Category Archives: Engaged Buddhism

Promoting a Food-Sovereign City in Detroit

By Patricia Brick

This year Buddhist Global Relief’s partner Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) celebrated its sixth anniversary of supporting gardeners and creating food distribution pathways to ensure as many Detroit residents as possible have access to nutritious locally grown fruits and vegetables.

With a median household income below $31,000, nearly 38 percent of Detroit residents live below the poverty line, and 42 percent of households rely on food assistance programs to feed their families. KGD was founded to promote a food-sovereign city, in which all Detroit residents have access to healthy, sustainably cultivated food grown by Detroiters within the city limits. Through the long-standing Garden Resource Program, founded in 2003, KGD provides seeds, transplants, and resources to support Detroiters in growing their own food gardens and securing access to fresh, low-cost vegetables.

Last year, 24,362 gardeners participated in the Garden Resource Program, collectively growing more than 385,000 pounds of food in 1,603 gardens in backyards, side lots, schools, community gardens, and other private and public spaces citywide. More than a quarter of these gardens were cultivated by families with children under 5, thanks to KGD’s dedicated outreach to young families through educational programs for children and families as well as through a partnership with the Detroit Health Department that helps families buy vegetable transplants using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

In addition to improving their access to healthy food, participating gardeners reported saving an estimated $1,000 in grocery bills each year. KGD’s Grown in Detroit program, founded in 2006, also offers opportunities for growers to collectively sell their extra produce at market days. Last year, growers at 55 gardens participated in this program, together earning over $50,000. In a related program, growers at 34 gardens and farms sold their fruits and vegetables to local restaurants and food businesses, earning more than $20,000. Alumni of the Grown in Detroit programs continue to sell their produce at farmers’ markets and other outlets.

BGR has supported Keep Growing Detroit since 2015. A 2019-20 grant from BGR funds the distribution of 2,000 pounds of produce from Keep Growing Detroit’s farm to food-insecure families in the city; it also funds 30 community outreach events to increase awareness of KGD’s programs. In the coming year the organization aims to bring 400 new households into its Garden Resource Program.

Patricia Brick is a Zen student, chair of BGR’s Communications Committee, and a BGR staff writer. She lives in New Jersey.

Helping Marginalized Working Women in Peru

By Patricia Brick

A BGR project in Peru, with Peruvian partner, Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes, is dedicated to providing marginalized women with access to vocational educational training, information about their labor rights, and opportunities to find dignified work.

Across the globe, women who work as domestic laborers fall into an unregulated “gray market” where jobs may require them to work long hours, for inadequate wages, often under exploitative conditions. Many are also vulnerable to physical abuse or sexual harassment or violence by their employers. In Peru, women who live in the pueblos jóvenes (shantytowns) surrounding Lima are often excluded from the mainstream job market by racism, classism, and limited access to education. Many of these women work in gray-market domestic jobs like housecleaning, child care, and elder care.

BGR partner Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) works to change the lives of these women through its project, “Conditional Capabilities: Providing Marginalized Women Access to Vocational Educational Training, Labor Rights, and Dignified Work.” Working from AGTR’s community center, La Casa de Panchita, or from La Van de Panchita, a mobile training unit, specialists educate women about their labor rights, provide training in vocational and interpersonal skills, offer counseling and job-search assistance, and host a variety of workshops and educational opportunities. AGTR also is home to a public-education initiative to raise awareness of the rights of domestic workers and hiring practices among employers and the general public, as well as resources and advocacy for child laborers.

Last year, through a BGR grant, 2,197 women participated in an introductory educational session from AGTR including information on the Peruvian Law of Domestic Workers (Law 27986); 466 of these women joined additional in-depth training sessions on topics including job interview preparation, the legal rights of domestic workers, and adapting to the cultural expectations of their Lima employers—more than 70 percent of Lima’s domestic workers are internal migrants from the Andes and the Amazon region. Women who participated in AGTR training received instruction manuals, a cookbook containing recipes for healthy meals, and a stipend to cover their transportation to and from the community center.

At year’s end, 262 women had obtained new jobs with decent working conditions and fair wages; 156 of these were employed in full-time, permanent positions. An additional 138 women maintained or improved their working conditions through AGTR’s counseling and mediation services.

One of AGTR’s training participants, Verónica, spoke to the value of the community created by AGTR. “After taking part in AGTR’s and La Casa de Panchita’s workshops, I feel more comfortable with myself,” she said. “I have met other women working in domestic service in Lima, and that has given me more confidence. I felt understood there, because other domestic workers also went through the same difficulties I had to face. I have learned to value my work experience and the knowledge I have acquired in recent years, to organize myself better in my work, and to know how to adapt to the customs of my new employers.”

Karina immigrated to Lima from Venezuela because of economic need. “At La Casa de Panchita I felt included, like I belong, and I felt comfortable here,” she said. “In my situation, as a migrant still trying to rebuild my life in a new country, this was very important for me. This place and the people here are very warm, and one can feel it from the very moment they open the door.”

Through her participation in AGTR’s trainings, Victoria found a new confidence in herself. “Here I learned that I have rights; before, I knew nothing about rights,” she said. “Also, I have learned to value domestic work, not to feel less than others, that one should not be ashamed for being a domestic worker. I had never thought about how many years I have been working and how much I have learned from those years working in domestic service.”

AGTR estimates that each of the 2,197 women directly participating in trainings and other services shares what she has learned with five peers, raising the total estimated number of beneficiaries to more than 10,000.

Patricia Brick is a Zen student, chair of BGR’s Communications Committee, and a BGR staff writer. She lives in New Jersey.

Walk to Feed the Hungry in Connecticut

By Shim Bo Sunim

A brief account of the Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry, hosted by White Lotus Haven Zen of Connecticut, which took place this past Saturday in Collinsville, Connecticut. This is the first time the Connecticut walk was held in this location.

 

The Connecticut Walk to Feed the Hungry, hosted by White Lotus Haven Zen of Connecticut, took place on Saturday, October 5, in Collinsville, Connecticut. The walk was attended by about 20 participants. The day was lovely, with clear blue skies and a morning autumn chill that energized our walk. Alison Zhou and her husband John set up registration in front of the historic Collins Axe Factory building and kindly provided donuts and coffee.

The walk began promptly at 10:00am with Shim Bo Sunim inviting the participants to walk slowly and contemplatively, reflecting on those for whom we were walking. The route, which was roughly one mile, contained an area of the scenic Farmington River Trail that includes an old train bridge. All the walkers kept in single file as hikers, bikers, and joggers passed by. At the midpoint of the walk we entered busy Route 179, and made our way around on to the municipal bridge and proceeded to Main Street, around the block and down the hill to our gathering place, Canton Historical Museum. We concluded the walk at 11:00am. A big thank you to those walkers who carried the walk banner the whole way!

On the second floor of the museum, we set up a seating area and luncheon for the walkers. Walkers were invited to sit and rest, at which time Shim Bo Sunim asked the participants to share reflections about the walk, which were very touching and insightful. At the end of the sharing, Shim Bo Sunim read Bhante’s letter to the group. Thank you, Bhante, for the informative letter and your words of thanks.

After this, the group enjoyed a delicious lunch of roasted vegetables, rice, salad, fruit, and water donated by the ShopRite grocery store of Canton, owned by the Joseph Family. We thank them, and also Mr. Don Scott, the Director of the Museum, for donating the meeting space. The morning ended with participants kindly helping in the clean up.

Many thanks to members of the White Lotus Haven Zen sangha who participated and helped prepare for the event. Board Secretary Ira Morrison prepared and distributed a press release for us and also set up the luncheon. We also thank photographer John Schwenk and videographer Noah Barrios for capturing the event in photos and video.

The walk raised $881. Our youngest contributor, 8-year-old Odin Sakon, donated $6 plus change that he had been saving—a really wonderful act of charity! We look forward to hosting the walk again next year.

Walk to Feed the Hungry in Uganda

By BGR Staff

Bhante Buddharakkhita in front of the temple

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

Taking Food Out of Poor Kids’ Mouths

By Randy Rosenthal

The US Department of Agriculture has proposed restricting access to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as “food stamps”) on the ostensible grounds that it is necessary to close a loophole in the program. But the real reason, it appears, is an ideological commitment to lowering taxes on the rich and cutting government spending on the poor. 

Embed from Getty Images

Back in 1964, President Johnson initiated the War on Poverty, which aimed to eradicate the conditions of poverty by providing American citizens with access to food, education, and a secure retirement. Today, the Trump Administration is leading a War against the Poor, which aims to do the opposite. The most recent and blatant act in this war is the US Department of Agriculture’s proposal to restrict the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps.

On July 23, the USDA released a statement about the proposal, which aims to save $2.5 billion by taking 3 million people off of food stamps. The statement doesn’t mention it, but 500,000 of these people are children who will automatically lose access to free school lunches.

The ostensible rationale behind the proposal is that there is “a loophole” that needs to be closed: low income participants receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits are automatically eligible for food stamps. Because of this policy, which is designed to help transition families toward economic independence, the USDA claims that people are receiving assistance when they clearly don’t need it. To support this claim, they point to a Minnesota man who enrolled in the program, even though he was a millionaire. Continue reading

A Buddhist Perspective on Women’s Liberation

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Kisa Gotami asks the Buddha to heal her dead son.

This winter, BGR chair Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spent two months in India. During this time he was invited to give the keynote address at a conference on “Buddhism and Women’s Liberation,” held in Bodhgaya on January 30 and 31, 2019, under the auspices of the Maha Bodhi Society of India. Here is a lightly edited version of his address.

Obstacles to Women’s Freedom

When we speak of “women’s liberation,” we first have to determine what women are to be liberated from. What are the obstacles to their freedom? Perhaps the most pervasive—and the most subtly disempowering—is the limitation placed on the opportunities available to women for personal expression and achievement. In traditional cultures, and even in the West today, these limitations are considered almost intrinsic to the social order. An unspoken consensus prevails that casts women into stereotyped roles that severely hamper their freedom to realize their creative potentials.

Women are seen assigned by nature to be wives and mothers. They are caretakers of the family whose role in life is exhausted by the tasks of finding a good husband, bearing children, and maintaining the household. If women do get the chance to take up a career, the general view holds that they should serve in the caring professions—as nurses, teachers, or social workers—but beyond these, when it comes to the more demanding professions and positions of social leadership, the gates are largely closed against them. Continue reading

The Politics of Happiness: An Essay on the Global Happiness Conference

By Randy Rosenthal

A recent UN report ranks nations by way of their quota of happiness, utilizing a complex set of metrics. But can happiness actually be quantified? Several glitches in the ratings suggest any such effort, while revealing in some respects, will always be far from perfect.

The top 20 happiest countries (World Happiness Report 2019)

On Wednesday, March 20, 2019, the United Nations released the World Happiness Report. This includes an annual ranking of the happiest countries in the world, along with several essays about the relationship between government policy and individual happiness. A few weeks later, on April 13, the editor of the report, John F. Helliwell, participated in a panel at the Global Happiness Conference, held at Harvard Divinity School, and which I attended. Continue reading