Category Archives: Projects & programs

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.

The goal of the new training center in Mile 16 Bolifamba is to lift women and girls out of poverty by providing them with practical vocational education and entrepreneurial and life skills training, as well as seed capital to start their own businesses. In the center’s first year, 78 widows and single mothers completed vocational training in either tailoring or hairdressing, and 30 of these received microenterprise seed grants. By year’s end, an additional 186 women were enrolled in CCREAD’s training programs.

Students and graduates of the program receive coaching and mentoring in addition to their vocational studies. The center also provides training in literacy, writing, bookkeeping, project management, and entrepreneurship skills, both to women enrolled in the main training programs and to hundreds of other women and youths in the community. An additional program in information and communication technologies is currently being planned.

In fostering social and economic empowerment for training participants, CCREAD seeks also to reduce extreme suffering throughout the broader community and across generations. As mothers achieve the tools to earn a secure livelihood, the program improves opportunities for their children, and especially their daughters, to complete their basic education and eventually to achieve their own economic success. In supporting women in gaining social and economic independence, the program reduces their exposure to sexual assault and other human rights abuses. Further, as women create microenterprises funded by the seed grants, they are encouraged to share their skills with other women and girls, thus expanding the reach of the program’s benefits.

CCREAD’s greatest challenge in this first year of the partnership with BGR was to meet the overwhelming demand from women and young people, who came not only from Bolifamba but from communities throughout Cameroon. At the end of the program’s first year, more than 200 women and girls had preregistered and were on the waiting list for future placement. CCREAD now hopes to build a permanent vocational and empowerment center that will incorporate schooling for children alongside expanded training for women and youths. CCREAD reports that the program has already become a model for training programs hosted by other local organizations throughout Cameroon.

Ochono Mbi is a single mother who was struggling to support herself and her child before she joined CCREAD’s tailoring program. Like many other women in Cameroon, especially widows and single mothers, she encountered at CCREAD’s training center her first opportunity to further her vocational education. “Today,” she says, “I am trained and about to start my own personal sewing shop to make a living, support my child, and hopefully train other women.”

Carine Teh was also among the first class of graduating students. After she completed the vocational training program, she was one of 30 graduates provided with seed capital to start their own businesses. She reports: “The training organized by CCREAD-Cameroon, together with BGR, has not only helped in removing tears from the eyes of poor women but is an example of giving hope to the hopeless and aiding women to achieve social and economic relevance within the community.”

Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.

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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.

The grant from BGR this past year—the second year of the project— enabled HKI to train 1,745 health workers and directly serve over 34,000 children (17,771 girls and 16,236 boys). This happened mainly through vitamin A screenings that detect early malnutrition. These screenings were part of the biannual “mother and child days” (Malezi Bora). These events sought to increase the number of children under five receiving vitamin A supplementation. Properly administered, vitamin A capsules can greatly decrease the risk of childhood mortality and blindness in areas where vitamin A deficiency is prevalent. Indirectly, through the support of the local health system, the project has served over 97,00 adult women and 64,00 children under the age of five.

Another positive result of the project is a large increase in the number of women receiving pre-natal and post-natal care. Iron folate supplementation was given to 40,603 women in June to December 2017, while 76,768 women received the supplements between January and July 2018. The project also enabled HKI to address the underlying structural and managerial weaknesses of the Kakamega health system that prevents mothers and their children from receiving the care they so desperately need.

Yet while these benefits are significant, the project was unable to meet the targeted numbers, mainly due to political unrest. For instance, there was a nationwide nurses’ strike from June to September 2017, as well as episodes of violence around the presidential elections from August 2017 through January 2018, both of which made it difficult for HKI teams to work. Cultural obstacles are also difficult to work around, specifically the traditional preference for home births and unskilled birth attendants. It was also reported that many pregnant women do not show up for appointments, and many pregnant teenagers hide their pregnancy, avoiding care.

To face these serious challenges, HKI works with the Kenyan Ministry of Health to develop a series of meetings and workshops with local communities, such as maternity open days, which raises awareness of Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health by inviting community members to health centers and learn about the available reproductive health services.

In addition to the Mother and Child week screenings, another component of the project is the baby-friendly hospital initiative (BDHI), which has as a goal support for the early initiation of breastfeeding. Women that attend these sessions can then share what they learn with their communities. Such crucial information includes how to hold a baby while breastfeeding, and the importance of exclusively feeding a baby breastmilk at least during the first six months of life.

The project also supported HKI’s assessment for improving the health system, audits that have helped determine gaps in data. The project trained health workers in forty-two health facilities on topics that improved the workers’ knowledge specifically in the gaps the project identified, specifically with lack of performance of immunizations.

In sum, BGR’s partnership with HKI has been instrumental in improving children’s nutrition, lowering mortality rates, and strengthening the Kakamega County health system. Continued funding of this partnership will allow these accomplishments not only to persevere, but continue to improve.

Beneficiary stories

1.
Adelaide is a first-time mother who has directly benefited from the training from the newly trained health workers. She said: “My name is Adelaide Aliko, we are a family of three: myself, the baby’s dad, and our baby. My baby is one month, one week old. I normally go to Kakamega General Hospital, about two kilometers from here. When I visited the hospital after delivery I was taught how to breastfeed the baby, how to position him, how to support him, and I was told the baby should be exclusively breastfeeding for six months, without giving him any other food. Before I received the education at the hospital I knew my baby would need to be breastfed, but I didn’t know it should be exclusive up to six months without any other food. I also didn’t know how to position the baby while breastfeeding, which we were also taught. They also taught me that I should eat at least four meals per day so that I can make milk for the baby. I am thankful for the health workers who gave us this information because so far, my baby is doing well and I have also regained my health.”

2.
Catherine is the County Immunization Coordinator, and she was part of the team carrying out the Data Quality Audits (DQAs). From the DQA exercise, she was able to assess the causes of poor immunization coverage in the county. She developed action items to address this issue, including staff trainings (“On Job Trainings”), the use of correct registers, and a recommendation for holding meetings to review data before submitting data reports. She said that the project gave her “an opportunity to look at how they [health workers] store, arrange and manage their vaccines when I visited the health facility. The vaccine arrangement was not proper; some temperatures were abnormally low because of lack of knowledge on adjusting the thermostat. I felt if we got an opportunity to go through a training it could increase the knowledge among the health workers. I appreciated SETH [System Enhancement for Transformative Health] for the idea of incorporating immunization into the nutrition activities for me to go down and see what was wrong. Before that I did not know what was wrong with immunization and why we were performing so poorly.”

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.

Children: The Face of Hunger

By David Braughton

Introduction

 

Look into the eyes of someone who is hungry and one out of five times it will be a child under age five staring back at you. The child will probably bear little resemblance to the graphic images found on the internet of a little wizened skull with sunken eyes sitting atop an emaciated body that more resembles a skeleton than a small living being grasping for life. What you will see is an otherwise ordinary kid who appears stunted (too short for its age) and wasted (underweight for its age). Or, you may see a child who is both too short and, at the same time, obese, another seemingly paradoxical symptom of chronic malnutrition.

Stunting and wasting represent two key markers of child malnutrition.  In 2017, there were 151 million children who were abnormally short for their age.  There were also 51 million kids who were seriously underweight for their age and 38 million who were overweight.  What is particularly alarming is the growing number of children who are overweight and stunted, although no reliable statistics are available to determine the true scope of the problem (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank).

Obesity results when children are fed foods that are high in calories, but which offer little by way of nutrition—protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.  In many parts of the world, healthy and nutritious foods are both scarce and costly.  Highly processed foods, rich in calories, become an appealing substitute when the alternative is going hungry. As a result, children consume more calories than needed, resulting in overweight, a leading cause in the rise of Type II diabetes among children worldwide.

What you may not notice when you first see a hungry child is its flat affect or languid movement, the consequence of anemia and a deficit of essential nutrients. The child may cry often and seldom smile. It may be developmentally delayed, inattentive and unable to concentrate or learn, should he or she be lucky enough to go to school. The child may also suffer up to 161 days of illness per year (Glicken, MD, 2010).

An estimated 5.4 million children under age 5 died in 2017, and, of these, half died within their first month of life. In some parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, children are 15 times more likely to die before age 5 than children in high income countries. The leading causes of death—diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria—are illnesses related to malnutrition. In fact, 45% of all deaths of children under five worldwide are directly linked to malnutrition  (World Health Organization).

The Cycle of Child Hunger

Health experts agree that the first 1000 days of a child’s life are the most critical for its development and long-term prospects. The number one risk factor in post-neonatal deaths is low birth weight; the second most prevalent risk factor is malnutrition. In developing countries, one out of six infants is born with a low birth weight (United Nations). Since women comprise sixty-percent of the world’s hungry, it comes as no surprise that the growing prevalence of anemia in women (a major predictor of low birth weight) is a serious red flag, affecting one in three women of reproductive age around the globe.

A fetus that is conceived by a malnourished woman seldom receives the micronutrients needed for healthy gestation, such as iodine, zinc, iron, folate, and vitamin D. After the child is born, she or he will continue to be deprived of the carbohydrates, protein, minerals, and vitamins essential for healthy growth and development, dooming that child to a life of poverty and hunger.

Almost all hungry people are extremely poor, living on less than $1.90 per day. Ninety-eight percent reside in developing countries, with Asia accounting for 62% of the total, Africa 31%, Latin America and the Caribbean 5%, and Oceania and the developed countries the rest. Fully 80% of these individuals live in rural areas, surviving only on the food they grow from their rain-dependent farms.

It is clear, then, why local or regional violence, droughts, floods, other natural disasters, or higher than normal temperatures take such a catastrophic and devastating toll. Any disruption to the tenuous existence of the poor guarantees that the cycle of hunger will continue to repeat itself. Malnourished mothers give birth to undernourished infants, who grow into malnourished children and adults, and so on from one generation to the next.

BGR’s Response to Child Hunger

Understanding the underpinnings and ramifications of the cycle of child hunger explains why Buddhist Global Relief invests so heavily in child nutrition, the education of girls, and improved agricultural techniques such as the System of Rice Intensification and crop diversification.  (More about the latter in our next article.)

BGR’s project in Côte d’IvoireImproving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District focuses on the first 1000 days of a child’s life in a country where chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five, where the mortality rate of children under five is close to 20%, and where life expectancy is just 54 years. With its partner, Helen Keller International, BGR is addressing vitamin A and iodine deficiency and educating women about nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, and feeding the sick child. By the end of the project we hope to reach 77,000 women and their children.

In Kenya, a similar BGR-HKI partnership seeks to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services for an estimated 255,000 children and adults.

In Jacmel, Haiti, BGR is involved with the Joan Rose Foundation—a U.S.-based nonprofit—to give impoverished children and their families the opportunity to succeed in life. For the past several years, BGR has sponsored the Foundation’s program that provides local children with two nutritious meals, breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday.

In Cambodia, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach over the past 9 years to help young women gain a primary, secondary, and college education. Historically, girls living in the impoverished rural areas of Cambodia were needed at home to help grow rice. This innovative program provides participating families with surplus rice to make up for any shortfalls resulting from the girl attending school rather than helping out in the fields.

These and other BGR programs are only possible through the generosity and support of our donors like you. Thank you for helping us to end child hunger and malnutrition.

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief. During his professional career he led a number of nonprofit agencies involved with mental health, trauma, and child development. 

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.

Thirty-one of the students are children of medics working in Burma’s conflict zones. In Myanmar, because of the violence of the Burmese army and the fact that the medic teams are constantly moving, it is unsafe for the children to stay with their parents. Twenty-five students are children of backpack medics who staff the team’s office in Mae Sot.

The BGR grant to Burma Humanitarian Mission provided the 56 children with their tuition costs, a food budget, school uniforms, and other materials needed for them to attend school. Classes started in June 2017 and continued through May 2018. Nineteen of the students were in the 4th grade and below and 37 students in the 5th through 12th grades. Eight children 4 years of age and younger received day care.

According to the final report for 2017–18 from Burma Humanitarian Mission, the project realized the following successes:

  • 56 children gained access to education, food, and a safe environment.
  • They are learning not just math, science, and reading, but also are gaining an understanding of their unique ethnic culture and history—a priceless gift to the present and future generations of Karen, Kachin, Shan, Mon, and other ethnic groups from Myanmar.
  •  The project empowers young women, since three-fourths of the backpack medics and staff are women.
  • By educating the backpack medics’ children, the project successfully helped prepare the children to follow their parents’ example, as medics or in other fields of service.
  • Eleven of the sponsored students are enrolled in the CDC’s “Non-Formal Education” program. Success in this program allows the students to gain accreditation from the Thai Ministry of Education and opens the gate for them to attend universities in Thailand.

In its final report, the Burma Humanitarian Mission writes: “We are honored to partner with Buddhist Global Relief! Living in the Thai-Burma border region, these children are witnessing the world increasingly ignore and marginalize their existence. Your compassion and commitment instills hope for these young children that they can succeed in school and in life.”

At its annual projects meeting in April 2018, the board of BGR voted to renew its partnership with Burma Humanitarian Mission for the academic year 2018–19, continuing to provide the children of backpack medics with an education.

Meet some of the children who have been benefiting from this project:

At the far left is Naw Khlee Moo, age 16 and in grade 11 at the CDC school. When she grows up, she would like to become a medic like her Dad and help her people.

Second from left is Naw Eh La Thar, age 14, in grade 10. Her father, too, is a backpack medic. She speaks Karen, Burmese, Thai, and English. She enjoys studying chemistry and physics and would love to become a doctor.

Third from left is Mother Paw, age 11, in grade 7. She likes to study biology.

Third from right is Naw Paw Poe, age 10, in grade 5. She likes to study Burmese language and to learn about the Karen people, their culture and history.

At the far right is Saw Kel Doh Say, age 13, in grade 9. He likes the English class, but he prefers to play football and hopes someday to play it professionally.

Joy at the Father Jeri School in Haiti

By BGR Staff

Two years ago, BGR received a generous donation from one of our supporters with a request that we use the funds to sponsor three three-year projects. One of the beneficiaries has been the Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo community in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The school, constructed and operated under the auspices of our partner, the What If? Foundation, has been offering impoverished children in Port-au-Prince a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. BGR is close to completing its second year of support, and will soon begin its third year, the final year of the grant. The school was recently visited by Margaret Trost, founder of the What If Foundation, who sent the following report to the school’s supporters (including BGR):

A few weeks ago, I walked through the doors of the Father Jeri School for the first time since it opened. To say I felt overwhelmed with joy would be an understatement. It was everything I imagined and so much more.

Continue reading

Girls’ Education as a Key to Combating Climate Change

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Project Drawdown describes itself as “the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The Project brought together a group of top researchers from around the world to identify, research, and model “the 100 most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change.” The resulting plan provides “a path forward that can roll back global warming within thirty years.” The solutions to reversing climate change, the website says, “are in place and in action.” The purpose of the Project is “to accelerate the knowledge and growth of what is possible.”

Somewhat surprisingly, in the Project’s ranking of solutions to climate change, in the sixth place is educating girls. This item ranked higher than several of the more familiar solutions often proposed by the experts. It ranks higher than solar farms and rooftop solar (nos. 8 and 10, respectively), regenerative agriculture (no. 11), nuclear power (no. 20), electric vehicles (no. 26), LED lighting (no. 33), and mass transport (no. 37). Continue reading

Hot Breakfasts for Schoolkids in Jamaica and Haiti

By BGR Staff

In Caribbean island nations like Jamaica and Haiti, it is not unusual for bright, eager kids to show up for school without having eaten breakfast; perhaps they have had only a cup of herb tea. It is hard, however, to learn on an empty belly! Determined to do something about this, over the past few years BGR has been partnering with the Trees That Feed Foundation, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to growing breadfruit trees and other trees that can be grown to feed people. TTFF also purchases breadfruit powder to provide breakfast cereal for schoolchildren.

TTFF used the grant provided by BGR for its 2016–17 funding cycle to purchase over 3,000 pounds of porridge mix from two vendors in Jamaica and one in Haiti. The dry mix ingredients include breadfruit flour, cornmeal, powdered cow’s milk or coconut milk, spices and sugar. The mix is packaged in one- or two-pound plastic bags, appropriately labeled. The near-instant powder is mixed with water, cooked for 5 to 10 minutes, and served as a hot breakfast cereal in the morning prior to the start of the school day. Needless to say, the young students learn much better after a good breakfast. Continue reading