Category Archives: Uncategorized

Helping Hungry Texans in Time of Need

By David Braughton

When hardship strikes, those hurt most are those least able to cope. These include single-parent families headed by moms, front-line service works, people out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, immigrants, people of color, and the homeless.  The savage cold that ripped through Texas on Valentine’s Day and tortured the State for a week afterwards affected nearly everyone, but no one as much as persons already struggling to survive.  For many low income and marginalized residents, rolling blackouts, frozen pipes, and boil water advisories were just the beginning. 

Not only did the power outage cause the food people had stored in their freezer or refrigerator to go bad, but additionally they faced bare grocery shelves that had not been stocked for days.  Highways became impassable and fruits and vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley were frozen over. The Texas Citrus Association predicts that out of a projected 230,000 tons of grapefruit, 138,000 tons will be lost.  The same fate faces other food items. The valley grows a variety of vegetables as well, much of which will have to be plowed under.  Experts predict that recovery from the disruption to the supply chain could take months. 

The winter storm cost millions of hourly wage earners to lose at least a week’s worth of income and, given the severe crop damage, some will have a difficult time finding work anytime soon.  With food still scarce and no income, food banks and other emergency aid have become essential lifelines.  

Each year, BGR devotes nearly 10% of its annual budget to emergency grants to areas of the world suffering from weather-related catastrophes. In response to the ongoing crisis in Texas, this past week BGR made an emergency grant of $5000 to Feeding Texas, the largest hunger relief organization in the state. Feeding Texas supplies 21 member food banks that help to feed over 5 million persons annually, making it uniquely equipped to respond to the recent crisis.  The organization has fostered deep ties to large grocery chains like Kroger and H-E-B but reports that the catastrophic disruption to the supply chain and the devastation of many of the State’s crops present ongoing challenges that will take months to recover from.

While all of us at BGR lament the severe hunger the state’s residents are facing on account of this calamity, we are happy that we could contribute even a small amount to help alleviate hunger and ensure that recipients receive the food they need to get through this crisis.

David Braughton is the vice-chair of Buddhist Global Relief.

Vocational Training for Women in São Paulo, Brazil

By Carla Prater

Founded by two sisters who are professional social workers, GAIA – Group for Assistance of the Elderly, Children and Adolescents – is a non-profit organization acting in formal and informal education and social work in São Paulo, Brazil. The founders saw many needs in their low-income neighborhood of Campo Grande in the south end of São Paulo. Their first effort was to start a little preschool, which was so successful that they soon had two schools, which serve families in the area, giving the children a good start on their school careers.

They soon found other ways to serve, including providing vocational training for the many women whose schooling was minimal. These women require public services that are overstretched and unable to meet the demands caused by their lack of access to healthy food and dignified living conditions. The project supported by BGR is intended to offer better living conditions to 120 women, through workshops, talks, and courses designed to give them skills as formal or informal workers earning money to supply their families’ basic needs.

Two types of training were offered: eldercare and sewing. About forty women participated in each of these classes. The women were instructed in pattern-making, cutting, sewing, and finishing their work so it was ready for sale in a Christmas bazaar. The eldercare group attended lecture sessions covering legal and social issues, physical care techniques, and field trips to care facilities, as well as hands on practice sessions in how to assist bedridden patients.

The project ran into some serious issues halfway through as COVID hit São Paulo very hard. However, GAIA was able to pivot quickly to provide modules for online learning. The sewing classes switched to videos explaining how to do projects and the videos were posted online for the students’ use. Almost everyone in Brazil has a cell phone and the students were able to access the content online.

The instructor was thrilled with how things turned out. Cilene, an instructor of the sewing workshop, says that she has learned not only how to teach in-person classes but also virtual classes, a useful new skill for her. She says: “GAIA and BGR, thank you so much for the confidence you placed in me this past year. I hope to be able to honor my commitment in 2021 and continue the in-person classes. Always count on me!” The video classes are available at this link: http://www.grupogaia.org.br/index.php/blog.

The eldercare class also had to pivot to online training for their second group, which worked out better than expected. A student named Graça said:“I’m here to talk about the free elderly caregivers course. I really enjoyed participating in the two weeks of interaction and exchange of information. The teachers who participated were clear and objective, which facilitated learning. Thank you GAIA and BGR.”

Juliana, a participant in the eldercare workshop, said: “I first want to thank GAIA and BGR for this wonderful course for caregivers, which was very useful for me. All the classes, all the lectures we saw, taught me many things that I didn’t know before. I learned much about nutrition too! The last class, with the nurse, was wonderful.”

A video explaining the course is available at: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1076376292811179.

At the beginning of the pandemic, GAIA purchased materials and set up a voluntary seamstress task force. They made 1600 masks, which were distributed to the community and donated to other communities as well. These are very poor regions, with few resources and little governmental assistance. GAIA also purchased food and mobilized the donation of resources and food. They distributed 370 basic baskets in June, July, and August. BGR support was fundamental and essential to this emergency effort.

Carla Prater is Assistant Director of Buddhist Global Relief. Transplanted to Brazil by missionary parents at the age of twelve, she remained there for the next twenty years and speaks fluent Portuguese. During her professional life she worked as a researcher at the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M.

Buddhists Roll On Together to the People’s Climate March

Stepping off the Buddhist retreat bus in D.C. on Saturday, two things were apparent: the 2017 People’s Climate March was going to be huge, and it was going to be hot. The record-breaking 92-degree heat seemed to enhance the energy of the staggering crowds that had convened to march from the foot of the Capitol Building to surround the White House.

I’d chosen to march with the Buddhist contingent as part of the Faith Bloc, situated between the Science bloc and Fossil Fuel resistance groups that gathered to surge down Pennsylvania Avenue. It was Trump’s 100th day in office, and over 200 Buddhists from around the world had shown up to make their voices heard with another 200,000+ people. The common message was clear: we know the climate is changing, and we want to address this.
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Using Less To Get More: Crop Intensification in Ethiopia

Ethiopia 1

The Central Rift Valley is Ethiopia’s predominant vegetable production belt. In this region, there are over 20,000 smallholder farmers engaged in producing over 200,000 tons of vegetables per year on about 10,000 hectares of irrigated land. Despite access to irrigation, agricultural practices have remained traditional, irregular, and unsustainable in terms of their economic, social, environmental, and ecological impacts. The agronomic practice and input application patterns are not only haphazard but also cause significant damage to the soil, water, ecology, and human health.

During our fiscal years 2015 and 2016, BGR partnered with Oxfam America in a two-year project to increase the productivity of vegetable crops (tomato and onion) by teaching farmers the System of Crop Intensification (SCI). This is a report about two Ethiopian farmers who learned this system and became qualified to teach it to other farmers in their region. The report was provided to us by our partner, Oxfam America. 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 2 (of 6)

BGR Staff

4. Cambodia: Food Scholarships for Girls to Stay in School

Girls in Classroom

Lotus Outreach, a trusted BGR partner since 2009, is dedicated to ensuring the education, health, and safety of at-risk and exploited women and children in the developing world, especially in Cambodia. The long-standing BGR-Lotus Outreach partnership provides rice support to primary, secondary, and tertiary students receiving scholarships via the GATE and GATEways programs. The GATE programs provides educational scholarships to girls pursuing primary and secondary education. The GATEways program builds on this by supporting girls who graduated from high school through GATE and are pursuing higher education at universities and technical schools across Cambodia.

Rice support is a critical feature of the GATE and GATEways programs. It not only ensures the girls will go to class with nourished minds and bodies, but relieves families of the pressures that often compel them to force their girls to drop out of school and join the work force. In 2015, 76 percent of GATE scholarship recipients successfully passed their examinations and advanced to the next grade level. Students enrolled in the GATE program are more likely to attend and stay in school, lowering their likelihood of turning to exploitative labor.

In the next phase of our partnership, BGR will provide Lotus Outreach with funding to offer 50 kilograms of rice each month during the next school year to the families of 70 girls who rank among the poorest of GATE scholarship recipients in Siem Reap, and an additional 5 families in Phnom Penh. Likewise, all of the 37 scholars enrolled in the GATEways program will receive a monthly provision of 15 kg of rice support to ensure they have enough to eat during their studies and will not be under constant pressure to drop out of college to find work.

 
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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

Food for Thought for Young Haitian Scholars

by Jennifer Russ

“You need an education to succeed,” says seventeen-year-old Vanessa Petit-Homme, a tenth grade student in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Polard Marie Guenthine, another tenth grader, agrees. “I don’t know what I’d do without my education,” she says. “It is so important to me.”

If it weren’t for a partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the What If? Foundation, these two promising young scholars would not be able to attend school. Vanessa and Polard live in an unstable political situation in an impoverished country still reeling from an earthquake more than six year ago. Both girls’ parents are poor, so they and their siblings rely on full scholarships from the What If? Foundation to continue attending school. In 2015, Buddhist Global Relief funded the educations of fifty students like Vanessa and Polard.

Since 2009, BGR has supported the What If? Foundation’s hot lunch program, Lamanjay, which provides more than 1,200 meals daily to hungry children in the Ti Plas Kazo community. The What If? Foundation reports that 2015 was a particularly challenging year. The presidential election led to protests and demonstrations from August 2015 to January 2016, which were sometimes so heated they kept children at home from the lunch program. When the demonstrations cleared, children showed up extra hungry.

Thanks to the adaptive and innovative cooking team, however, the children who attended the lunch program were still well-fed. One eight-year-old boy, who said he was called “Estimable Emmanuel,” told his interviewers that “this year was very good. I found food every day that I came to the program.”

“Life is very hard for me without this food program,” Emmanuel said. “I don’t know what my family would do.”

The children of Haiti need support now more than ever. Even as protests have quieted, the World Food Program recently announced that due to a three-year- drought, Haiti is entering its worst food crisis in 15 years.

Delia, a seventeen-year-old student who has relied on the What If? Foundation’s scholarship program for five years, is confident that the foundation and its donors will continue to support the country’s children. “It is the best foundation I know,” she says. “They have never given up on the country or the people. We are so lucky that the donors keep donating money and giving us their attention so we can go to school.”

These scholarship students are not only dedicated and thankful, they are also determined to give back to their country. Vanessa Petit-Homme says she’d like to be a psychologist so she can help children in Haiti. “Life is not easy and children have so much stress. I would like to be there the way the What If? Foundation has been there for me.”

Delia says she wants to be an engineer. “I would love…to make my country more beautiful and construct strong buildings. That way I can help my country in its development.”

The What If? Foundation is also constructing strong buildings. In January 2016, the foundation completed construction on their new school and cafeteria, which they hope will inspire optimism in the Ti Plas Kazo community and help its children “become part of the next generation of leaders.”

The children are as optimistic and dedicated as the organizations that support them. Delia says that to achieve her goals, she must “study hard and pray. If there was no What If? Foundation, I would not be able to continue with my studies.” To her donors, and to BGR, she says, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Jennifer Russ is a staff writer for BGR.

We Are La Via Campesina

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

We are La Via Campesina,” a short 15-minute video about the international peasants organization, offers a range of insights from the movement’s representatives as they speak about their struggles for food sovereignty and for social, economic, and climate justice.

A movement of small farmers around the world is probably far from the everyday concerns of Western Buddhists, whose interests are usually focused on meditation, Buddhist doctrine, and the application of mindfulness to their daily lives. But if the Buddhist principle that all things are connected is indeed correct, then our own fate and the destiny of the world may be intimately bound up with the fate of peasants working the land in Subsaharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. The Buddha says that all beings subsist by nutriment, and for a billion people, the system of food production we adopt determines whether they will eat or go hungry. Even more critical, our choice may determine whether we manage to put a lid on climate change or push the earth’s biosphere beyond its viable limits.
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Climate Change is a Moral Issue

A Buddhist Reflection on the Pope’s Climate Encyclical, Laudato si’

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On June 18, Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter, Laudato si’ (Praised Be), “On Care for our Common Home,” pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone.

The future of human life on earth hangs in a delicate balance, and the window for effective action is rapidly closing. Tipping points and feedback loops threaten us as ominously as nuclear warheads. What heightens the danger is our proclivity to apathy and denial. For this reason, we must begin tackling the crisis with an act of truth, by acknowledging that climate change is real and stems from human activity. On this, the science is clear, the consensus among climate scientists almost universal. The time for denial, skepticism, and delay is over.
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