims of trafficking and domestic violence, and support women’s economic empowerment through skills training and other programs.

A foundation of LOI’s education programs is its policy of providing rice to impoverished female students and young children in rural Cambodia. This policy ensures reliable nourishment for people persistently affected by food insecurity while also freeing up limited familial resources for the girls’ education. Without such rice support, many of these young girls would need to work to support their families rather than complete their studies. The rice often feeds the girls’ parents and siblings as well, and the cost savings can benefit entire families, who may be able to invest a greater portion of their earnings into a farm or other business.

BGR has funded rice support for Lotus Outreach’s GATE scholarship program since we first made contact in 2009, and for the CATALYST program since it was introduced as a sequel to the GATE program. GATE (an acronym meaning “Girls Access To Education”) offers educational scholarships to girls in primary and secondary school. CATALYST, also supported by a grant from BGR, builds on this foundation by helping girls pursue higher education at universities and vocational training institutes across Cambodia. All participants in these programs commit to attending school for the duration of the year.

Last year, the BGR grant was expanded to support not only the female students in the GATE and CATALYST scholarship programs but also the families of 301 kindergarten students.

The distribution of rice is implemented through local organizations. The kindergarten students’ rice-support program is carried out in partnership with Khemara, Cambodia’s first locally founded and operated NGO, which works to support the health, education, and welfare of Cambodian women and children. The GATE rice-support program is carried out through the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center in cooperation with Local Education Working Groups in the students’ villages. These groups, consisting of teachers, parents, government officials, and other community volunteers, then deliver the rice directly to the recipients. The CATALYST program’s rice distribution is carried out by LOI staff.

In all, in the 2018–19 grant cycle, the rice support program distributed nearly 60 tons of rice to 464 students and their families, feeding a total of 1,067 people.

Younger students in class

Twenty-year-old Hao Pheara is the oldest of six children in an impoverished family in Soth Nikum district in Siem Reap. Her mother, who is herself illiterate, prioritized her daughter’s education, and so Pheara helped the family make ends meet. Working as a laborer, carrying and transporting bricks, in addition to her schooling, she struggled academically and considered dropping out.

After joining the GATE scholarship program Pheara was able to focus her attention on her schooling. In addition to rice support, the scholarship also provided her with a new bike, school uniforms, shoes, school supplies and other necessities, and a monthly stipend. Her grades improved and she has begun to imagine a hopeful future in business. “My family is very happy because of the support from the program, which is crucially important to reduce the financial burden of my education and livelihood,” she said.

Lunh Chainey is a twelfth-grade student in LOI’s GATE program and a recipient of BGR-funded rice support. Her father is a food vendor and her mother raises small livestock at home. Before she joined the scholarship and rice-support programs, the costs of education meant that her family often ate only two meals a day. “Our life is difficult; we have to devote everything to the children to secure their future, so they don’t have to suffer as we have,” her mother, Khim Keng, said. The rice-support program ensured that the entire family would have three daily meals.

In a conversation during her twelfth-grade year, Chainey told an interviewer, “In terms of academics, I am between fifth and eighth in my class of 50 students, and I’m 80 percent confident of passing my year 12.” Indeed, a few months later she reported that she had not only successfully graduated but had also secured a coveted seat at a premier IT institute in Phnom Penh, a pathway to a career in the high-growth technology sector.

Hong Rina is 17 and a tenth-grader. The second of seven children, she lives with her mother and five of her siblings in a small room on the outskirts of Phnom Penh City. Her father and older brother live elsewhere as they work to support the family and send the younger children to school. “Previously, it was hard for me to stay in school. I always wanted to leave school to work like my brother, but my parents didn’t allow me to drop out,” she said. She attended extra classes, but couldn’t concentrate well because she was always worried about her family’s struggles.

Since the sixth grade Rina has participated in LOI’s GATE scholarship and rice-support programs. She said, “The monthly rice support is a big support for my family as a whole. It helps to cover the daily consumption of every member of my household. Staff from the scholarship program and teachers often visit my home, to meet with my mother and encourage her to follow up on my study. They also check on my study performance and motivate me to go to school.”

Today Rina attends extra classes and volunteers in her community as leader of a Red Cross group at her school. She said, “I want to pursue my study to university. In the future, I want to become a doctor or have a good job that can help my family and support my six siblings.”

This article is based on reporting by Lotus Outreach staff.

Educating the Children of Backpack Medics from Myanmar Conflict Zones

By BGR Staff

The oppression and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities by military forces in Myanmar (Burma) has a long and violent history. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an estimated 401,000 people are internally displaced, living in isolated villages or in IDP camps, without access to sufficient medical care.

Since 1999, the U.S.–based Burma Humanitarian Mission (BHM) has partnered with the Back Pack Health Worker Team to provide health care to members of the country’s oppressed and persecuted ethnic minorities. In 2019, BHM supported 30 teams of backpack medics from the ethnic minority Karen, Kachin, Shan, Pa’laung, Mon, Chin, and Rohingya communities. The teams of five medics each travel to between nine and twelve villages each month, working with local village health volunteers and midwives to provide health care to people from their respective communities. Serving the most vulnerable areas of Myanmar, each team provides care to an estimated 2,000 people each year. Continue reading

Walk to Feed the Hungry in Uganda

By BGR Staff

Bhante Buddharakkhita in front of the temple

On August 18th, the Uganda Buddhist Centre (UBC) in Entebbe, Uganda, held a solidarity “Walk to Feed the Hungry,” the third such walk organized by the center. The walk was led by Ven. Bhante Buddharakkhita, a Uganda monk who is the founder of the center and a long-time member of BGR’s advisory council.  The purpose of the walk was to raise awareness of hunger and malnutrition as a pressing issue both for Ugandans and for vulnerable communities around the world. Continue reading