Category Archives: Social justice

Giving Girls in Nicaragua the Gift of Education

BGR Staff


A partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the North Country Mission of Hope is enabling ninety-four girls in Nicaragua to attend school. The Nicaraguan government mandates that children must wear black enclosed shoes and a uniform with their school insignia in order to attend public school. Considering that rural poverty is a staggering 67%, many poor children in the country are unable to attend school. A family will spend its precious financial resources securing food rather than putting shoes on the feet of their children. Purchasing a school uniform for their children, particularly a girl, is not a priority for survival. Over a third of adults cannot read or write, so they will have little interest in providing their children with the opportunity to obtain an education.


Sadly, over 50% of babies in the country are born to teenage girls. Young mothers become completely dependent on the males in their community. The penal system in Nicaragua lacks laws protecting the rights of women and children, and therefore domestic violence is rampant. Without the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, this cycle will never end for the young women in Nicaragua.

The North Country Mission of Hope and Buddhist Global Relief have recently joined hands to help break this cycle. The North Country Mission of Hope sponsors nineteen rural schools in the barrios surrounding Chiquilistagua, providing a daily school meal, renovating and repairing the facilities as needed, and providing equipment such as school desks, blackboards, chairs, and tables. Through funding provided by BGR, ninety-four girls received sponsorship paying for their school shoes, uniforms, insignia, school supplies, backpack, and bi-annual parasite medicine.

The global partnership between BGR and the North Country Mission of Hope is a demonstration of what can be done when the power of compassion joins hearts in a common cause. The partnership offers these girls a safe haven to go to every day where they receive the gift of an education, necessary nourishment, and the chance to socialize with other children their own age. This generation of females will graduate and secure employment, which will give them financial freedom and a chance to make an impact upon their communities, society, and nation. In the faces of these girls one can see our future leaders—young women who will help make the world a better place for everyone.


This article is based on a report from North Country Mission of Hope.

Sending a Message with Our Feet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Yesterday, on July 24, 10,000 people came together in Philadelphia to join the March for a Clean Energy Revolution, held on the eve of the Democratic Party’s National Convention. In Philadelphia, the temperature broke the 100 mark, but marchers remained undeterred. Their  purpose in coming together was to urge our political leaders to act quickly and effectively to ban fracking, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dirty energy, transition to 100% renewable energy, and ensure environmental justice for all.

Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project

Scene in the courtyard of Philadelphia’s city hall (Photo: Food & Water Watch_Media Mobilizing Project)

Members of the BGR team and other Buddhists were among those on the march. BGR participants included Sylvie Sun, Charles Elliott, Marcie Barth, and Regina Valdez. Also joining were Rev. T.K. Nakagaki of the Buddhist Council of New York, Ven. Ru Fa of the Chinese Buddhist community, Bob and Sarah Kolodny of Buddhist Climate Action Network NY, and East Coast members of the Plum Village Sangha.


L to R: Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, Sylvie Sun, Ven. Rufa. (Photo: Regina Valdez)

The heat wave hanging heavy over North America this past week is just one of thousands of manifestations of climate change. We see other signs in blistering droughts, more violent hurricanes, destructive wildfires, and rising sea levels. Some 25% of the world’s animal species face extinction. Climate change threatens the world’s food supply, turning fertile land into dust bowls and deserts, triggering deluges, and reducing the yields of staple grains. If we don’t act quickly, millions of more people will be subjected to terrible food shortages, malnutrition, and even starvation.

To avert the worst imaginable consequences, incremental measures are not enough. We need to make an all-out effort to shift away from polluting and destructive fossil fuels and adopt clean renewable sources of energy. Millions of people around the country, and hundreds of millions around the world, have recognized the danger and are demanding a rapid and total transition in our energy systems. The march was but one expression of concern about the climate, one that brought together people from all around the country—I met some even from California—to voice their aspirations for a sustainable world by walking together through the streets of Philadelphia, starting from City Hall and ending at Independence Square.

Clean Energy March-BGR

The banner does not quite fit, but it is the one we have. (Photo: Regina Valdez)

An interfaith service in the inner court at City Hall preceded the actual march. The service began with a smudging ritual and invocation by members of the Lenape Native Community. This was followed by short presentations (all under five minutes) by representatives of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I was privileged to be the Buddhist representative at the service. Here is the text of my prepared remarks. A video of my presentation is here.

Since I spoke extemporaneously, my actual words were a little different from the prepared text.

First, visualize as if from space a heat map of the earth as it might have looked in the 19th century, with prevalence of blue and green bands. Then visualize a heat map of the earth as it is today, with increasing bands of yellow, orange, and red.

Now let us focus in on real life situations on the earth, among those most badly affected by climate change. In each case, do not merely think about these communities, but bodily identify with each one, as if you are that person.

(1) You are a child in a family of small-scale farmers in Senegal. The land is parched and barren, livestock are dying. Your parents decide to migrate to Europe. You leave behind everything you know and travel overland to the Mediterranean Sea, risking your lives to cross the sea. You look back at the land you are leaving behind—your home country, all your relatives, all your memories—and look ahead at the sea before you, facing an uncertain future.

(2) You are a farmer in India. The monsoon rains have failed this year. The rivers run thin, as the glaciers have been shrinking due to the rise in temperature. There is insufficient water to irrigate your crops. You are heavily in debt. You look at the can of insecticide. You have a wife and four kids to support, but your situation is unendurable. You wonder: Is this the only escape route?

(3) You are the parent of two children in the Philippines. It’s a nice day and your children went our to play on the beach. Suddenly a typhoon arrives, fierce and powerful, and sweeps over the entire village. You look out from your porch, and see your children bewildered as the waves rise higher and crash down on them. Then, helplessly, you see your children being swept off by the flood.

(4) You live in a nice house in a quiet rural community in Pennsylvania. Life has been uneventful here for years, but just a few weeks ago some trucks arrived, bringing heavy equipment. A line of natural gas has been discovered beneath the shale formations a few miles away, and now each day there is the rumbling noise of trucks. Before long, you hear blasting noise and a natural gas well rises on the horizon. After a few months, the noise and odor become intolerable and the water from your well has started to take on a strange benzene-like taste.

Now return to your own body, to your own identity. Let us realize that we ourselves have the capacity to prevent these tragedies. It all depends on our own will, our determination to act. But to have any hope of success, we must act not along, but together, in ever larger numbers, to exert pressure on our government and institutions to heed our will. What we are doing here today is a beginning, but there is still so much to be done. (Moment of silent reflection.)



Marching on Behalf of the Planet

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo credit: jomilo75 via Flickr / Creative Commons

Walking in unison can be a powerful means of social and political transformation. Gandhi’s Salt March in 1930 challenged British authority in India and began the long process of civil disobedience that culminated in India’s independence. African Americans in the 1960s won their civil rights by undertaking long walks and marches through the South and in the nation’s capital. Millions of people in the 1960s marched against the Vietnam War, and again in 2003 to protest U.S. plans to attack Iraq. Just two years ago, almost half a million people converged on New York City to join the Peoples’ Climate March, showing that climate consciousness was no longer the concern of a minority. The March for a Clean Energy Revolution, to take place in Philadelphia on July 24th, continues this practice of using our legs to express the ideals that stir in our hearts. Continue reading

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 5 (of 6)

BGR Staff

17. Kenya: Improving Maternal and Child Nutrition     NEW PROJECT


In Kenya, undernutrition is a major problem among children. According to a 2014 survey, the rate of stunting among children in Kenya is 26%, wasting 4% and underweight 11%. Undernutrition is also a major contributing factor to the country’s high infant and maternal mortality rates. Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-time BGR partner, is working together with the Ministry of Health and Action Against Hunger to improve access, delivery, and utilization of essential nutrition-related services for mothers, newborns, and children (MNCH) in five counties in Western Kenya.

Among these, Kakamega County, which is densely populated with more than 1.6 million people and a poverty rate of over 50%, requires additional support in improving health and nutrition outcomes for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable women and children. A grant from BGR, the first in a three-year program, will enable HKI to provide critically needed technical support, improve access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children, and strengthen accountability.

During the first year, HKI will increase demand for health services in Kakamega County and improve service delivery by the Ministry of Health. HKI will identify and promote locally appropriate mother, infant and young child feeding practices (e.g., the promotion of nutritionally dense locally available complementary foods) and improve the access and uptake of nutrition supplements provided by the Ministry of Health. The project will also strengthen Health Information Systems (HIS) through improved data collection and analysis of data in order to inform local and national decision-making.

This project has been made possible through a generous grant to BGR from the Chao Foundation. Year one of a three-year project. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 3 (of 6)

BGR Staff

8. Haiti: Feeding Children in Jacmel

Our partner, the Art Creation Foundation for Children, was started in 1999, with the mission “to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries and dynamic thinkers,” empowering young people through art and education. A hundred young people are currently enrolled in their programs. Our partnership will help ACFFC maintain its after-school and summer feeding program, which has been affected by the recent increased cost of staple foods in Haiti. Children in this program do not otherwise have access to regular meals. Most would eat less than three meals a week if not for the program.

Since ACFFC provides tuition for their education, the feeding program is tied closely to their education program, and in fact the latter might not exist without the feeding program. Children who are hungry do not perform as well as those who have access to food, for their concentration levels are lower. Without the feeding program some of the children would not even show up for school, but instead choose to find other ways to obtain food each day. The after-school feeding program provides many of the children with the only meal they may have access to, Monday through Friday, and provides breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and during the summer program. Annually renewable program.

9, Haiti: Food Aid Program in Jacmel     NEW PARTNER

Girls with Plates of Food

The Joan Rose Foundation (JRF) is a U.S. registered non-profit based in Bloomfield Village, Michigan. Its mission is to improve the lives of vulnerable Haitian children and their families. In October 2010 they opened in Esperanza, Dominican Republic, serving Haitian refugees in the country. In September 2015, to escape the discrimination against Haitians by the Dominican society and government, they moved operations and 23 core families to the Bois Boeuf neighborhood of Jacmel, Haiti.

The Food Aid and Food Security program sponsored by BGR will be implemented by JRF in Bois Boeuf, Jacmel. The beneficiaries of the project are the 115 people that live in the community. The project duration is twelve months. The objectives of the program are: (1) to provide children with two nutritious meals every day, supplying about 80 percent of their daily recommended calorie intake; (2) to incorporate healthy eating habits and improve the educational level of families; (3) to lessen the financial burden on families while they settle in Jacmel; (4) to help the community increase self-sufficiency and food security by creating a community garden; and (5) to strengthen community participation and organization.

To fulfill these objectives, the project will provide two meals daily, from Monday to Saturday, for the children of the JRF community. JRF will also offer a training workshop to the parents about healthy eating patterns and well balanced diets and create a community garden. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 1 (of 6)

BGR Staff

2016 Group Photo-2

Group photo outside the library

On Saturday, April 23, BGR team members held their annual general meeting, followed the next day by a board meeting to select projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. Both meetings took place in the Woo Ju Memorial Library at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. Team members came from across the U.S., including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington State.

This year, at the Saturday meeting, we were honored by the presence of Ayya Yeshe, the Australian nun who founded and directs the Bodhicitta Foundation in India, a long-term BGR partner. Ayya Yeshe, who arrived from India just a few days before the meeting, gave a deeply moving presentation on her activities in Maharashtra, where she works with girls and women of the Dalit community, the former “untouchables” or “outcasts,” leading them in their endeavors to emerge from poverty and social exclusion and rediscover their innate dignity and potentials for high achievement. She poignantly reminded us that the statistics that testify to the success of BGR’s work are not mere numbers but represent real human lives, people who have been touched and transformed by our support for her projects and those of our other partners.

At the board meeting on April 24, the BGR board approved 26 projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total outlay of about $580,000, a big jump over last year’s $375,000. Several projects are renewals of  annual projects, while others are new projects with established partners and new partnerships, including one in Nicaragua, our first in Latin America.

This year our capacity was bolstered by an extremely generous offer from the Chao Foundation to provide BGR with grants of $100,000 per year over a three-year period to support several multi-year projects. The three projects we agreed to sponsor are: (1) a partnership with the Helen Keller Foundation to improve health services and access to nutritious food and supplements for mothers and young children in Kenya; (2) a partnership with Moanoghar to construct a permanent residential facility for boy students at their school in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (the girl students already have a secure residential facility); and (3) a partnership with the What If Foundation to fully equip a new school for extremely poor children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. These projects will be described more fully in this series of posts. We are deeply grateful to the Chao Foundation for this grant, an extraordinary expression of compassion and trust in the mission of BGR.

This is the first of a six-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Executive Director; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who helped prepare the material used in this series of posts. Continue reading