Category Archives: Education

Joy at the Father Jeri School in Haiti

By BGR Staff

Two years ago, BGR received a generous donation from one of our supporters with a request that we use the funds to sponsor three three-year projects. One of the beneficiaries has been the Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo community in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The school, constructed and operated under the auspices of our partner, the What If? Foundation, has been offering impoverished children in Port-au-Prince a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. BGR is close to completing its second year of support, and will soon begin its third year, the final year of the grant. The school was recently visited by Margaret Trost, founder of the What If Foundation, who sent the following report to the school’s supporters (including BGR):

A few weeks ago, I walked through the doors of the Father Jeri School for the first time since it opened. To say I felt overwhelmed with joy would be an understatement. It was everything I imagined and so much more.

I arrived during lunchtime and the sounds of children playing outside and eating in the cafeteria filled the air. As I stood in the courtyard taking it all in, I remembered back to when the school was just an idea that seemed almost impossible to bring into form.

But here it was in front of me. Alive and vibrant. Three stories full of eager students. 351 of them! Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. 8 full-time teachers, 39 subject specific part-time teachers, and 23 staff members. Everyone engaged in their work. And food program meals streaming into the cafeteria with hundreds more plates prepared for other hungry children in the neighborhood. So much going on. So much energy. So much school spirit.

I visited chemistry, math, and history classes, enjoyed the enthusiastic singing of the kindergarten children, and watched students practice their dance routine for Haiti’s Flag Day. Every inch of the school was being used and enjoyed. Even on the weekends, classrooms are filled with students participating in Na Rive’s after-school program.

It was palpable how cherished the Father Jeri School is, how proud the students are to be a part of it, and what an invaluable resource it is for the community. The school is changing lives, providing hope, making a difference every day.

Throughout my trip, I kept thinking of you and how you’ve helped make all of this possible. Without your support, this school would have remained just a good idea.

Your donations pay for scholarships, teachers, books, and uniforms. They pay for fuel to keep the generator running and food program stoves burning. And meals – you pay for hundreds and hundreds of nutritious meals every day that mean everything to a hungry child. Every donation of every size matters in this work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to move an idea into reality. It takes all of us: Our extraordinary partner Na Rive, our devoted staff and board at What If Foundation, and every one of you. It’s all of us sharing our hearts and resources, being vehicles of love, united in our desire to make a difference for some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

I feel so grateful to be part of this tangible and transformative work. Thank you for being a part of it too and for your ongoing support of the What If? Foundation.

With love and joy,

Margaret Trost

Founder, What If? Foundation

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Girls’ Education as a Key to Combating Climate Change

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Project Drawdown describes itself as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The Project brought together a group of top researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model “the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.” The resulting plan provides “a path forward that can roll back global warming within thirty years.” The solutions to reversing climate change, the website says, “are in place and in action.” The purpose of the Project is “to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible.”

Somewhat surprisingly, in the Project’s ranking of solutions to climate change, in the sixth place is educating girls. This item ranked higher than several of the more familiar solutions often proposed by the experts. It ranks higher than solar farms and rooftop solar (nos. 8 and 10, respectively), regenerative agriculture (no. 11), nuclear power (no. 20), electric vehicles (no. 26), LED lighting (no. 33), and mass transport (no. 37).

In describing the impact of girls’ education in reversing climate change, Project Drawdown says:

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health…. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees, and water, even as nature’s cycles change. They have greater capacity to cope with shocks from natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Despite these benefits, there are still formidable barriers—economic, cultural and social—preventing some 62 million girls around the world from realizing their right to education. The Drawdown website suggests measures that need to be adopted to change all this: making school affordable; helping girls overcome health barriers; reducing the time and distance to get to school; and making schools more friendly toward girl students.

Almost from its inception, BGR recognized the relevance of educating girls to our mission of combating global hunger and malnutrition. But the discovery of the link between girls’ education and climate change is new to us and reinforces our commitment to this major BGR program policy.

Our current projects that support the education of girls include the following:

  • School Lunches for Marma Girls in Bangladesh: providing healthy food at least once a day for the 121 indigenous girls of Marma ethnicity now studying at Visakha Girls’ School, thereby helping the girls maintain good health so they don’t miss classes and can sustain their concentration (partner: Jamyang Foundation).
  • Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School: the GATE (Girls Access To Education) program in Cambodia, which provides educational scholarships to girls pursuing primary and secondary education, and its sequel, CATALYST, which supports girls who have graduated high school and are pursuing higher education at universities and vocational training institutes (partner: Lotus Outreach).
  • A Girls’ Home and Women’s Social Service Center in India: sponsoring the education and training of 30 teenage girls in danger of child marriage or unable to finish high school and university due to poverty; they are being instructed in nursing, social work, and law as well as in job training so they can become agents of change and help others when they return to their villages (partner: Bodhicitta Foundation).
  • Educating Girls in Nicaragua: Sponsoring the education of 112 girls, including six who are attending university, covering tuition and/or registration fees; and the government-mandated school uniform. Additionally, each girl receives bi-annual parasite medicine treatment and a free physical to ensure that they are healthy (partner: North Country Mission of Hope).
  • Technical education for girls in Sri Lanka: Providing access to skills development for approximately 60 girls selected from low-income families to equip them with employable vocational skills in computer technology (partner: CENWOR).

Other projects supported by BGR in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Haiti, and Vietnam educate both boys and girls together–but all include a significant percentage of girl students. While the endeavor to prevent dangerous elevation in carbon emissions will require multiple strategies, as well as strong national determination expressed in effective governmental policies, it is heartening to see the education of girls occupying such a high position among those recommended by Project Drawdown.

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.

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

Winning the peaceAn increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict.

The dominant driver of today’s humanitarian crises is armed conflict. Ten of the World Food Program’s thirteen “largest and most complex emergencies are driven by conflict”, and “responding to war and instability represents 80 percent of all humanitarian spending today … stretching humanitarian organizations beyond their limits.”[2] Ongoing conflict not only drives humanitarian crises, but complicates the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need and to provide assistance.

Violence, conflict, and persecution have resulted in the displacement of 65,000,000 people, more than any other time since World War II.[3] The average length of displacement is seventeen years. In such circumstances, measures of food insecurity are nearly triple that found in other developing country settings.[4]

The current humanitarian situation confronts these stark realities:

  • For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people in the world is on the rise. In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished, an increase of 38 million people from 2015. Almost 500 million of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict.
  • The number of people who are acutely food-insecure (in need of emergency assistance) rose from 80 million in 2016 to 108 million in 2017—a 35 percent increase in a single year.
  • Over 65 million people are currently displaced because of violence, conflict and persecution—more than any other time since World War II.
  • For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Each of these crises is driven by conflict.
  • Increased migration and the spilling of conflicts beyond borders has led to a proliferation of “fragile states”—states defined by “the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government.”
  • By 2030, between half and two-thirds of the world’s poor are expected to live in states classified as fragile. While a decade ago most fragile states were low-income countries, today almost half are middle-income countries.

At the same time, the nature of conflict and the global system of governance are undergoing transitions that undermine the international community’s ability to address and reduce conflict. The report highlights the rise of non-state actors as powerful participants in armed conflict while also recognizing the significance of activities such as the weaponizing of information to undermine the legitimacy of traditional nation-state institutions.

The report also describes how threats such as food insecurity can drive recruitment for terrorists and rebels, worsening destabilization. (Report, p.7) Military strength cannot adequately address these kinds of threats. Rather, appropriate responses to such threats must address their actual nature. Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades will never be a long-term solution to food insecurity-driven instability. Recognition of this basic reality drives the use of so-called “smart power” in the form of foreign assistance, especially food assistance and agricultural development, to address the underlying causes of this instability. Continue reading

Kindling the Light of Education in Haiti

By BGR Staff

The Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo district of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, has been one of Buddhist Global Relief’s major funding commitments. Last year BGR began a three-year project with its partner, the What If? Foundation, to make of Father Jeri a top-notch school. The funding from BGR is intended to establish a strong school infrastructure, ensuring that the educational standards are high and that the accompanying facilities provide an excellent environment for learning. Currently 188 impoverished children, aged 3–19, are enrolled in Pre-K to 8th grade. The hope is to expand the school in the years ahead so that it includes high school and accommodates up to 350 children.

During the first year (2016–17), the BGR grant covered the salary for an educational human resource specialist who recruited and hired well-trained teachers and administrative staff. The grant funded the purchase of comfortable furniture (including desks, tables, chairs, book shelves and storage) for classrooms and a cafeteria to make the environment conducive to learning. And it financed the modification of the land that surrounds the school to fit the needs of an educational environment.

The school opened in September 2016 and is offering children in the Ti Plas Kazo community a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. The building is clean, filled with natural light, structurally sound, and designed to be an environment for learning. The school provides a challenging academic curriculum along with real world learning outside the classroom and opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. The physical space and curriculum, in combination with the commitment from teachers, students, and families, is providing a unique educational opportunity for poor Haitian children.

The grant from BGR for the second year (2017–18), administered through the What If? Foundation, has the following purposes:

  • to ensure that salaries are competitive to help retain a quality teaching and administrative staff
  • to install a water pump to get water from the underground tank that collects groundwater to the tank on the roof, which supplies every room in the school with water
  • to purchase four laptop computers for administrative staff and teachers
  • to provide school supplies —including paper, pens, chalk, and books—to ensure that teachers have the materials they need to create a strong learning environment.

The Father Jeri Academic School is not just the culmination of the Ti Plas Kazo Community’s dream, but also a symbol of hope for the community, and a true catalyst for developing a new generation of Haitians.

The following is a report BGR recently received from the What If? Foundation, including an interview with Program Director Lavarice Gaudin:

Despite the uncertainty of hurricane season, our partner Na Rive is determined to carry on in building Haiti’s future. The Father Jeri School started classes as planned the first week of September. Program Director Lavarice Gaudin is happy to report that enrollment has increased 60% from last year. Word is spreading quickly about the Father Jeri School.

We caught up with Lavarice and asked him to share his vision for the new school year.

Hello Lava! Congratulations on your second school year!

Thank you! Our first year was incredible. We learned so much. And we look forward to making this next year even better. We are so grateful for the support of the What If? Foundation’s donors in making it all possible.

 

What are you most excited about?

There is so much interest in the Father Jeri School from students, parents, teachers, and community members. I keep hearing that this can be the best school in Haiti. We are working hard to make sure that this is true.

That’s wonderful! What are your goals for the year ahead?

We plan to keep focusing on early education – pre-kindergarten and the early elementary years. Our pre-kindergarten classrooms are unique in Haiti. The small class size, colorful rooms, and playful project-based way of teaching the fundamentals – it all sets the Father Jeri School apart. For the higher grade levels, we are making sure our students are prepared to succeed in the government exams and continue to progress in their education.

What is the most important ingredient for the school’s success?

The quality of the education. The pretty school building is not enough, it’s the high quality education that makes the school even more beautiful. We also want to add the final grade of secondary school next year, so our students can begin and complete their education at the Father Jeri School.

It’s so important to build a strong foundation — starting with pre-kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. We are fostering leaders, not followers, and this requires consistent excellence.

What are your biggest challenges?

Having enough resources to pay teachers and purchase school materials. There’s so much that we need, and prices keep rising in Haiti. Finding ways to bring technology into the classroom. And continuing to support the students beyond academic achievement — providing them with the nutrition and energy to learn. We pray that with the help of our big sister What If, we will make it happen. Little by little, we are on our path to becoming the best school in Haiti – and creating a better future for our students.

The Walk to Feed the Hungry is the primary source of the funding that enable BGR to support its many projects around the world. So please join a walk, support the walk of others, or simply donate to Buddhist Global Relief.

 

Technical Skills Training for Low Income Girls in Sri Lanka

By Patricia Brick

Young women in Sri Lanka face rates of unemployment nearly twice that of their male counterparts, with unemployment levels highest among women with secondary school diplomas. But the costs of vocational training and other higher education are prohibitive for many girls. While state universities offer free higher education, these schools accept only a fraction of qualified students. Those who are not accepted must pay to attend private or professional schools, where scholarship funding may be difficult to come by.

The BGR project, “Providing Access to Skills Development for Selected Out-of-School Girls from Low Income Families,” supports Sri Lankan girls and young women in pursuing higher education and vocational training. Administered by the Center for Women’s Research (CENWOR), the project helps young women prepare for careers in such rapidly expanding fields as information technology and civil engineering.
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