Tag Archives: Bangladesh

Supporting Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project: An Appeal to the Global Buddhist Community

The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group traditionally resident in the Rakhine State in Myanmar, have fled their country because of the extreme violence directed against them by the Myanmar military. Their villages have been burnt, their people (including elders and children) shot in cold blood, and women subjected to sexual cruelty. The violence, sadly, has been supported by extremist Buddhist monks, contrary to the Buddha’s teachings on loving-kindness and communal harmony. Close to a million refugees have sought sanctuary in neighboring Bangladesh, where they are being accommodated in overcrowded, unsanitary makeshift camps with pressing needs for food and health care. The refugees want to return to Myanmar but are afraid for their safety.

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The global Buddhist community has a responsibility to show that such violence is not the Buddhist way.

The Buddhist Humanitarian Project is an initiative of the Clear View Project, a 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley, California, under the leadership of Hozan Alan Senauke, former executive director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. The project has launched a new website to garner support for the Rohingya refugees.

To learn more about this project and its activities, you can visit the website at:

http://www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org/

At the website you can learn the various ways you can help to ameliorate this heartrending crisis.

  • Among other things, you can sign a letter to the Myanmar State Sangha Council and government officials, urging them to reject the violence and support the refugees.
  • You can donate to respected nonprofit organizations working on the ground in the Rohingya refugee camps. The website offers a list of reliable organizations.
  • You can also share this information on social media and by email with friends and members of your sangha or community.

 Your support can say to Rohingya peoples and to the world that the rain of the Buddha’s compassion falls on all beings equally.

To learn more about the crisis and how to support the refugees, visit:

www.buddhisthumanitarianproject.org

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School Lunch Program for Marma Girls in CHT

by BGR Staff

 In 2016, BGR provided a grant to the Jamyang Foundation to support the free school lunch program at the Visakha Girls’ School in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The grant covered the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. This article, based on the final report from the Jamyang Foundation, describes the challenges faced by the school and the benefits of the project.

 

Visakha Girls’ School is located at Dhosri, a remote village in the district of Khagrachari in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. The school was founded in 2005 and began offering free education for girls with the generous support of the Jamyang Foundation, which is under the direction of the American bhikshuni, Ven. Karma Lekshe Tsomo, a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Initially, the Visakha Girls’ School offered classes to students in the 1st grade only. Later, more classes were gradually added. Now the school offers classes up to 5th grade.

The school still faces significant challenges. For decades the indigenous people throughout the Hill Tracts have been the subjects of genocide perpetrated by the Bangladesh military. The situation is critical and has required the UN and others to intervene several times, but for the most part the situation has received little or no international attention. Land grabs and aggression against the indigenous population occur continuously and any resistance to these injustices is met with extreme retaliation, including rape and murder by the Bangladesh army. The indigenous peoples of the CHT are victims of forced displacement and discrimination in all aspects of life in Bangladesh. The theft of their lands continues to have enormous social, economic, and political consequences for the people. Educating Marma girls is one of the only ways to protect them from exploitation and strengthen them to face the difficulties that lie ahead.

Visakha Girls’ School currently has 125 students, all girls, with an age range from 5 to 13 years. The girls study in classes from pre-school to 5th grade. All students receive free education, daily lunches, and school supplies such as books, notebooks, pens, pencils, and so on. The school employs six full-time teachers and one cook. The girls are mostly from the ethnic Marma community, one of several Buddhist minorities who are native to the CHT. About 10 percent of the girls are ethnically Chakma, another Buddhist community that is native to the area. Centuries of economic injustice, social deprivation, and cultural marginalization have brought these minorities to the brink of extinction in a predominantly Muslim country.

Visakha Girls’ School is located in a remote place where no educational opportunities are available for the girls’ desperately poor families. The families survive by subsistence farming on the hill slopes and narrow stretches of land between the hills. Their homes are scattered across these small hills, which makes it difficult for them to reach essential services for social development or to create economic opportunities.

The community that the school serves often suffers terrible injustices perpetrated by state actors due to ongoing conflicts in the CHT. Many of the families are internally displaced refugees. In this situation of perpetual unrest, girls are the most vulnerable population. Girls are less likely to receive basic education and health care and they are the most likely to suffer in the conflict situation. Before Visakha Girls’ School was started, almost all the girls lacked access to even a basic level of education. Thanks to the establishment of this school program, now almost all school-age girls in the neighborhood attend school. Many of them are also furthering their education after finishing 5th grade at Visakha Girls’ School.

Project Benefits, Successes, and Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for these girls is that they must walk for hours over hilly terrain to reach the school. They are already tired even before they arrive at school. Due to chronic poverty, they are weak and often sick. Often they come to school hungry. The free lunch program at the school is of great benefit to them. The nutritious lunches help them stay healthy, so they can focus on their studies while at school. Since the lunch program was introduced, their health has greatly improved, their school attendance has dramatically increased, the dropout rate has dropped, and their overall performance in their educational program has improved. They demonstrated this with their scores in the state-run evaluation test for 5th grade students. The food program also incentivizes families to send their girls to school rather than employ them at home for domestic labor.

Along with their education the lunch program at Visakha Girls’ School is the most essential support the girls receive. The Visakha Girls’ School received a generous grant from BGR for its lunch program in 2016-17. The funds were funneled through Jamyang Foundation. With that grant, lunches were offered to students daily. The meals included freshly cooked rice, dhal, and locally grown vegetables. The BGR grant was used to pay the salary of the cook, and to purchase cooking pots, kitchen utensils, storage cabinets, and so on. Since meat is not served, vegetable sources of protein are offered instead.

Personal Stories

Here are the stories of three girls at Visakha Girls’ School:

  • Ushyang Marma Marma is a 3rd grade student. Her parents are day laborers and earn extra cash by collecting and selling firewood from the forest. She and her two sisters attend Visakha Girls’ School. Her parents cannot afford the financial burden of educating these girls. She is grateful that she and her sisters receive free education and lunches at school. The lunches and the opportunity to attend school are a great help to her family.
  • Mamanyeu Marma is a 5th grade student. There are 11 members in her very poor farming family. Her parents never received any education at all. Four of her other sisters also attended Visakha Girls’ School. Her eldest sister is now a 2nd year college student. Despite the poverty of her family, she is hoping to receive a college education, too, so that she will be able to help her family. All of these advantages have been possible because of Visakha Girls’ School. The free education and free lunches at school have made a very significant difference in her family.
  • Ushainda Marma is a 4th grader. Her father is a poor farmer. There are five sisters in her family. Her home is 2 km from the Visakha School. Before the school lunch program began, she got tired and hungry after walking this long distance each day. The school lunch program benefits her and her family a lot. She does not need to worry about whether her family has food or not, because now she gets at least one meal a day and education at school. She aspires to become a teacher when she grows up.

Conclusion

The lunch program is a great help for the families and girls who attend Visakha Girls’ School. It is beneficial in all the ways described above. It helps to draw students to school and helps with retention. In an area plagued by chronic poverty, malnutrition, lack of basic hygiene, poor transportation, and other challenges, the school lunch program supported by BGR has been a dream come true for the girls. We deeply appreciate the kind help of BGR. Thank you.

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

Winning the peaceAn increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict.

The dominant driver of today’s humanitarian crises is armed conflict. Ten of the World Food Program’s thirteen “largest and most complex emergencies are driven by conflict”, and “responding to war and instability represents 80 percent of all humanitarian spending today … stretching humanitarian organizations beyond their limits.”[2] Ongoing conflict not only drives humanitarian crises, but complicates the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need and to provide assistance.

Violence, conflict, and persecution have resulted in the displacement of 65,000,000 people, more than any other time since World War II.[3] The average length of displacement is seventeen years. In such circumstances, measures of food insecurity are nearly triple that found in other developing country settings.[4]

The current humanitarian situation confronts these stark realities:

  • For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people in the world is on the rise. In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished, an increase of 38 million people from 2015. Almost 500 million of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict.
  • The number of people who are acutely food-insecure (in need of emergency assistance) rose from 80 million in 2016 to 108 million in 2017—a 35 percent increase in a single year.
  • Over 65 million people are currently displaced because of violence, conflict and persecution—more than any other time since World War II.
  • For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Each of these crises is driven by conflict.
  • Increased migration and the spilling of conflicts beyond borders has led to a proliferation of “fragile states”—states defined by “the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government.”
  • By 2030, between half and two-thirds of the world’s poor are expected to live in states classified as fragile. While a decade ago most fragile states were low-income countries, today almost half are middle-income countries.

At the same time, the nature of conflict and the global system of governance are undergoing transitions that undermine the international community’s ability to address and reduce conflict. The report highlights the rise of non-state actors as powerful participants in armed conflict while also recognizing the significance of activities such as the weaponizing of information to undermine the legitimacy of traditional nation-state institutions.

The report also describes how threats such as food insecurity can drive recruitment for terrorists and rebels, worsening destabilization. (Report, p.7) Military strength cannot adequately address these kinds of threats. Rather, appropriate responses to such threats must address their actual nature. Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades will never be a long-term solution to food insecurity-driven instability. Recognition of this basic reality drives the use of so-called “smart power” in the form of foreign assistance, especially food assistance and agricultural development, to address the underlying causes of this instability. Continue reading

BGR Provides Emergency Grants to the World Food Program USA

By BGR Staff

 This past week Buddhist Global Relief provided emergency grants totaling $12,000 to the World Food Program USA for three projects–in Yemen, South Sudan, and among the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in Bangladesh. The contribution is to be divided evenly among them, with $4,000 going to each project. While this is just a tiny fraction of the aid needed, given the dire conditions all of these peoples are facing, every little bit–as an expression of compassion and concern–will be welcome

Yemen

In Yemen two and a half years of violence and conflict have pushed two-thirds of the population to the brink of famine. Limited access to ports has hindered the ability of the World Food Programme to deliver aid and at present some 17 million people across the country do not know where their next meal is coming from. What’s worse, the collapse of government services and a shortage of potable water has led to a cholera epidemic. Despite the obstacles, WFP implements general food assistance in 19 of Yemen’s 22 districts, including some of Yemen’s most hard-to-reach areas. The program’s targeting strategy assists the districts with the highest levels of food insecurity and global acute malnutrition rates. To ensure that the programs are thoroughly monitored, WFP contracts third-party monitoring companies to conduct on-site distribution monitoring and post-distribution monitoring. 60 Minutes aired a segment on Yemen in November that featured WFP’s intervention there. The clip can be viewed here.

South Sudan

A second grant will go to South Sudan, where continued conflict is driving the country towards famine and leaving an estimated 6 million people with acute levels of hunger. Because of the ongoing fighting and the breakdown of virtually all infrastructure, WFP has turned to airdrops to deliver aid. Airdrops are generally more expensive and more time-consuming than ground level delivery, but they become necessary when there are no alternatives to providing life-saving food.

The Rohingya Refugees from Myanmar

A third grant will go assist the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, who have sought safety in neighboring Bangladesh. At present approximately 650,000 refugees have fled their homes in Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh; more than 80% of them need food assistance. WFP has been rapidly expanding its emergency nutrition programs there to stave off malnutrition in young children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Its funding shortfall for aid is currently at about $32 million.

Silke Buhr, a communications officer with the World Food Programme (WFP), describes the situation in the refugee camps thus: “The squalor of the camps around Cox’s Bazar is hard to imagine, the nervous energy, the pressing masses of people, the mud and the grit and the smell. Surely every form of human tragedy can be found here.”

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.

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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.

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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.

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 1

by BGR Staff

At the BGR board’s annual projects meeting on May 7, the board approved 28 projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $480,000. Most are renewals of repeated annual projects, while others are new. In addition to our long-term partners, we also formed new partnerships. Several project applications that did not arrive in time for the meeting will be considered later. Besides our grants, the BGR board voted to donate $20,000 to the World Food Program to provide food relief to four countries afflicted by near-famine conditions: Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen.

 This is the first of a multi-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. Thanks are due to Kim Behan, BGR Director of Programs; Patti Price, Chair of the Projects Committee; David Braughton, Vice Chair; Chot Elliott, Board member; Ayya Santussika, Board member; Tom Spies, ED; 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  

 

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.  This year’s BGR grant to the Orphans Home Complex will help to feed 54 children for 12 months. Annually renewable project 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