Category Archives: Food security

Reconnecting Homeless Youth to Food, the Earth, and Spirit

Taz Tagore

Grants from BGR have provided not only food to homeless youth, but opportunities for companionship and a sense of belonging.

For the past 10 years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly to support homeless and foster-care youth aged 13–26 in their transformation from impoverished persons living in a shelter to educated, employed youngsters playing a leadership role in society. With BGR support, Reciprocity is expanding its Urban Food Project, taking youth upstate to spend time working on small organic farms where they learn the basics of planting, harvesting, and cooking fresh organic meals. Below is a six-months report from Reciprocity Foundation co-founder Taz Tagore.

The second half of 2016 was one of the most meaningful and challenging periods in our organization’s history! It has been a year of great change—some of the changes involved loss and others involved finding new inspiration, allies, and community.  While I want to summarize where we have been in 2016, I also want to address the enormous energy building at Reciprocity to invent a more courageous, visionary and loving model for transformation in the world. But first, our work in the past year…

In June 2016, we completed our 2-year project entitled SEE ME—a full-sized, full-color photography book detailing the stories and faces of New York City’s LGBTQ homeless and foster youth.  SEE ME was about more than taking photos—we worked with renowned photographer Alex Fradkin and the Reciprocity team to support a powerful transformation in the lives of 45 homeless youth who participated in this project.  Of the 45, 42 are now employed or in a college program of their choosing.  And more importantly, they are engaged in work that is meaningful to them, engaged in contemplative practice and are feeling seen.

In Spring 2016, we also planted our second Urban Garden in Harlem. Youth learned to plant a garden, grow food, cook meals, and develop their “Recipes for Life.”  And, we continued to transform the lifeless spaces in which homeless youth live in New York into more vibrant, energetic, and healing spaces for both youth and staff.

We also helped youth connect with food in a new way—both introducing youth to vegetarian food and helping them to have a direct experience of the power of food on your mind, energy level, aspirations, and overall well-being.  We helped youth make strong connections between eating wholesome vegetarian food and managing their mental health.

In fall 2016, Reciprocity co-founder Adam Bucko left New York City to pursue priesthood with the Anglican Church.  He will be in seminary for three years.  As a community, we engaged in a deep process of letting go and embracing a new way of being with each other.  I will lead the organization with a team of staff and youth graduates as supporting members of the team.  And we are slowly seeing the possibilities that lay dormant inside this loss—we are taking the time to transform this period into an opportunity for innovation, risk-taking, and building new connections.

Our change also affected our program space.  We left our space on West 36th Street (due to rent increases) and now have a smaller space inside the Good Shepherd Services building on East 17th street.  Our interim space has a large Multi-Purpose room for group workshops, coaching and Career Projects with a beautiful meditation space and meeting room on the third floor.  I believe strongly that we will sign a new lease when we have more fully developed the new vision for Reciprocity.  It may be that we have a retreat center upstate and a small space in the city—or a re-envisioned space in the city.  Either way, we are grateful to be housed in a temporary space for now.

In fall 2016, we launched two new projects—first, to help homeless youth who have been incarcerated or court-involved to heal, find community, and express their gifts in the world.  This program has included food, meditation, and coaching.  Second, we have launched a program to support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Youth in their gender transition—and, perhaps as important—to transition into a new, fuller, and connected way of being in the world.  I am so encouraged and inspired as I move our organization into a more courageous, visionary, and creative incarnation.

Last but not least, we are expanding our retreat program to include more programming to actively reconnect youth to food, the earth, and spiritual ecology.  The grant from BGR is helping us to take an ever-deepening journey that is about more than feeding youth. Urban youth are finding that food is a powerful salve for their bodies, minds, and spirits.  How wonderful!

Taz Tagore is co-founder, with Adam Bucko, of The Reciprocity Foundation

Improving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District, Cote d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

Mothers gather to discuss nutrition in Korhogo Health District

Malnutrition is a pressing problem in Cote d’Ivoire, where over 40% of the population lives in poverty. Cote d’Ivoire ranks 172 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, making it among the poorest countries in the world. The country has a population of 22 million, of which 6 million are children under five. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies (vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc being the most important), is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five years. Micronutrient deficiencies are also widespread.

BGR is currently partnering with Helen Keller International (HKI) to implement a program to improve an understanding of proper feeding practices among young girls and women in Korhogo Health District over the next three years. The primary goal of the project is to decrease the incidence of malnutrition in children during their first 1,000 days of life by training health workers in ENA in the Korhogo Health District. Korhogo Health District, located in the under-served Poro Region in northern Cote d’Ivoire, operates 77 health clinics that serve a target population of around 760,000.

Through this project, entirely funded by BGR, HKI will use the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework to reach new mothers and expectant women at the right time with the right message to improve their own health and the health of their children. ENA promotes optimal nutrition practices, among them women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding the sick child, vitamin A, and the integrated control of anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiency.

Salimata Coulibaly providing ENA training to health workers in Korhogo

The implementation of the project started in September, 2016, when HKI-Cote d’Ivoire contracted Mrs. Salimata Coulibaly to serve as master trainer in nutrition practices in the district. Salimata has a long, impressive history of successful nutrition interventions in the area. She has played a national advocacy role in building awareness of the need to treat childhood under-nutrition in the northern region of Cote d’Ivoire. She was the first person, 25 years ago, to start treating infants with severe acute malnutrition at a center she established in Korhogo in partnership with the Red Cross. She is highly respected, and brings years of experience as she works to reinforce health workers understanding of the Essential Nutrition Actions.

Salimata benefited from special train-the-trainer sessions organized by HKI to build her capacity to reinforce health worker’s understanding of the ENA framework during a regional workshop organized for nutrition experts from French-speaking Africa.

Salimata demonstrating proper breastfeeding position to healthworkers

To date, Salimata has undertaken assessment visits at 29 health clinics in Korhogo district, and has developed plans to reinforce and scale-up ENA practices in the respective communities being served by these health clinics.
As of the writing of this report, Salimata has trained 85 health workers on the following themes: (1) nutrition of expectant and breastfeeding mothers; (2) exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a newborn’s life; (3) appropriate complementary feeding and continuation of breastfeeding for the first two years of a child’s life; (4) feeding the sick and malnourished child; (5) vitamin A, iron, iodine and zinc deficiency; and (6) essential actions in hygiene.

Training of health workers to organize community cooking demonstrations are slated to start soon so that women can better understand how to incorporate healthier foods into their diets and that of their children.

This article is based on a six-months interim report on the first year of the project from Helen Keller International.

Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood in Lakhimpur Kheri, India 

Patricia Brick

Manju Devi mulching in tomato cultivation

Manju Devi cultivates peas, tomatoes, eggplants, and chili peppers on 1/5 acre of land in her Musadei village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, India. Through Oxfam India’s “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, Devi and sixteen other women farmers in the Santoshi Mahila Kisan Samuh collective gather for a monthly “farmers’ field school” to learn sustainable practices for improving soil quality, agricultural productivity, and climate resilience.

Devi and other group members have begun selling organically grown tomatoes at the local market, and they have found that their income has already increased, to an annual income of INR 50,000 on average, exceeding the net per capita income for Uttar Pradesh. Additionally, by learning to use locally available materials to prepare organic insecticide, fungicide, and fertilizer, group members have been able to save money on purchased fertilizers and pesticides.

Jaidevi collecting peas from her fields

Supported by a $20,000 grant from Buddhist Global Relief, the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project is working to improve the lives of women farmers in twenty villages in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri district. With an emphasis on community-led knowledge-sharing, support, and collective organizing, the project has created 22 new women farmers’ groups offering trainings in organic methods and other climate-resilient agricultural practices to improve productivity and income and lower costs. The project also seeks to improve farmers’ access to government grants by developing connections between village groups and the government agriculture department.

Women comprise more than a third of the agricultural work force in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and it is estimated that 85 percent of working women in rural areas are farmers or farm workers. But with few land titles in their names, women farmers are far less likely than their male counterparts to benefit from government grants and projects: only 4 percent of women in Uttar Pradesh have access to credit, and less than one percent have participated in government training projects. Farming in general in this area of Uttar Pradesh is subject to drought, flood, poor soil quality, poor seed replacement, and general low productivity. An estimated 33 percent of the state’s population lives in poverty, including many farming families.

In the first six months of the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood,” Oxfam India reports, 75 women from 20 villages began cultivating crops in kitchen gardens, and 20 Dalit (scheduled caste) women farmers began mushroom farming. Six villages, representing 102 small-holder farmers, created agriculture development plans, and 376 farmers, including 32 women, were registered under government agricultural projects. Additionally, 255 farmers received seed and 121 farmers received agricultural equipment from the government.

Rajmati picking chilies

In another women farmers’ group supported by the “Prosperity Through Resilient Livelihood” project, a mother of two named Rajmati joined 20 other women in her village of Pritampur to learn about climate-resilient agriculture practices, including the preparation and use of organic fertilizer and other methods of crop intensification. With her husband, Rajmati grows vegetables and other crops on 4/5 acre of land, but in past years, the harvest has not been enough to support their family. In her women farmer’s group, Rajmati said: “I learned different techniques in our group and explained everything to my husband. We used cow dung as manure in our field and observed that productivity has increased. Now I can say that through this, we are getting high yield with less input cost.”

Shrivani and Rajmati

Among the techniques Rajmati has implemented is the use of a manure or compost mulch covered by a plastic sheet to increase productivity by supporting moisture retention, regulating temperature, suppressing weed growth, and enriching the soil. She explained: “We applied plastic sheets in vegetable cultivation. This has minimized our investment, as our vegetable crop used less water and was protected from weeds, as well. We also did mixed-cropping: Between the beds we had sown cauliflower, which gave us an extra crop at the same time. We earned INR 12,000 extra by selling cauliflowers.” Rajmati continues to attend regular meetings of her women farmers’ group.

Climate-resilient farming practices support food and livelihood security for farmers and their surrounding communities by increasing output and making crop production less vulnerable to the weather extremes of a changing climate. Over the past decade, farmers in Uttar Pradesh have faced dry spells during the monsoon season, increased flooding, and increased winter temperatures. At the same time these practices, focused on long-term sustainability, lessen agriculture’s contributions to global climate change.

Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area. This article has been adapted from Oxfam India’s report on the project.

Enhanced Homestead Food Production in Côte d’Ivoire

BGR Staff

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Mother and child with recently harvested eggplant

In May 2013, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) awarded Helen Keller International a three-year grant to support their Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) and Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes (OFSP) production in Côte d’Ivoire. The project extended from September 2013 to August 2016. The goal of this project was to improve the nutritional status of children and families in the Gebke Region of Bouake District. In this region, as elsewhere across Côte d’Ivoire, people face a constant struggle with food security, availability of micronutrient-rich foods, and accessibility to markets.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Group members in the garden

With BGR’s support, HKI piloted a three-year adaptation and expansion of its proven Food Production program model. They integrated EHFP into an existing community group and promoted the production and consumption of vitamin A and micronutrient-rich crops, including orange sweet potatoes. In an effort to improve the local group’s capacity to adapt to ever-increasing water shortages that threaten production, the HKI team helped pilot a drip irrigation system on the group’s model farm, which was used to train group members on improved agriculture techniques. Continue reading

Free School Lunches as an Educational Incentive in Cameroon

BGR Staff

The article below is adapted from a report sent by BGR’s partner in Cameroon, CENCUDER. The mission of CENCUDER is “to enable rural youths and women [in Cameroon] to acquire survival skills in order to secure a better future for themselves through education and training in life and vocational skills.” Ebase village is among the most marginalized rural areas in the Kupe-Muanenguba Division in southwest Cameroon. Ebase village operates a local community primary school as the only social facility. Families are unable to send their children to towns and cities for their schooling because they cannot afford to pay house rents and buy requisites like uniforms and books. Only 58% of children complete primary school. The BGR-sponsored school feeding program aims to enhance the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children by distributing meals to them. It promotes literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet. Introduced last year with support from BGR, the feeding program has helped solve many problems faced by the local community. Many more children now attend school and parents have seen improvements in their children’s academic and moral output. It is quite astounding that in this country—which is 40% Catholic, 30% Protestant, 18% Muslim, and probably 0% Buddhist—it is a Buddhist organization in far-off America that has come to the assistance of the poor children of the region.

CENCUDER

A BGR project in the Bangem subdivision of Cameroon, in West Africa, is making big news. The project, which started last academic year, aims at enhancing the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children attending the Ebase-Bajoh primary school. The core of the project is the distribution of a hot school lunch to the pupils, many of whom are girls and orphans. The feeding program, which is intended to promote literacy among school-age children suffering from chronic hunger and an insufficient diet, is the first of its kind to be undertaken by an NGO in the Bangem subdivision.

CENCUDER 4

The program is having a strong positive impact on the lives of these children, many of whom might have had to forgo their primary education without the meal program. In the 2016–17 academic year, which just began, the Ebase-Bajoh primary school has witnessed a rise of 15% in school enrollment. Many pupils have left neighboring primary schools to join the pupils of Ebase just because of the delicious meals their peers in Ebase shared with them when they met during youth week and the national day’s activities. The pupils of Ebase-Bajoh often regret vacations or holidays in the course of the academic year since they know they would have to miss their balanced meals at this time. Each time the director of CENCUDER arrives at Ebase, the children always rush and scramble around him just to find out the next type of meal to be served to them.

So far, many parents have testified to the improvement of their children’s health, academic performance, and behavior at home. Absenteeism on account of ill health, which affected the students’ academic performance, has been significantly reduced. Through this feeding program, pupils whose parents can’t even afford a meal are ensured of a balanced meal each day. The pupils and parents are deeply grateful to BGR for this program. They thank BGR for the joy and smiles its generosity has brought in the lives of these needy kids and parents in Ebase village and for boosting CENCUDER’s image in the Southwest Region of Cameroon.

Through this program, the government of Cameroon and other stakeholders will understand that fighting illiteracy requires more than just making primary education free. It also requires promoting initiatives that will serve as an incentive for children to attend school and remain healthy throughout the school year.

CENCUDER 3

Sign reads: “Thank you CENCUDER & Buddhist Global Relief for the wonderful meals you are providing to us.”

Seeing Haiti with My Own Eyes

David Braughton

DB_Meals on Steps

The children started filling the large cafeteria 90 minutes before lunch. They came, two, four, nine at a time and squeezed quietly 10 to 12 onto row after row of wooden benches. By the time the food was ready, over 600 kids, and the occasional mother cradling an infant, packed the room. Late arrivals were directed outside to large concrete steps where they sat unshaded beneath the afternoon sun or stood in line hoping that there would be enough food to go around.

Before the meal, adults led the kids in songs and repeated in unison, “Piti piti na rive!” The old Creole saying is a testament of hope and means “Little by little, we will arrive!” Then the other volunteers and I were instructed to form four long lines stretching from where the plates were prepared down the aisles and, like a fire brigade, started passing steaming plates of red beans and rice and a small chicken drumstick to each other and then along to the waiting youngsters. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 6 (of 6)

BGR Staff

21. Peru: Vocational Education Training for Poor Women
NEW PARTNER

Founded in 1989, the Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) is devoted to providing vocational education to women and mothers employed in domestic work while teaching them about their human and labor rights. The Association runs an employment agency, La Casa de Panchita, to help women find jobs with adequate pay and respect for their skills.

This BGR partnership–along with the Nicaragua project our first in Latin America–will benefit women who have been employed in domestic work from childhood. The women find themselves struggling to provide proper nutrition, shelter, and other amenities to their families due to a paucity of employment options.These women are trapped in poverty, and as a result their daughters too will be trapped, thus perpetuating the cycle.

To break the poverty trap into which many girls are born, AGTR empowers women and mothers through vocational educational training. Through a grant from BGR, AGTR will provide training to 100 marginalized women who wish to undertake domestic work, while also giving access to employment through their employment agency. Utilizing an adequate salary, these women and their families will escape the misery of hunger, while their daughters escape the need to work and can remain in school. The women will be taught about their human and labor rights and will be given access to AGTR’s in-house employment agency, which upholds the standards of the organization.

Woman and Boys

No more kids under 14 working

The Vocational Educational Training (VET) workshops are divided into three 3- hour sessions. The women will learn about their labor rights as domestic workers, become better prepared to negotiate a just salary, and learn about the social benefits such as healthcare available to all individuals who are employed full time. After students complete the training, they are equipped to begin their search for just and decent employment. Continue reading