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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.

Another controversial use of aid funds that donor countries can now make is for security reasons – fighting ‘violent extremism’ or training the military, for example. These objectives have little or nothing to do with “promoting the economic development and welfare of developing countries”, as purported by the official definition of aid. Not that donors shouldn’t fight violent extremism or other security threats. The point is that aid already represents such a tiny percentage of donor countries’ Gross National Income (0.30 percent on average) that these governments should really be looking for other sources of funding to pay for their non-aid interventions.

To me, however, the most troubling trend from analyzing figures from the last few years is how little aid is given where it is needed the most, to the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’ or LDCs. These 48 nations, gathering almost a billion people across Africa, Asia, the Pacific and Latin America, all have in common the lowest levels of socio-economic development on earth. Yet, despite their dire condition, aid to LDCs represents just a minor part of the overall total and has actually declineduntil 2015, when it rose by only 4 percent. How is it possible when for some of these countries, like Malawi, aid represents as much as 40 percent of their national budgets?

As part of my personal mission to listen to people living in the least developed countries, I have been trying to find more information about how these challenges play out from sources in those affected countries. Easier said than done. Apart from declarations of good intentions prepared for conferences every so often – the last one, a mid-term review, dating a few weeks ago – it is pretty silent out there.

There is no concrete plan to systematically increase aid to LDCs, just generic calls for at least 0.15 percent of aid to go to these countries and an invitation to include them into global decision-making. If you want to get a better sense of what LDC governments actually think about the situation, you have to go through their individual reports. Afghanistan, for example, has given up on the possibility to graduate from LDC status by 2020, as originally planned, choosing the more realistic target of 2030. So does Zambia, despite the fact that it was promoted to lower middle-income country in 2011. Other countries, like Guinea Bissau, do not explicitly rule out the possibility but note how aid is still largely fragmented, unpredictable and uncoordinated.

On the civil society front, there seems to be a bit more information and discussion about the challenges of declining aid numbers.  Last February, representatives from about a dozen African civil society organisations signed a statement to denounce the declining aid levels to sub-Saharan Africa, where 43 countries still rely on aid more than on any other external financial flow to provide their populations with essential services, like health care. The statement also defended the positive impact that aid can make when allocated properly. Yet, to find a Southern voice speaking specifically about aid to LDCs we need to go back at least five years, when LDC Watch, a civil society network based in Nepal, reported major disparities in the way aid to LDCs had been distributed in previous years – more than half of it had gone to just eightcountries. In another recent statement LDC Watch calls the plan of having half the number of LDCs graduate from their status by 2020 just “a distant dream”.

Despite record-high aid figures, it is not only a question of ‘how much’ but also of how aid is allocated.  Figures may well be on the rise, but if the funds do not target the populations most in need, then numbers risk becoming irrelevant.

 Farida Bena is an aid effectiveness expert with the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness. This article has been taken from http://politicsofpoverty.oxfamamerica.org/. It has been adapted from the original version “When more aid is less” published on Kiliza – Listening to Southern Citizens.

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.

 

5. Cambodia: Expanding the System of Rice Intensification

In Cambodia, around 80% of the population live in rural areas and most depend on agricultural production, primarily rain-fed rice farming, for their livelihood. Most households hold less than one hectare of land. Women play a major role in rice production and in ensuring the well-being of the family, yet they are often excluded from decision-making at all levels and have less access to resources and services than men.

This project, with long-time BGR partner Rachana, is designed to spread the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and thereby empower women. SRI is an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. The benefits of SRI have been demonstrated in over 50 countries (see map). They include: 20%-100% or more increased yields, up to a 90% reduction in required seed, and up to 50% water savings. SRI principles and practices have been adapted for rainfed rice as well as for other crops (such as wheat and sugarcane), with yield increases and associated economic benefits.

The project collaborates with local authorities to ensure food security and increase the annual incomes of 1,065 farmers (female 783) through SRI, vegetables and cash crops, installing household level water harvesting techniques, and saving funds in groups. The project is also expected to increase resilience to climate change and reduce disaster risk.

6. Cameroon: A Food Program for Poor Children

CENCUDER 4

The mission of CENCUDER (Centre for Community Development and Environmental Restoration) is “to enable rural youths and women 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 amongst the most marginalized rural areas in the Kupe-Muanenguba Division in southwest Cameroon. About 97% of the population are peasant farmers who have trouble affording their basic needs. The majority of the peasant farmers survive through subsistence agriculture and hunting, meaning they remain underemployed for almost a third of the year, driving them further into poverty. Hunger and poverty have colonized most families.

CENCUDER 3

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

Ebase village operates a local community primary school as the only social facility. Families are unable to send their children to towns and cities because they cannot afford to pay house rents and buy school needs like uniforms and books. Only 58% of children will complete primary school.

The BGR-sponsored school feeding program aims to enhance the education and health of over 95 poor and needy village children, many of them girls and orphans, 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.

The program is expected to further increase school attendance, enhance learning capacity of undernourished children, improve their health, and act as an incentive for more children to attend school. Funding will cover kitchen equipment, consultants, and food for the students, increasing primary school attendance and improving the children’s learning capacity and general health.

7. Cote d’Ivoire: Improving Nutrition among Children in Korhogo District     NEW

This project with Helen Keller International (HKI), a long-time BGR partner, aims to improve nutrition for pregnant women, infants, and children in the Korhogo District of Cote d’Ivoire. The project will be funded in its entirety by BGR. Cote d’Ivoire ranks 172 out of 188 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index, making it among the poorest countries in the world. Estimated child mortality under five years is 195 per 1,000 live births and life expectancy is just 54 years. Malnutrition, including vitamin and micro-nutrient deficiencies, is a major contributing factor to the high rate of infant mortality. Chronic malnutrition affects about 33% of children under five years.

The project will implement a program among young girls and women in Korhogo Health District over the next three years. Korhogo, located in the underserved Poro Region in northern Cote d’Ivoire, has 77 health clinics that serve a target population of around 760,000. HKI will use the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) framework to reach mothers at the right time with the right message. The ENA framework promotes optimal nutrition practices, including women’s nutrition, breastfeeding, complementary feeding, feeding the sick child, vitamin A, and the integrated control of anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiency.

This project’s primary goal 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 District. Trained health workers will in turn deliver messages and training to expectant mothers at all 77 health clinics in the health district. This will take place over the course of three years. By the end of this project, an estimated 77,000 children and their mothers will have been reached.

To be continued

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.

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1. Bangladesh: Food Support for School of Orphans  

Bdesh Bst Mission Society-Girls

Our partner, the Bangladesh Buddhist Missionary Society, was founded in 1977 by Ven. Jivanananda Mahathera, a Buddhist monk who has dedicated his life to the service of suffering humanity. BBMS is a non-sectarian, non-communal, non-governmental organization officially registered in Bangladesh in 1979. Its purpose is to provide humanitarian assistance to the needy, especially orphans and widows. The Orphan’s Home Complex is located at Betagi in the rural Chittagong Hills region, near the Karnaphuli River. The number of orphans has increased, food prices have risen, and government grants are not adequate to the need. The Orphans Home Complex will use the BGR donation to feed 54 children for 12 months. An annually renewable project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Ethnic Buddhist Minority Girls
NEW PROJECT

Jamyang-Visakha School

The Jamyang Foundation (founded 1988 by Ven. Lekshe Tsomo) supports innovative education projects for indigenous girls and women in two of the neediest and most remote parts of the world: the Indian Himalayas and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. These projects foster women’s learning potential in ways that are harmonious with their unique Buddhist cultural backgrounds.

This BGR project will fund a school lunch program for 116 students studying at Visakha Girls’ School in a remote location about 10 km from the small town of Manikchari. The program was designed by the teachers at the school together with the parents of the girls for the first time last year in response to a serious need for nourishing food for the students. The project includes hiring a cook to help with purchasing food, preparing the meals, and managing the dining room where the lunch is served. The majority of the funds are allocated for the purchase of rice, pulses, vegetables, and fruits. The school lunch program at Visakha Girls’ School provides the nourishment the students might otherwise not receive.

Since the school lunch program was introduced last year, the teachers have observed increased attendance at the school, improved physical health, psychological development, and overall better wellness. Families are also relieved, knowing their children will get valuable schooling and at least one substantial meal per day.

3. Bangladesh: A Permanent Dormitory for Boy Students in the Chittagong Hill Tracts        NEW PROJECT

student_life_7_Boys studying-2

Our project partner, Moanoghar, was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. There are currently 805 residential children at Moanoghar, 55% boys and 45% girls. Many of these children lost one or both parents in the decades-long conflict that plagued this backward part of Bangladesh, a poor region in an extremely poor country.

While the girl students have a permanent dormitory, the dorms for boy students are built with bamboos and wood poles and all of them are more than 15 years old. These are temporary structures that require constant repair and maintenance. The grant from BGR will sponsor the construction of a three-storey building with each floor providing accommodation to 40 children. It will be built from bricks on a solid foundation. When the building is complete, it will accommodate 120 children in total–a permanent solution to the problem of accommodation for the students. This will be the first year of a three-year project entirely supported by BGR, made possible through a generous donation from the Chao Foundation. This project testifies to the value of partnership in the effort to provide better opportunities for those in need. Year one of a three-year project.

To be continued

 

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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Buddhists at the White House

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

WH Buddhist Conf 5-14-15 _  110Last week, on May 14th, I was privileged to be part of a group of Buddhist monastics, teachers, and leaders who converged on Washington DC for a conference on the role of Buddhism in the public square. The idea to convene such a conference originated with Bill Aiken, Public Affairs Officer for Soka Gakkai International–USA, who began to lay plans for the gathering as far back as December 2014. He established a steering committee, which eventually came to consist of Danny Hall (also of SGI), Professor Duncan Williams, Professor Sallie King, Matt Regan, Rev. T.K. Nakagaki, and myself. The list of invitees, originally set at 80, increased incrementally until it amounted to approximately 125, the maximum that could comfortably fit into the facilities provided. Representatives included monks, nuns, ministers, academics, yogis, lay Dharma teachers, and Buddhist activists from all traditions, with a balanced blend of Asian immigrant Buddhists and convert American Buddhists.

The original goal of the event, as Bill Aiken conceived it, was to “to utilize the convening power of the White House to bring together a wide range of Buddhist community leaders to affirm our shared commitment to preventing climate change, sharing community best practices, and hearing from Obama administration representatives on issues of concern to us.” As preparations unfolded, two main points of focus emerged. One was climate change, which poses an ever-escalating threat to the security of human life on earth. The other, highlighted by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed people of color, has been the need for this country to finally implement full racial justice in all spheres of our communal life. Continue reading