Category Archives: Education

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!

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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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Being the First to Finish School  


By BGR Staff

The following article, from Suzanne Alberga, Executive Director of BGR’s long-time partner, the What If? Foundation, features an interview with Cadet Fridelène, a student in Haiti who recently graduated high school through a scholarship from Na Rive, a program that BGR has been supporting over the past few years. She also speaks about the Father Jeri School, which a grant from BGR has helped to equip and staff.      

 Na Rive scholarship student Cadet Fridelène will not be returning to school this year. And it’s for the best possible reason: she graduated in June!

cadetoneCadet is entering a world of possibility that would not be open to her without your support. She is a wonderful example of the intelligence, determination, and hope that our partner, Na Rive, see in their students every day. And as you’ll hear from Cadet, the financial support and encouragement she received over the last six years has changed the course of her life.

The Father Jeri School begins its second academic year in just a couple of weeks. With your support, we can change the lives of many more children and expand the grade levels offered at the school so students like Cadet can proudly graduate in their own community.

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Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 5 (conclusion)

By BGR Staff

23. U.S.: Urban Farming in Detroit

Nearly 40% of Detroit residents live below the poverty line and 21% of metro Detroiters are food insecure. Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) was established to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. The aim is not only to provide residents with seeds to increase food security but to achieve “food sovereignty,” where residents are the leaders and beneficiaries of a transformed food system, able to make decisions about the health, wealth, and future of their families and community.

The grant from BGR will support KGD’s ongoing programs. These include: (1) The Garden Resource Program, which helps increase access to healthy food by providing technical and resource support to 1,500 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, including 400 new gardens in 2017. Together these gardens will produce over 180 tons of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce for predominately low-income families and engage more than 16,000 residents. (2) Twenty-two events including 16 educational workshops and 6 garden workdays reaching 440 residents. At these events a diverse pool of community leaders and instructors, many Garden Resource growers, will provide hands-on instruction on basic gardening, water conservation, and food preservation techniques to build the skills and confidence of urban farmers. Annually renewable project

24. Vietnam: Enhanced Homestead Food Production

This is the second year of a three-year partnership between BGR and Helen Keller International that addresses household food security for residents of Muong Lang Commune, in Son La Province, a remote mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. There is high malnutrition in this region, which is a contributing factor to 50% of infant and childhood deaths. The Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program trains multi-generation families to increase year-round food production with more diversified crops to improve nutrition and thereby to improve health. In all over 100 families in 10 villages will benefit from the program (approximately 550 individuals). The grant from BGR sponsors a third of the program.

In year two, an additional ten communities will benefit from the establishment of Village Model Farms (VMF)—a community based resource for training and technical support for the roughly ten families that typically make up each small village. Within each village a community husband and wife are identified and trained as the VMF demonstration farmers. These VMFs will provide agriculture resources for the community households (i.e. seeds),  educate families on nutrient rich crops, and  provide hands on training including bio-composting, crop diversification,  sanitation and hygiene, and even marketing strategies for income generation from sale of excess food production. The family model empowers women to actively contribute to the improved health of their village.
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