Poverty Is Both a Political and a Moral Choice

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty reports that “the American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion.” Isn’t it time to wake up, discard both dreams and illusions, and act on the basis of the truth?

Embed from Getty Images

A woman walks through the streets of Manhattan with her belongings on December 14, 2017 in New York City. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4 percent in 2017 as the number of homeless people nationwide grew to about 553,000.

The U.S. views itself as the exceptional nation, the beacon of freedom and justice for the world. In the popular imagination, it is the land of plenty where everyone can thrive, the land of opportunity where anybody who works hard enough can realize the dreams of their heart. But is this really so or just a comforting illusion?

For two weeks this past autumn, Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, sought to find out, traveling over the U.S. to assess the state of extreme poverty in this country and its impact on human rights. His travels brought him to California, Alabama, Georgia, West Virginia, and Washington, D.C., as well as Puerto Rico. His report, published in mid-December by the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, pulls the curtains on the illusions this country cherishes about itself and reveals the startling truth about where we stand and where we are headed. Although the extent of poverty and income inequality in the U.S. has been documented several times in the past, it is still telling that the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty would undertake such an investigation in America, of all places, and expose the U.S. as an outlier among the economically advanced countries.
Continue reading

Advertisements

My Visit to Kenya’s Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center

By Daniel Blake

Woman trainee with her son

“Poverty starts with the stomach.” These words, spoken to me by Samuel Ndiritu, the co-founder and director of Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya (GBIACK), encapsulate the truth of BGR’s core mission. This past November, I was fortunate enough to make a remarkable visit to GBIACK, where I was hosted for an afternoon by Samuel and his wife and GBIACK co-founder, Peris Ndiritu. Their work is quietly transforming local agricultural practices in Kenya and beyond, one farmer and one acre at a time.

Built in 2009, GBIACK is situated about 50 kilometers east of Nairobi in the small but bustling village of Thika. Sitting upon the 1.5 acre farm is a dormitory for trainees, a front office, a seed bank, a kitchen and dining hall, a sewing classroom fully equipped with machines, a library, and a charming gift shop where crafts made by residents are sold to the public. The center serves as a model for the kinds of Grow Biointensive (GB) techniques that Samuel and Peris (with support from BGR through our partner, Ecology Action in California) hope to impart to program participants. The potential of the GB system to help local farmers lies in its being a “closed loop” system, where farmers preserve and bank the seeds yielded by crops, while carefully cultivating healthy compost to treat the soil. In this way farmers can become self-sufficient and can subsist without purchasing products such as genetically modified seeds or chemical fertilizers.
Continue reading

The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.
Continue reading

BGR Solidarity Walk in Nagpur, India

By Ven. Ayya Yeshe

On Saturday, October 21, the Bodhicitta Foundation and members of our girls’ home walked in solidarity with our wonderful partners, Buddhist Global Relief, and all the wonderful people who contribute to our work of lifting women and children out of poverty.

Many of the girls in our girls’ home have come from villages where they had to walk for many kilometres, missing school to carry water, take care of livestock, and watch over siblings. Now the girls walk to end poverty, they walk for girls’ empowerment, they ride to school, to a new life.

Often as we move through life, we don’t know where we are going, in what direction we are moving. The annual Walk to Feed the Hungry offers us a chance to reflect where we are going, how we are manifesting the truth of our sacred bond and inter-connectedness with the earth and all beings.

For us at Bodhicitta Foundation, the support of the wonderful people at BGR means we can walk in the direction of hope and dignity, of empowerment, equality, love, compassion, and human  rights. We thank you for walking this journey with us for so many years now!

Bonded as I am with each of the hundreds of children and women we help, I can really see the hope and gratitude in their eyes, for your gift is the gift of life. These children shine like stars on earth, as they can now reach for their dreams because of you.

Ven. Ayya Yeshe, an Australian bhikkhuni (Buddhist nun), is the founder and spiritual leader of the Bodhicitta Foundation.

BGR Donates to Help Puerto Rico and Rohingya Refugees

By BGR Staff

This past week the BGR Board voted to approve emergency grants of $5,000 each to two organizations working with people in distress: to Oxfam America, which is hard at work in Puerto Rico, filling in where the U.S. government effort has been slow and inadequate; and to the World Food Programme, which has been providing urgently needed food aid to the Rohingya refugees who have fled violence in their native Myanmar and taken refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. The statements that follow have been adopted from reports by the two organizations.

From Oxfam America, on the situation in Puerto Rico

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, millions of its residents, who are U.S. citizens, have been struggling to survive without food, clean water, or electricity. Although they have the resources, the U.S. government’s emergency response has been slow and inadequate. For this reason, Oxfam America has stepped in to make sure the island’s 3.4 million residents receive immediate aid.

Embed from Getty Images

 

More than half of the island is without clean water. The threat of deadly waterborne diseases hangs heavily over rural communities. Millions of residents are currently without electricity due to a downed electrical grid. Food and fuel are in desperately short supply. The elderly and the sick are at grave risk as hospitals run out of fuel to keep generators running. Families need help.

It’s rare that Oxfam America engages in disaster relief efforts in places where the government has the capacity to respond appropriately. But this case is different. Unwilling to wait on the U.S. government’s slow and inadequate response when people are in desperate need, Oxfam has been doing everything it can to support local organizations to meet Puerto Ricans’ most urgent needs right now. Oxfam will also be supporting the people of Puerto Rico to advocate in Congress for more resources to rebuild the island and fortify it to meet future disasters more effectively.

From the World Food Programme, on the Rohingya refugees

The Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, affirmed WFP’s commitment to supporting people fleeing violence in Myanmar as he met refugee families and saw WFP relief activities in the new settlements in the Cox’s Bazaar area of Bangladesh.

Embed from Getty Images

 

Beasley said: “I have heard heartbreaking stories today, speaking to people who ran for their lives and saw loved ones killed before their eyes. These horrors must stop. Many of these people were receiving WFP food assistance in Myanmar. Now, they will receive WFP food assistance in Bangladesh, until they are able to return home safely.”

WFP started distributing food as soon as the influx began, and has scaled up operations to reach almost half a million refugees in the past month with life-saving assistance. WFP has distributed rice to some 460,000 refugees, and has also been providing high-energy biscuits to more than 200,000 people as a one-off emergency measure when they arrive in the settlements and at border crossing points.

As the situation stabilizes, WFP plans to transition to more sophisticated programs, especially with a view to supporting the nutritional needs of women and children and developing electronic voucher programs that integrate with markets.

The food for new arrivals comes in addition to assistance that WFP provides through e-vouchers to 34,000 registered refugees living in official camps. Another 72,500 undocumented refugees living in makeshift camps, who arrived after the last outbreak of violence in October 2016, before the present influx, receive rice and nutrition support.

Kindling the Light of Education in Haiti

By BGR Staff

The Father Jeri School in the Ti Plas Kazo district of Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, has been one of Buddhist Global Relief’s major funding commitments. Last year BGR began a three-year project with its partner, the What If? Foundation, to make of Father Jeri a top-notch school. The funding from BGR is intended to establish a strong school infrastructure, ensuring that the educational standards are high and that the accompanying facilities provide an excellent environment for learning. Currently 188 impoverished children, aged 3–19, are enrolled in Pre-K to 8th grade. The hope is to expand the school in the years ahead so that it includes high school and accommodates up to 350 children.

During the first year (2016–17), the BGR grant covered the salary for an educational human resource specialist who recruited and hired well-trained teachers and administrative staff. The grant funded the purchase of comfortable furniture (including desks, tables, chairs, book shelves and storage) for classrooms and a cafeteria to make the environment conducive to learning. And it financed the modification of the land that surrounds the school to fit the needs of an educational environment.

The school opened in September 2016 and is offering children in the Ti Plas Kazo community a wonderful opportunity to receive a quality, affordable education. The building is clean, filled with natural light, structurally sound, and designed to be an environment for learning. The school provides a challenging academic curriculum along with real world learning outside the classroom and opportunities for leadership and civic engagement. The physical space and curriculum, in combination with the commitment from teachers, students, and families, is providing a unique educational opportunity for poor Haitian children.

The grant from BGR for the second year (2017–18), administered through the What If? Foundation, has the following purposes:

  • to ensure that salaries are competitive to help retain a quality teaching and administrative staff
  • to install a water pump to get water from the underground tank that collects groundwater to the tank on the roof, which supplies every room in the school with water
  • to purchase four laptop computers for administrative staff and teachers
  • to provide school supplies —including paper, pens, chalk, and books—to ensure that teachers have the materials they need to create a strong learning environment.

The Father Jeri Academic School is not just the culmination of the Ti Plas Kazo Community’s dream, but also a symbol of hope for the community, and a true catalyst for developing a new generation of Haitians.

The following is a report BGR recently received from the What If? Foundation, including an interview with Program Director Lavarice Gaudin:

Despite the uncertainty of hurricane season, our partner Na Rive is determined to carry on in building Haiti’s future. The Father Jeri School started classes as planned the first week of September. Program Director Lavarice Gaudin is happy to report that enrollment has increased 60% from last year. Word is spreading quickly about the Father Jeri School.

We caught up with Lavarice and asked him to share his vision for the new school year.

Hello Lava! Congratulations on your second school year!

Thank you! Our first year was incredible. We learned so much. And we look forward to making this next year even better. We are so grateful for the support of the What If? Foundation’s donors in making it all possible.

 

What are you most excited about?

There is so much interest in the Father Jeri School from students, parents, teachers, and community members. I keep hearing that this can be the best school in Haiti. We are working hard to make sure that this is true.

That’s wonderful! What are your goals for the year ahead?

We plan to keep focusing on early education – pre-kindergarten and the early elementary years. Our pre-kindergarten classrooms are unique in Haiti. The small class size, colorful rooms, and playful project-based way of teaching the fundamentals – it all sets the Father Jeri School apart. For the higher grade levels, we are making sure our students are prepared to succeed in the government exams and continue to progress in their education.

What is the most important ingredient for the school’s success?

The quality of the education. The pretty school building is not enough, it’s the high quality education that makes the school even more beautiful. We also want to add the final grade of secondary school next year, so our students can begin and complete their education at the Father Jeri School.

It’s so important to build a strong foundation — starting with pre-kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. We are fostering leaders, not followers, and this requires consistent excellence.

What are your biggest challenges?

Having enough resources to pay teachers and purchase school materials. There’s so much that we need, and prices keep rising in Haiti. Finding ways to bring technology into the classroom. And continuing to support the students beyond academic achievement — providing them with the nutrition and energy to learn. We pray that with the help of our big sister What If, we will make it happen. Little by little, we are on our path to becoming the best school in Haiti – and creating a better future for our students.

The Walk to Feed the Hungry is the primary source of the funding that enable BGR to support its many projects around the world. So please join a walk, support the walk of others, or simply donate to Buddhist Global Relief.

 

Moral Vision as the Foundation for Global Well-Being

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Buddhist contingent at the People’s Climate March in New York City, September 2014

All the classical spiritual traditions of humankind are confronted by the simple but undeniable fact that we are living at a critical time when the future of human life on earth is in serious jeopardy. Dark clouds have gathered on the horizon, and we can see them in every direction. One dark cloud is the ever-widening inequality in wealth between the rich and the poor—the inequality that is driven by a neoliberal economic system that funnels more and more of the world’s wealth into the hands of a small powerful elite, who manipulate governments and international law for their own advantage. Another dark cloud is the volatile financial system, which treats the world’s vital resources such as food, water, and land as objects of financial speculation, leaving millions of people around the world hungry, landless, and homeless, burdened with oppressive debt. Still another is the persistence of wars: regional wars that are seemingly interminable and generate new terrorist groups almost as soon as the older ones bite the dust; the specter of all-out nuclear war just the press of a button away. And still another cloud takes the form of the all-seeing surveillance state, which uses the new electronic technologies to snoop into every aspect of our private lives.

Perhaps the darkest cloud of all is climate change, which has been transforming the natural environment in ways that imperil the future of human civilization. The accelerating changes to the planet’s climate, and the rapid depletion of our natural resources such as water, soil, and food, call not only for pragmatic remedies but also for a robust moral response. Our moral responsibility now extends beyond the narrow confines of our national borders to people throughout the world. In every continent people are already being bludgeoned by the impact of a warmer, stranger, more violent planet. Indeed, those who face the harshest consequences of climate change are the people least responsible for it: the simple farmers and villagers of of southern Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. The impacts of climate disruption occurring now extend down the line to future generations, who will have to inherit the legacy of planetary devastation that we leave behind. Our responsibility also extends to non-human beings, to the countless other species that face the loss of their natural habitats and the threat of imminent extinction.
Continue reading