Category Archives: Ending global poverty

Our Efforts Make a Real Difference

BGR Staff

The following post is a message we received from one of our long-term partners in Haiti, the What If Foundation. Though we cannot know for certain whether Daymondy Dume was one of the children who received meals through our sponsorship of the food program, she exemplifies the kind of difference this program can make in the lives of people living on the edge of poverty. We therefore share it with our readers.

Daymondy is the first person in her family to attend school. She grew up in one of the tent camps set up for those displaced by the 2010 earthquake, and today she’s in her second year of Medical School at the University of Notre Dame in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She’s on the path to realize her dream of becoming a doctor — achieving a brighter future for herself while giving back to her community and her country. And it’s donors like you who made it possible.

Daymondy Dume at the University of Notre Dame’s library

Daymondy and her family began attending the Na Rive Food Program when she was little. Na Rive’s Program Director, Lavarice Gaudin, recognized her potential and encouraged her to pursue one of our academic scholarships. She graduated high school in 2018 and was accepted to the Medical School at Notre Dame University, where fewer than 10% of applicants make the cut. She is so excited to be on track to become a doctor, she still pinches herself.

I’ve been studying around the clock to make sure I am the best student I can be. I want to make everyone who believes in me and supports me proud. I have come so far from when I first started school, so I try hard every day to stay on top of my studies. I am very interested in genetics and have great teachers here who push me to succeed every day. This last year has been difficult since the university had to close and transportation has become more dangerous, but I will find a way! Thank you for helping me pursue my dream.”

Students like Daymondy represent exactly what Na Rive hopes to achieve: giving children from Ti Plas Kazo the opportunity to transform themselves, their families, their community, and eventually, their country. “We are so proud of Daymondy. Her determination was always easy to see, but now she has grown to become a smart, motivated young woman who wants to give back. She is a wonderful example for our students and our community” says Lavarice.

Daymondy also represents the power of our partnership with Na Rive: the support your donations provide is put to the best possible use by those who know the community best. By investing in the future of children like Daymondy, we are giving them the tools to achieve their full potential, whatever that might be. And the impact of every single child we support has a magnifying effect across their families, classmates and community.

BGR Awards Grants to 51 Projects Worldwide

By Kate Zemlo Rivas

In late April, BGR’s Board approved 51 projects with potential partners around the world. These grants for BGR’s fiscal year 2021-22 amounted to $969,000. The Board provided $60,000 in additional emergency assistance to regions afflicted with the Covid pandemic–most in India–pushing BGR’s grant total to over $1,000,000.

During the weekend of April 23–25, 2021, the Buddhist Global Relief Board and staff members met via Zoom to review 51 project proposals from potential partners around the world. By the weekend’s conclusion, all of the projects for BGR’s fiscal year 2021-22 had been approved, with the Board awarding $969,000 in grants. The $400,000 increase compared to the previous year was made possible by several extremely generous donations we received over the past year. Decisions by the BGR Board in May to provide $60,000 in emergency assistance to regions afflicted with the Covid pandemic–most in India–pushed BGR’s grant total to over $1,000,000.

A majority of BGR’s projects are renewable projects with existing partners. Through the years, these projects have proven to be successful and aligned with BGR’s mission of fighting hunger, supporting sustainable agriculture, educating children—especially girls—and providing opportunities for women to start livelihood projects to support their families.

The projects support partners operating in countries around the world, among them Nicaragua, Peru, Haiti, Brazil, the United States, Uganda, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Malawi, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the challenges caused by the pandemic, most of the partner organizations have reported that they are staying on track with their goals as they adjusted their operations to ever-changing conditions.

This year, the Board approved eight new projects, half of which introduce new organizations into BGR’s circle of worldwide partners.

Each CAMFED Association member, on average, supports three more girls to go to secondary school, and rallies community support around the most vulnerable.

CAMFED, one of BGR’s new partners, is more formally known as the Campaign for Female Education. An international non-governmental, non-profit organization, CAMFED’s mission is to eradicate poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. CAMFED programs operate in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Malawi. BGR awarded CAMFED a grant to address the urgent needs of female students in Malawi, one of the least developed countries in the world. For most families in Malawi, school costs are prohibitive and thus poor children, especially girls, often lack opportunities for education. The grant from BGR will support the education and basic nutritional needs of 1,333 girl students in Malawi.

In Myanmar, BGR’s new partner is New Eden Charity Foundation, which will provide school supplies to about 800 children of families in the Chin State who have been internally displaced due to the heavy fighting in the region.

Mahabodhi International Meditation Center (MIMC) is a new partner in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, India. MIMC operates a school for disadvantaged boys and girls from remote parts of the region. Thus far, every year during the admission period, MIMC’s selection committee has had to turn away many deserving boys simply because the present boys’ hostel can only accommodate 100 children. BGR’s grant will support the construction of a new hostel to accommodate an additional 80 boys. This will make a difference not only to the students but to their families and communities.

BGR will join an existing partner, CARE, in a new project this year that will expand a university scholarship initiative for female high school graduates in Afghanistan’s Khost province. More than 866,000 adolescents in Afghanistan are out of school, including 622,084 (71.8 percent) girls. Since 2012, CARE has helped more than 300 young women to continue their education, and as a result, the graduates have found job opportunities allowing them to support themselves and their families. This grant will provide scholarships to an additional 100 young women for the coming academic year.

Uganda Buddhist Centre is another of BGR’s existing partners. This year, in addition to the current UBC Peace School, the organization is introducing a new project to provide hunger relief for orphans in Bulega Village, Entebbe. In this Ugandan village, many children have been orphaned or abandoned due to HIV/AIDS, poverty, conflict-related violence, inadequate healthcare, neglect, and exploitation. This project will provide two nutritious meals a day for about 20 children for a year. The program also offers emotional support, yoga classes, and mindfulness training for the children.

A partner from earlier years, Sri Lanka’s Karuna Trust was awarded a grant to support the professional training of fifteen girls from low-income families to become graphic designers, a profession in high demand in Sri Lanka. Karuna Trust has run similar programs in the past, and all the graduates are either well employed or running their own businesses. BGR has also given Karuna Trust an emergency donation to provide dry food rations to families negatively impacted by the corona pandemic.

Karuna Trust hunger relief sponsored by BGR

A longtime BGR partner, Oxfam America, was awarded a grant for its new project supporting women’s livelihood support and climate-smart agriculture in Uganda. This project aims to benefit 200 women and men farmers and their families by training them in climate-resilient agricultural practices and business skills related to farming, purchasing tools, and planting seeds for home consumption and income.

Finally, the Sahuarita Food Bank and Community Center, located in southeastern Arizona, is a second-year beneficiary of BGR funding. A BGR grant last year supported the construction of the center’s new facility with a commercial kitchen and classroom. This year, BGR is supporting a pilot project in which women will be trained in food preparation and other skills needed to operate a small food business.

Feeding hungry children at Sahuarita Food Bank

BGR expresses its deepest gratitude to all its generous donors who allow us to continue our work of helping to relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable among us.

Kate Zemlo Rivas is a volunteer at BGR. She lives in Sacramento, California, and works for the University of California, Davis. Kate is awaiting admission to the California Bar and is hoping to practice in the area of human rights and continue supporting the immigrant community. She has been a student of Buddhism for over ten years.

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.

Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods for Women Farmers in Kenya

By Patricia Brick

Tending a vegetable garden using eco-friendly techniques

BGR’s partner, the Grow Biointensive Agriculture Centre of Kenya (G-BIACK), works to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Kenya and to raise the income of poor farmers through environmentally sustainable agricultural methods. Responding to a crisis of soil degradation in the project areas in Machakos County, G-BIACK teaches farmers methods to reclaim depleted soil while facilitating the cultivation of cash crops that will provide the greatest improvement to their livelihoods.

A BGR project titled “Enhancing Capacities of Rural Women in Kenya” provided training to 840 women farmers and kitchen gardeners, many of whom reported that their children had been hungry before and now have sufficient food. The project had four objectives:

  • to improve the livelihoods of poor women living in rural communities in Machakos County;
  • to share information related to family health and nutrition;
  • to link the women to local organizations to support them in their livelihood development;
  • to teach ecologically sound principles and techniques.

During the project period, drought struck the region, and partway through the year Covid affected in-person trainings. Our partner reports that the trainings were nevertheless highly successful at achieving the stated goals. A majority of participants created home gardens that were drought-resistant and that incorporated swales and terraces to limit water runoff. Many utilized Grow Biointensive compost methods to rejuvenate depleted soil. Participants reported feeling more independent as they grew their crops for food and income.

Graduation after completing the program

Kaloki Virginia appreciated learning about the value of composting organic materials to use in her garden. “I had been burning all the trash after harvesting my crops,” she said, referring to the vegetation left over after harvesting. “I didn’t know that trash was gold. Now I know. I have piles of compost from my farm, which I am using to grow my food.”

Jenifer Kamene spoke about the value of using organic fertilizers and pesticides rather than the heavy chemicals she had used in the past. She said: “Chemicals destroyed my farm and I became very poor. I was wondering what was happening in my farm because I could not produce any food due to poor soils. But just a few months after G-BIACK came, I am rich. I have food. This is my joy!”

Mary Mutheu, a resident of the Mithini community in Machakos County, also participated in the trainings this year. “The biggest need of people in Mithini is food,” she said. “A year ago, I was buying vegetables for my family every time. But now see my kitchen garden: It is flourishing with indigenous vegetables. This is what I needed. Nothing else.” She added: “May G-BIACK reach out to all of this region with this knowledge. May they continue teaching women until all of them create a kitchen garden like mine.”

Patricia Brick is a staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.

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.

Global Health and Development Orgs: Biden Must Launch A Global Vaccine Program to End Covid Pandemic

News release from Public Citizen

Sixty-six global health and development organizations have appealed to President Biden to launch a global vaccine manufacturing program to end the pandemic. U.S. leadership of such a program would provide billions of additional Covid-19 vaccine doses to the world. Buddhist Global Relief was one of the signatories to this appeal.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen and 65 other global health, development and humanitarian organizations today called on President Joe Biden to announce and implement a global vaccine manufacturing program to end the pandemic and build a globally-distributed vaccine infrastructure for future pandemics.

 “Much more ambitious U.S. leadership is needed to end to the global pandemic,” said Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Director Peter Maybarduk. “The U.S. government should establish, urgently, a manufacturing operation for the world, that would share vaccine recipes and work with the World Health Organization to alleviate suffering and bring billions of additional vaccine doses to humanity.”

 The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a movement of health and humanitarian organizations, has endorsed the letter. Some of the largest U.S.-based international groups, FHI360, International Rescue Committee, Helen Keller International and International Medical Corps, as well as advocacy organizations including RESULTS and PrEP4All, have also signed onto the letter.

 The letter noted the only way to get the pandemic under control is to immediately ramp up vaccine production across the world. The group requests Biden announce a new manufacturing program in his fiscal year 2022 budget and help produce billions more vaccine doses within one year. The U.S. can do so for about $3 a dose, a fraction of the cost of inaction, according to the coalition. Without a global manufacturing plan, the economic costs to the U.S. alone could be between $800 billion to $1.4 trillion in 2021 alone.

 The letter comes ahead of a fundraising conference this Thursday, hosted by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, for the COVAX facility, dedicated to increasing equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines.

 “Given the increasingly connected nature of today’s world and the risks that we consequently share, it is vital that we act proactively and decisively to address those risks,” said Nancy Aossey, president and CEO of International Medical Corps. “The U.S. has the intellectual and financial resources necessary to help lead this initiative, working across borders with other governments, and with international health agencies, to end this and future pandemics.”

“Vaccine donations alone won’t end the pandemic,” said Abby Maxman, Oxfam America CEO, a signatory to the Biden letter. “The commitments planned for COVAX are critically important, and yet entirely inadequate to meet global need. Without urgent new manufacturing commitments, billions of people may wait years for a vaccine.”

 The groups said the U.S. government should not only expand production in the U.S. and abroad, but also work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to set up production hubs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These hubs would democratize production and improve global health security, particularly if they are accountable to the public and equipped with adaptable technologies, such as mRNA platforms, that could help defeat the next pandemic.

 “The U.S. government has helped produce hundreds of millions of vaccine doses for people living in the U.S., on a relatively short timeline. The same is needed—and within reach—for all countries,” Maybarduk added. The key missing ingredient is ambitious political leadership, to end the pandemic for everyone, everywhere.”

Here is the text of the letter, along with a list of the signatories:

April 13, 2021

 President Joseph R. Biden
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

 Dear President Biden,

 Thank you for your leadership strengthening the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic. We appreciate your administration’s commitment to COVAX and the recently announced Quad partnership, to support vaccine access abroad. Yet without much more ambitious leadership, the scale of global vaccine need will not be met.

 Even as our country expands access to Covid-19 vaccines through the broadest vaccination campaign in U.S. history, for most of the world, there is no relief in sight. Few of the billions of people living in low- and middle-income countries will be vaccinated against Covid-19 this year. Many may not be vaccinated until 2024, if ever. Virus variants threaten to deepen and prolong the crisis.

 The only way to get the pandemic under control is to accelerate global vaccine manufacturing. The United States has capabilities to help the world make billions more doses of Covid-19 vaccine for about $3 a dose, a fraction of the cost of inaction, and shorten the pandemic.

 We urge your administration to announce in your fiscal year 2022 budget an ambitious global vaccine manufacturing program to end the pandemic and build vaccine infrastructure for the future.

 Proposal

 The United States should help the world produce billions more vaccine doses within approximately one year.

For example, modest capital investments (about $2 billion) can retrofit vaccine manufacturing facilities and install additional mRNA production lines. Doses can then be manufactured for less than $3 each. U.S. leadership is likely to inspire co-funding by other governments and international organizations. A total investment of less than $25 billion, including whole-ofgovernment efforts to source raw materials and provide technical assistance, can support the rapid production of 8 billion doses of mRNA vaccine, enough for more than half the world’s population.

 The U.S. should support a massive expansion of manufacturing and establish hubs for vaccine production with the World Health Organization, including hubs located in Africa, Asia and Latin America. These hubs will democratize production and improve global health security, particularly if they are accountable to the public and equipped with adaptable technologies, such as mRNA platforms, believed critical to defeating the next pandemic.

 The United States should ensure that technology is shared openly, including via the WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, so that scientists and manufacturers worldwide can support vaccine delivery and development. Where necessary, the U.S. government should use its power under existing law to license technology, ensuring its availability and affordability now and for the future. Notably, taxpayers made substantial investments in Covid-19 vaccine research and development, and the U.S. government owns a key patent relied on by the major vaccine makers.

 Without a vaccine manufacturing plan of global ambition, millions more people may die, with tens of millions pushed into extreme poverty. Black and Brown communities will bear the brunt of this preventable suffering. The progress achieved through decades of U.S. overseas development assistance will be reversed. People living in the United States may feel the ripple effects with ongoing threats of virus mutations. The economic costs to the United States are estimated at $800 billion to $1.4 trillion.

 U.S. history demonstrates that by mobilizing extraordinary resources and the country’s full capabilities, while working closely with global partners, the country can solve complex technical challenges and support humanity in times of great need. This is one such moment, and there is no time to lose. We urge you to launch an ambitious vaccine manufacturing program in your FY22 budget to help end the global pandemic. 

Public Citizen
Access Challenge
Action Against Hunger
American Jewish World Service
American Medical Student Association
American Medical Women’s Association
American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene
Amnesty USA
AVAC
Be a Hero Fund
BRAC USA
Buddhist Global Relief (USA)
Center for Popular Democracy
Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH)
ChildFund USA
Chinese-American Planning Council
Christian Connections for International Health (USA)
CORE Group
Doctors for America
Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, North America
Episcopal Relief & Development
Families USA
FHI 360
Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR)
Friends Committee on National Legislation
FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University
GOAL USA
Health GAP
Helen Keller International
HelpAge USA
Human Rights Watch USA
Incentives for Global Health
International Medical Corps
International Rescue Committee
International Treatment Preparedness Coalition
Islamic Relief USA
Jesuit Refugee Service
John Snow, Inc.
JustActions
Last Mile Health
Management Sciences for Health
Marie Stopes International
Médecins Sans Frontières, USA / Doctors Without Borders
National Council of Churches USA
Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice
Oxfam America
Partners In Health
Pathfinder International
People’s Action
Physicians for Human Rights
Planned Parenthood Federation of America
PrEP4All
Prescription Justice
RESULTS
Right to Health Action
Salud y Farmacos
Social Security Works
Sojourners
SumOfUs USA
The Borgen Project
Treatment Action Group (TAG)
Union for Reform Judaism
Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)
Yale Global Health Justice Partnership


Vocational Training for Women in São Paulo, Brazil

By Carla Prater

Founded by two sisters who are professional social workers, GAIA – Group for Assistance of the Elderly, Children and Adolescents – is a non-profit organization acting in formal and informal education and social work in São Paulo, Brazil. The founders saw many needs in their low-income neighborhood of Campo Grande in the south end of São Paulo. Their first effort was to start a little preschool, which was so successful that they soon had two schools, which serve families in the area, giving the children a good start on their school careers.

They soon found other ways to serve, including providing vocational training for the many women whose schooling was minimal. These women require public services that are overstretched and unable to meet the demands caused by their lack of access to healthy food and dignified living conditions. The project supported by BGR is intended to offer better living conditions to 120 women, through workshops, talks, and courses designed to give them skills as formal or informal workers earning money to supply their families’ basic needs.

Two types of training were offered: eldercare and sewing. About forty women participated in each of these classes. The women were instructed in pattern-making, cutting, sewing, and finishing their work so it was ready for sale in a Christmas bazaar. The eldercare group attended lecture sessions covering legal and social issues, physical care techniques, and field trips to care facilities, as well as hands on practice sessions in how to assist bedridden patients.

The project ran into some serious issues halfway through as COVID hit São Paulo very hard. However, GAIA was able to pivot quickly to provide modules for online learning. The sewing classes switched to videos explaining how to do projects and the videos were posted online for the students’ use. Almost everyone in Brazil has a cell phone and the students were able to access the content online.

The instructor was thrilled with how things turned out. Cilene, an instructor of the sewing workshop, says that she has learned not only how to teach in-person classes but also virtual classes, a useful new skill for her. She says: “GAIA and BGR, thank you so much for the confidence you placed in me this past year. I hope to be able to honor my commitment in 2021 and continue the in-person classes. Always count on me!” The video classes are available at this link: http://www.grupogaia.org.br/index.php/blog.

The eldercare class also had to pivot to online training for their second group, which worked out better than expected. A student named Graça said:“I’m here to talk about the free elderly caregivers course. I really enjoyed participating in the two weeks of interaction and exchange of information. The teachers who participated were clear and objective, which facilitated learning. Thank you GAIA and BGR.”

Juliana, a participant in the eldercare workshop, said: “I first want to thank GAIA and BGR for this wonderful course for caregivers, which was very useful for me. All the classes, all the lectures we saw, taught me many things that I didn’t know before. I learned much about nutrition too! The last class, with the nurse, was wonderful.”

A video explaining the course is available at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1076376292811179.

At the beginning of the pandemic, GAIA purchased materials and set up a voluntary seamstress task force. They made 1600 masks, which were distributed to the community and donated to other communities as well. These are very poor regions, with few resources and little governmental assistance. GAIA also purchased food and mobilized the donation of resources and food. They distributed 370 basic baskets in June, July, and August. BGR support was fundamental and essential to this emergency effort.

Carla Prater is Assistant Director of Buddhist Global Relief. Transplanted to Brazil by missionary parents at the age of twelve, she remained there for the next twenty years and speaks fluent Portuguese. During her professional life she worked as a researcher at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M.

Why Is There Hunger in the Midst of Plenty?

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In an interview on Democracy Now!, Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, raises the question why, when the planet is producing more than enough food to feed everyone, millions still face chronic hunger and starvation. The answer he gives points to fundamental structural flaws in the global food system.

Preparing complementary foods for children in Diffa, Niger
(Photo courtesy of Helen Keller International)

On December 10, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the World Food Programme, the world’s premier humanitarian organization combating global hunger and food insecurity. In his acceptance speech, David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said that he saw the Nobel Committee’s decision to grant the prize to the WFP as entailing “a call to action”—action to ensure that hunger is finally vanquished from the face of the earth. However, he warned, we are currently heading in the wrong direction. A combination of factors—multiple wars, climate change, the use of hunger as a political and military weapon, and the coronavirus pandemic—is pushing 270 million people ever closer to starvation. Thirty million of these, he said, are completely dependent on the WFP for their food.

He pointed out that the present may be “the most ironic moment in modern history,” a time when we find a grim chasm between the potential promise of the world’s wealth and the appalling fate that weighs upon a sizable portion of humanity. The world economy today has a value of $400 trillion, yet 270 million people hover on the brink of starvation, facing horrific illness and death. It would take only $5 billion to save the 30 million lives that utterly depend on the WFP, yet the agency struggles just to raise even this much, a tiny fraction of the world’s military spending.

While Beasley applauds the work of the WFP in saving lives, he does not find his job an easy one. He says: “I don’t go to bed at night thinking about the children we saved; I go to bed weeping over the children we could not save. And when we don’t have enough money nor the access we need, we have to decide which children eat and which children do not eat, which children live, which children die.”

In its report on the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize, the progressive news program Democracy Now! featured an interview with Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Early in the interview, Salvador raises the question why it is, when the planet is producing more than enough food to feed everyone, so many millions face chronic hunger and starvation. The answer, he states, lies in the rules governing the global food system. The global food system, as presently configured, allows those in positions of power and privilege to make major decisions that deprive others, less powerful, of the resources they need to eat and thrive. Thus if hundreds of millions of people go hungry year after year, this is not because we are short on food; rather, it is because too many lack the means either to purchase food or grow their own food.

Salvador points out that the modern food system is designed as a business model. This model is not intended to guarantee that everyone gets to eat, but to ensure that those who invest in the system receive the financial returns they expect on their investments. It is not only wealthy investors who benefit from the system but even middle-class folk in economically affluent countries. In the U.S. and other developed countries, almost any middle-class family can obtain from the shelves of their local supermarket virtually any food item grown anywhere on the planet. But in other enclaves far from our sight, hundreds of millions suffer the consequences of the pleasures we take for granted. When we consume even simple everyday items like coffee, tea, and chocolate, we seldom realize that we enjoy these things through the labor of people who have been deprived of the basic resources critical to a satisfactory standard of living. Those out of sight may be out of mind—for us—but we should remember the billions of ordinary folk around the world (and even in the U.S.) who face a harsh reality each day, all year round.

One of the most abhorrent features of the global food system, mentioned by Salvador, is land grabs. In a traditional agrarian economy, farmers own small plots of land on which they grow crops for their own use and to sell at the local market. This allows them to subsist, not in luxury, but with a sufficient degree of stability to weather the storms of daily life. However, in countries in Africa and Asia, desperate poverty and official government policy often compel subsistence farmers to sell their small plots of land to state enterprises or large multinational corporations. These then consolidate the plots into large estates devoted to specialized cash crops for sale to the global North. As a result, local populations lack the land to grow the essential crops they need for direct consumption and to earn an income. Rendered landless and penniless, they have no alternative but to toil as wage laborers barely able to get by from one day to the next, usually under degrading conditions. And those who don’t get to work lose their line to food.  

Salvador cites Africa as an example of sheer economic pillage conducted under the guise of legitimacy. Though often depicted as a global basket case, the continent, he says, produces more than enough food to feed its entire population. However, what is occurring in many African countries is that “governments are making land lease deals with foreign companies or other nations, namely China, so that the production of Africa is literally appropriated to meet the needs of other countries that have the capital to compete for that land and for the production of that land against the interests of native Africans.”

Another form of food deprivation mentioned in the interview is the deliberate withholding of food as a weapon of war, a weapon that can be as lethal as bombs and bullets. The prime example he cites is Yemen, where a civil war is being conducted as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The conflict in Yemen is widely considered the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, precisely because of its impact on the civilian population. To subdue their rivals into submission, both sides in the conflict have imposed food blockades that have pushed millions to the edge of starvation. At times, as many as 8.4 million people have been at risk of starvation, with acute malnutrition threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

Salvador does not make specific suggestions about the kinds of policy shifts that are needed to tackle hunger on a global scale, but his remarks suggest that a far-reaching overhaul of the international food system is mandatory. Whatever official policy changes are implemented must be guided by a moral imperative. The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Article 25, adopts this moral stance, asserting that food is a fundamental human right. What we must do now, on a global scale, is take up the task of feeding the entire world population as a shared moral challenge, a challenge that must be met if we are to truly measure up to our humanity. People must always take priority over profits.

We can’t complain that we lack the funding to meet this demand. If we had the moral will, funds would not be an obstacle. After all, nations around the world—especially the major powers—invest hundreds of billions in their military forces and weapons of war. The U.S. itself has a defense budget of almost a trillion dollars. It would take only a tiny fraction of this to guarantee that everyone eats, that no one starves, that no child has to be reduced to a heap of skin and bones.

However, acts of humanitarian aid are not enough to redeem our humanity. People should be able to obtain the food they need in a way that affirms their inherent dignity. This means that they obtain their food through their own resources, not through charity. They would either grow their own food on land that they themselves possess or earn enough to live on a nutritious diet. To achieve this goal, the current dominant model of industrial agriculture, often cruel and destructive and blindly driven by the profit motive, needs to be gradually replaced by an alternative model, the most promising being that of agroecology. This is a model that gives precedence to the needs of small-scale farmers. Its output is at least equal to that of industrial-scale farms, yet it preserves the natural environment, centers the diet around vegetables and fruits rather than meat, and reduces the enormous carbon footprint generated by industrial agriculture. Whether we make the changes needed will mean, for many millions, the difference between a death sentence and reprieve.

Urgent Aid to Women and Children in Cambodian Prisons

By Patricia Brick

LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights NGO

A BGR project with LICADHO (the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) provides critical aid to incarcerated pregnant women and new mothers and their children.

The Cambodian prison system is plagued by overcrowding, squalid conditions, and widespread corruption. Detainees’ rights are often neglected, and Cambodian prisons do not provide detainees with essentials, such as nutritious meals, clean drinking water, quality medical care and sanitary living conditions. Children under the age of 3 are allowed to live in prisons with their parents, where they are exposed to gruesome prison conditions and lack essential nutrients at a crucial point in their physical and mental development. As of June 2020, more than 100 children were known to be imprisoned alongside their mothers.

A BGR project with LICADHO (the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) improves the quality of life for incarcerated pregnant women and new mothers and their children. The Early Years Behind Bars (EYBB) project provides food, including rice, dried fish, and soy milk, as well as hygiene materials such as soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and laundry detergent, to pregnant women and mothers with children. The project team also interviews the women to monitor the conditions of the prisons, ensure that the materials provided meet the women’s needs, and determine if any additional medical or legal support is needed. In the project year that ended in June 2020, the project had benefited 205 children and their mothers as well as 90 pregnant women across 16 prisons.

According to figures from our partner, the prison population in Cambodia has increased from 21,900 in 2016 to nearly 39,000 in March 2020, the result of a crackdown on minor drug offenses; nearly three-quarters of people in detention had not yet been given the opportunity to stand trial. In a prison system with a capacity of 26,593, overcrowding was a grave problem even before the Covid-19 pandemic began spreading among incarcerated people worldwide. With as many as 530 prisoners forced into a single cell, with limited access to clean water, “Covid-19 safety measures such as physical distancing and frequent hand washing are impossible,” our partner reports. Government reforms announced this summer to potentially lower the number of prisoners have been slow to take effect.

Our partner reports that following the outbreak of the Covid pandemic in Cambodia in March, for several months the project teams’ access to the prisons was curtailed. Team members were required to leave the food and hygiene materials with prison staff to distribute, and in one case were not permitted to leave food and materials for the incarcerated women for several months. Access was reopened as of late July.

Our partner shared three stories of incarcerated women who benefited from this program. Their names have been changed to protect the women’s identity.

Kunthea, a 32-year-old mother of two, was two months pregnant when she was arrested without a warrant on drug-related charges in July 2019. Our partner writes: “She was forced to confess and thumbprint the record without knowing what the document said … In April 2020, a judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison and fined her 20 million riel, which is equivalent to approximately U.S. $5,000.” She gave birth to her daughter in March 2020 and brought the infant to prison, where she is serving her sentence in a cell shared with seven to twelve other detainees. Kunthea was unable to provide sufficient milk to exclusively breastfeed her daughter, and her family cannot afford to provide additional food for the new mother or her infant. The EYBB project provided milk powder, food, and other essential items for Kunthea and her baby.

Leakhena was arrested on drug-related charges in September 2019 and received food from EYBB during her pregnancy and postpartum to supplement the meager food provided by the prison. She gave birth to a healthy daughter in June 2020. Her sister is currently caring for the baby outside of prison.

Bopha was also arrested on drug-related charges last autumn and also was “forced to confess and thumbprint the record without knowing what it was.” She gave birth to a baby girl in June. With her husband also incarcerated and lacking family outside of the prison who could care for the baby, Bopha had no choice but to keep the infant with her. She shares a cell with thirteen other detainees. The EYBB project provides her with hygiene items and food, which she described as being enough that she doesn’t feel hungry.

Patricia Brick is a staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief. This story is based on reporting from our partner LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights.

The Persistence of Poverty is a Political Choice

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Embed from Getty Images

In a report issued on behalf of the UN’s Human Rights Council, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, explodes the comforting myth that humanity is finally on the verge of eradicating extreme poverty. The report, titled “The Parlous State of Poverty Eradication,” insists that the belief that we are making good progress in eliminating poverty “is unjustified by the facts, generates inappropriate policy conclusions, and fosters complacency” (p. 1). The author maintains that our good intentions to promote greater economic justice are constantly being undermined by false assumptions about the extent of poverty and stymied by flawed decisions about the most effective means to vanquish it.

The report points out that the optimism among policy professionals and thought leaders rests on the use of a deceptive standard to define extreme poverty. The official standard, the World Bank’s international poverty line (IPL), is arrived at by averaging the national poverty lines employed by the world’s poorest countries, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The line, currently set at U.S. $1.90 in purchasing power parity, is “a standard of miserable subsistence rather than an even minimally adequate standard of living” (p. 1).

On the basis of the IPL, the U.S. in 2016 had a poverty rate of 1.2 percent, though the rate was actually 12 percent. On the IPL South Africa would have a poverty rate of 19 percent vs. a real poverty rate of 55 percent, and Mexico a poverty rate of 1.7 percent vs. a real rate of 42 percent. Setting the line so low, the report maintains, is bound “to guarantee a positive result and to enable the United Nations, the World Bank, and many commentators to proclaim a Pyrrhic victory” (pp. 4–5).

The report points out that much of the progress in eliminating poverty under the Bank’s IPL is due not to any upward global trend but to developments in China, where between 1990 and 2015 the number of people below the IPL dropped from over 750 million to 10 million. If a more realistic poverty line of $5.50 were adopted, the number of poor people globally held almost steady between 1990 and 2015, declining merely from 3.5 to 3.4 billion. That is hardly a reason to proclaim an end to extreme poverty.

Even under the Bank’s line, between 1990 and 2015 the number of people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East rose by 140 million (p. 9). Using this weak criterion, some 700 million people worldwide live under $1.90 a day, which is morally abhorrent in itself, but if we were to take a more realistic measure the extent of global poverty would turn out to be vastly higher and current trends discouraging.

According to the report, efforts to eliminate extreme poverty are bound to run up against two factors that will inevitably increase the numbers of the poor. One is accelerating climate change, which we are hardly addressing with the urgency required. Over the next decade an altered climate is projected to push 100 million more people below even the weak standard of the IPL.

The other major threat is COVID-19, which over the next three years will drive 176 million people into poverty at the $3.20 poverty line. The report calls COVID-19 “a pandemic of poverty” which lays bare the parlous state of social safety nets for low-income people around the world. Rates of illness and mortality expose racial and class divisions, and access to health care and financial assistance is also skewed along racial, gender, religious, and class lines. Those hit hardest by the pandemic are the “essential workers” who do not have the luxury of “sheltering in place” but are compelled to work under precarious conditions, becoming “sacrificial lambs” to keep the economy functioning (p. 9).

The primary guideposts the international community relies on for tackling poverty are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first of the goals is an “end to poverty in all its forms everywhere” by 2030. Taken in isolation the goal sounds ambitious enough, but the specific targets proposed to meet this goal are “patently inadequate to actually end poverty, and the prospects of achieving them are rapidly receding” (p. 10). The tenth goal calls for reducing inequality, but the plan of implementation relies on the premise that the key to reducing inequality is continued economic growth—a shaky assumption, since history shows that the benefits of unregulated economic growth disproportionately go to the affluent.

The only viable way to end poverty, according to the report, is wealth redistribution, which would require more aggressive governmental control over the economy. However, the reigning paradigm of neoliberal ideology dictates that the market must be allowed to operate on its own, without government interference. Current attempts to achieve the SDGs therefore marginalize government action in favor of private investments and “public-private partnerships,” which usually optimize the interests of the investors over the needs of the poor (p. 12).

The report does not reject the SDGs themselves, but calls for reflection on “ways in which the overall package, including targets and indicators, can be re-shaped and supplemented in order to achieve the key goals which otherwise look destined to fail” (p. 14). One flawed premise that underlies the formulation of the SDGs is the idea that the most effective way to achieve them is through economic growth. While this premise is considered sacrosanct in neoliberal economic circles, the fact remains that the benefits of growth disproportionately go to those in positions of wealth and power. While the poor may see some small improvements in living conditions, economic disparities widen to a still greater degree and thus the old bugbear of inequality remains.

The staggering levels of wealth and income inequality in today’s world should dispel any inflated notion that the world is moving toward greater economic equity. The bottom 50 percent of the world’s population now owns less than 1 percent of total global wealth, while the top 1 percent holds 45 percent of the total (pp. 15–16). Reduction in economic inequality requires a redistribution of wealth, but figures like these remind us how far we have to go to overcome global poverty.

The report recommends global debt forgiveness as a critical factor in establishing a just international economic order. Another measure the author proposes is fair and equitable taxation, which “must be front and center in any set of policies to eliminate poverty.” Fair taxation has a significance that transcends mere economic pragmatism, standing as “a symbol of solidarity and burden sharing” and “a reflection of deeper values” (p. 16). Just tax policies would call upon wealthy individuals and successful corporations to pay their fair share of taxes, and this would require an end to tax evasion through the use of tax havens, for which the U.S. has been “the global trendsetter.” At present there are hundreds of thousands of tax havens worldwide, depriving states of as much as $650 billion in tax revenue (p. 16).

On the positive side, the project of ending poverty calls for the implementation of programs that provide universal social protection, helping people deal with the adversities brought on by sickness, disability, unemployment, and old age. Shockingly, four billion people—over half the world’s population—completely lack any level of social protection, while for many others the support available to them is far from adequate. This, according to the report, is “an extraordinary indictment of the global fight against extreme poverty” (p. 17) Continue reading