Category Archives: Engaged Buddhism

Learning about Home Gardens, Nutrition, and Public Speaking in Vietnam

By Randy Rosenthal

With so many problems in the world, it sometimes feels like nothing we do can makes a difference. But Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) is showing that by improving the lives of individuals, we can in fact make a difference. A great example of this is BGR’s partnership with Helen Keller International (HKI) on the Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) project in Vietnam, which is now in its third year.

With BGR support, during 2018, HKI expanded their EHFP project to the provinces of Hoa Binh, Son La, and Lai Chau, which is one of the poorest areas of Vietnam. In July, the latter two provinces were heavily hit by tropical storm Son Tinh, which caused flash floods and landslides, but the program’s goals were successfully reached in all areas. These goals focused on alleviating hunger mainly through training mothers and pregnant women about nutrition and horticulture.

Many women were trained in making home gardens, so they won’t have to spend so much time and effort foraging for vegetables in the forest. This includes simple gardening practices like introducing raised beds and use of fences, as well as the use of organic fertilizers and herbal pesticides. They also learned about the importance of having a diversity of vegetables, whereas many only grew cassava or corn, due to previous problems with worms and summer water shortages. Subsequent data reported that 95% of households with pregnant women and children used their home gardens.

Mrs. Giang Thi Ly, a 24-year-old Hmong mother in Lai Chau province, said that it previously took her half a day to go to the forest to pick vegetables, but now it “only takes a few minutes to have clean and fresh vegetables for family meals.” She also said that she was now able to know which vegetables are rich in iron and vitamins, as she and several hundred other women were trained to name at least three vitamin-A rich foods and at least three iron-rich foods. They were also given training in proper handwashing, which prevents many illnesses.

These women were also trained in public speaking and other communication skills, with the overall aim of empowering women in Vietnam. One participant, Mrs. Linh, a 28-year-old mother living in Hoa Binh Province, who was chosen to be a nutrition facilitator, said, “I have completely changed myself to do things I have never done before.”

In addition to such nutrition, horticulture, and communication training, seeds were given to a targeted 618 households, and more than 7,000 ducks and chickens were vaccinated for infectious diseases and then given to 346 households, so they could have a steady supply of eggs. These families now not only save money, but many households were even able to earn extra income by selling surplus produce at local markets.

Finally, two nutrition day festivals celebrated the new awareness of nutrition and health care, with over 1000 local people attending. In group sessions, people developed a full-day menu using locally-available, nutrient-rich foods particularly for pregnant women and children under two. Also at these festivals, 300 children under the age of five were examined by local doctors regarding their nutrition status, and mothers of any malnourished children were counseled by nutrition specialists.

Taken altogether, the BGR–HKI partnership in Vietnam has clearly improved the health and lives of many mothers and children, and in doing so it has improved Vietnamese society. By supporting such projects as HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production, Buddhist Global Relief is showing us that by focusing on alleviating hunger and malnutrition through specific strategies in poor areas, we really can make a difference.

Beneficiary stories

1. Mrs. Giang Thi Ly

“Thanks to EHFP, we can have various nutritious vegetables for our family’s health.” Mrs. Giang Thi Ly is a 24-year-old Hmong mother who lives in Chu Va 8 Village, Son Binh Commune, Tam Duong District, Lai Chau Province. Since her participation in HKI’s Enhanced Homestead Food Production project, she has found a way to improve her family’s meals with the fresh vegetables she planted in her home garden to diversify the family diet.

Before, her family only had a small, 800 square meter garden, and she only grew corn or cassava because of concerns such as worms, water shortages in the summer, and lack of seeds. As a result, her family did not have a variety of vegetables and fruits easily available for meals. They often had to spend entire days collecting vegetables from the forest. When, however, she attended HKI’s training courses on agriculture, she learned about soil technology, bedding, seed preparations, herbal pesticides, and fertilizers.

More importantly, after she completed the training courses, her family was provided with eight different kinds of seeds to sow in the spring. Her garden now has more than eight different kinds of vegetables. “Now, I don’t have to go to the jungle to harvest vegetables. Instead of spending half of my day collecting vegetables, I only spend a few minutes picking fresh and safe vegetables for my family’s meals. Thanks to HKI, we can have a variety of nutritious vegetables for our family’s health,” she shared.

Thanks to the project, Mrs. Ly and her family have increased their knowledge about agricultural technology and feel their quality of life has improved. She is thankful that HKI and Buddhist Global Relief have invested in improving the agriculture and nutrition of her community.

2. Mrs. Bui Thi Linh

“Thanks to HKI’s project, I have completely changed myself.” Mrs. Bui Thi Linh is a Muong woman living in Chieng 1 Village, Tan Lap Commune, Lac Son District, Hoa Binh Province. She is 28 years old and lives with her husband, five-year-old child, and parents-in-law. As one of the project’s outstanding trainees, she was chosen to be a nutrition facilitator for Chieng 1 and Chieng 2 villages.

Before, Mrs. Linh was timid and shy when giving presentations to a crowd. Like other women in the village, she was afraid of strange people, and sometimes she avoided sharing her experiences around nutrition because she did not want to speak before an audience. Thanks to HKI, however, she had the opportunity to participate in training courses and learn about nutrition and facilitation skills. After these training courses, she was coached and mentored by technical teams from HKI, the district, and the commune health station. She became confident speaking to people in public places because she wanted to share the information she had learned about nutrition and safe food production.

“In the first session,” she shared, “I felt totally confused and had no confidence. After receiving feedback from the support team, however, I tried my best to improve. I prepared more carefully and I practiced with my co-facilitator at home. In the second session, I felt more confident and more active. I know how to encourage participants to talk and be involved in activities.”

Thanks to HKI and BGR, Mrs. Linh has learned more about herself and developed confidence in skills she never realized she had. “I have completely changed myself to do things which I had never done before,” she said.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

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Cooking Porridge and Training Health Workers in Côte d’ Ivoire

By Randy Rosenthal

One of the leading factors in infant mortality in Côte d’ Ivoire, where about 40% of the population lives in poverty, is malnutrition. This is especially the case in Korhogo District, in the northern region of Poro, where malnutrition is the most prevalent. That’s why Buddhist Global Relief chose to support Helen Keller International’s (HKI) effort to greatly reduce instances of malnutrition among women of child-bearing age in Korhogo, and especially among children during their first 1,000 days of life.

Compared to their projects in other countries, the way HKI approached their effort in Côte d’Ivoire is quite unique. And this is because they focused their efforts on training local community health workers, who could then continue to share knowledge locally, rather than solely holding information sessions.

Originally, the plan was to train an average of five health workers in each of the 77 clinics in the Korhogo District, for an estimated total of 385 health workers. Entering the third year of the project in 2018, this target was increased to 93 clinics and a total of 465 health workers. Similarly, the original target was to provide approximately 77,000 pregnant and lactating women with nutritional education and services, but the target was then increased to 93,000 women. These increases show that the project has not only met its original targets but is exceeding them. In fact, 82,000 pregnant and lactating women and their children have already benefited from nutrition counseling. That is to say, the project is going according to plan.

These information sessions are based on the Essential Actions in Nutrition (ENA) framework, a set of proven and achievable nutritional practices aimed at reaching mothers at the right time with the right message. These practices focus on women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding a sick child, and fighting against anemia as well as Vitamin A and iodine deficiency. During three-day training sessions, local health workers are coached for two days, and then spend the third day in practical training by practicing their nutritional counseling skills with community members.

Another aspect of these training sessions is cooking demonstrations. Health workers train mothers how to make nutritional porridge using local foods, and also provide basic information about things such as food groups, which many women were not familiar with. At the end, mothers know how to make affordable, nutritious porridge to feed their families.

Combined with the ENA training, these sessions are having a direct impact. As Mrs. Ouattara Pékalawelé Natogoma, a Registered Nurse at Nagakaha Health Center, said: “Some of our moms had been struggling to feed their baby from 6 to 9 months. With the methods learned during the nutrition education sessions and through the cooking demonstrations, their children are now enjoying healthy porridge.”

Since these trainings started, it’s been reported that more women and their children are frequenting the community health center. If they are malnourished, they are screened and given care and treatment. But otherwise they are given information and training that will reduce the instances of malnutrition in Korhogo in the first place, and for years to come.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

Helping Indian Dalit Girls Rise Up and Shine: The Mission of the Bodhicitta Foundation

By Patricia Brick

The Bodhicitta Foundation provides schooling and job training, legal assistance, social justice and women’s rights education, and other services to impoverished Dalit women and girls in Nagpur, India. Founded by the Australian Buddhist nun Ayya Yeshe, the foundation operates a girls’ hostel and a women’s job training and community center in slum areas of Nagpur. A three-year Buddhist Global Relief grant supports both of these projects.

The Dalits in India–the people formerly known as “outcasts” or “untouchables”–have historically been relegated to jobs considered “below” even the members of society’s lowest caste.; Their work traditionally involved such tasks as cleaning or processing human waste or animal carcasses. Women and girls in this group face additional gender-specific burdens including domestic violence and child marriage. An estimated 30 percent of Indian women experience physical or sexual domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the U.N.’s Global Database on Violence Against Women. More than a quarter of Indian girls are married by age 18, and 7 percent are married by age 15.

The Bodhicitta Foundation seeks to break the cycle of poverty by giving women and girls the tools they need to financially support themselves and their families. An estimated 2,000 people benefit from the foundation’s initiatives in Nagpur each year. Continue reading

BGR Provides Emergency Aid to Yemeni Victims and Rohingya Refugees

By Tom Spies

In the second week of December, BGR made emergency donations to the World Food Program USA to provide assistance to two communities facing severe food shortages.  An emergency donation of $8,000 will help the World Food Programme provide aid to the people of Yemen; the other donation, of $4,000, will provide food assistance to the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar now living in displaced persons camps in Bangladesh.

In Yemen, over the past two years a sustained air assault by a coalition led by Saudi Arabia has left tens of thousands of civilians dead and millions of people internally displaced. An outbreak of cholera, the worst in the world, has affected hundreds of thousands of people, 30 percent of them children. One child in Yemen dies every 10 minutes due to preventable diseases. Continue reading

A New Vocational Training Center for Marginalized Women in Cameroon

By Patricia Brick

A partnership between BGR and a community development center in Cameroon is helping to to lift women and girls out of poverty by providing them with practical vocational education and entrepreneurial training.

The signs say: “We want to thank the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development working together with Buddhist Global Relief (BGR).”

The Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon) is a nonprofit working to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger in Cameroon through community-driven programs promoting education and vocational training, inclusion, and gender equity within a framework of environmental sustainability. Its projects focus on fostering social and economic empowerment among marginalized and disadvantaged people, with a focus on women, youths, and indigenous people.

In June 2017, in partnership with Buddhist Global Relief, CCREAD established a vocational training center for women and girls in Buea’s Mile 16 Bolifamba, a slum community of 17,850 people, 98 percent of whom are peasant farmers. More than 85 percent of the community lives below the U.N. poverty line. Residents here struggle to pay for food, medicine, housing, and school fees for their children. A recent influx of refugees and other migrants has further narrowed the resources and jobs available to impoverished people. Families headed by widows and single mothers are at particular risk, as these women traditionally encounter barriers in finding work. More than 60 percent of children in these families do not complete a single year of schooling. Continue reading

Improving Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health in Kenya

By Randy Rosenthal

BGR has partnered with Helen Keller International to strengthen the health system and reduce maternal and child mortality in densely-populated Kakamega County, in western Kenya.

Malnutrition is a major problem in Kenya, where nearly half of the population lives in poverty. That’s why Buddhist Global Relief has partnered with Helen Keller International on a three-year project to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services in Kenya. HKI is working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger (AAH) to address Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) and to combat poor nutrition outcomes in five Kenyan counties. BGR is supporting HKI’s ambitious effort to strengthen the health system and reduce maternal and child mortality in densely-populated Kakamega County, in western Kenya. The grant from BGR sustains HKI’s Kakamega program in its entirety. Continue reading

Educating Migrant Children from Burma

By BGR Staff

In eastern and northern Burma (Myanmar), the Burmese army oppresses and routinely attacks the country’s ethnic minorities—Karen, Kachin, Shan, Mon, Palaung, and other ethnicities—forcing many to seek shelter in the jungle. The result is a horrific health crisis among these internally displaced persons, whereby 135 infants out of 1,000 do not survive their first month. Malaria, dysentery, and pneumonia are the leading causes of death.

A U.S.-based organization, Burma Humanitarian Mission, has been supporting Backpack Health Worker Teams (BPHWT) to provide mobile medical care to isolated villages and camps of internally displaced persons. The backpack medics are recruited from the people and villages they serve. Each team travels to 9–12 villages per month, supporting approximately 2,000 people. In 2016, the teams successfully reduced morbidity rates from malaria and dysentery, and likewise lowered the infant mortality rate from 135 deaths per 1,000 births to 1.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

In 2017, BGR entered into a partnership with BHM to support the education of the medics’ children living in Thailand. Over the period of the project, from mid-2017 to mid-2018, BGR sponsored the education of 56 children at a school located in Mae Sot, Thailand, where they are safely removed from the violence in Myanmar. In Mae Sot, the students attend an established migrant school͛ known as the Child Development Center (CDC). Without this program, these children would have no chance to get an education. Continue reading