Tag Archives: Bodhicitta Foundation

Helping Indian Dalit Girls Rise Up and Shine: The Mission of the Bodhicitta Foundation

By Patricia Brick

The Bodhicitta Foundation provides schooling and job training, legal assistance, social justice and women’s rights education, and other services to impoverished Dalit women and girls in Nagpur, India. Founded by the Australian Buddhist nun Ayya Yeshe, the foundation operates a girls’ hostel and a women’s job training and community center in slum areas of Nagpur. A three-year Buddhist Global Relief grant supports both of these projects.

The Dalits in India–the people formerly known as “outcasts” or “untouchables”–have historically been relegated to jobs considered “below” even the members of society’s lowest caste.; Their work traditionally involved such tasks as cleaning or processing human waste or animal carcasses. Women and girls in this group face additional gender-specific burdens including domestic violence and child marriage. An estimated 30 percent of Indian women experience physical or sexual domestic violence in their lifetimes, according to the U.N.’s Global Database on Violence Against Women. More than a quarter of Indian girls are married by age 18, and 7 percent are married by age 15.

The Bodhicitta Foundation seeks to break the cycle of poverty by giving women and girls the tools they need to financially support themselves and their families. An estimated 2,000 people benefit from the foundation’s initiatives in Nagpur each year.

Over the years, grants from BGR have been supporting Bodhicitta’s women’s job training and community center in Nagpur, where 300 women a year enroll in courses in English, computers, sewing, and cosmetology. In addition, the center offers business management and entrepreneurship training, legal assistance, domestic violence counseling, medical care, and a library. Here women also find a space for dialogue and communal support. Reflecting the Bodhicitta tenet that supporting women and children helps to lift entire communities out of poverty, the center offers two hours a day of schooling to 120 children as well as 6,000 meals a year to undernourished children.

BGR grants also support Bodhicitta’s hostel in Nagpur, which houses 30 girls and young women from the Dalit community, in their teens and early 20s. While they are in residence here, the young women train for a three-year degree in social work, health care, education, or midwifery and nursing. Their training also includes coursework in anti-poverty principles and women’s health and economic issues. Upon completion of the program, each student commits to six months of part-time service in her home community in the form of women’s job or entrepreneurship training, education for poor children, or other support.

The young women who live at the Bodhicitta hostel are a remarkable group. The stories they tell about their experiences are grounded in the realities of their lives and also imbued with a sense that they are empowered to bring about real change in their world.

Swati, 17, is majoring in science and intends to become a gynecologist/obstetrician, “to give women safer and more dignified births,” she said. She studies photography and is a creative writer of stories and poetry. She writes:

Looking at the veiled form of a bent beggar woman,
I could not see her face,
Her face was shrouded in suffering,
Like the darkness and uncertainty of her future.

 Swati’s father is a cycle rickshaw driver and her mother a laborer. Before she came to Bodhicitta, she said: “I almost quit school to get a low-paying job to support my parents, but then we found the hostel. Now I don’t have to leave school or feel hungry all the time. My stomach is full of food, my heart is full of the love of our community, and my mind is reaching for my dreams!”

Prianka, 20, is studying to be a lawyer. “I want to fight for the rights of poor people, and I volunteer with senior lawyers at the Bodhicitta Foundation programs for women to know their rights,” she said. “We have taken on many cases of domestic violence and families threatening to kill or throw out widows from their husbands’ land.” Prianka comes from a poor farming family, though her father cannot work because he is paralyzed. Her older sister was married as a teenager and died in childbirth, at 19. “Because of the hard lives of the village people,” Prianka said, “I am determined to become educated and escape that life of early marriage and backbreaking work and to advocate for my Dalit community,” 

Sonali, 15, lives with her younger sister Pari at the Bodhicitta girls’ hostel. Sonali describes herself as “a total nerd” who loves math, reading, karate, and her social work studies.

The sisters arrived at the hostel as orphans. Their father abandoned the family when the girls were toddlers, and their mother became a sex worker to support the family and contracted HIV. She died before Sonali’s tenth birthday. The two girls moved from family to family, working in exchange for basic sustenance. “By the time I reached high school, I did not really believe in the goodness of people,” Sonali said. “I knew the world was cruel to poor girls.”

“I found out about the Bodhicitta Foundation because their social worker visited my school talking about women’s legal rights and girls’ rights to inherit land,” she continued. “They said they had a girls’ home, and we immediately applied. They have a long waiting list, but because we are orphans, they moved us up the list. For the first time since my mother died, I really feel I have a home where I feel loved and supported and not alone.”

When she finishes high school, Sonali intends to go on to study global politics and gender studies at university. “I think women have to stand up for their rights and education and proper paying jobs,” she said. “If my mother had been educated and found a proper job, she would not be dead now. Gender inequality literally kills women.… But I do believe in human goodness now.”

Patricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.

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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. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 3

By BGR Staff

10. Haiti: A School Feeding Program for Students in Jacmel

BGR’s partner in this project, the Art Creation Foundation for Children (ACFFC), is a US-based organization (founded 1999) whose mission is “to build a passionate community of future leaders, visionaries and dynamic thinkers who are empowered to better their lives and their world through the arts and education in Jacmel, Haiti.” The partnership with BGR will provide the students at ACFFC with at least one nutritious, filling meal per day on each of the six days of the week they attend school. Many children in Haiti will not attend daily education programs if meals are not a component of the program. For many of the students enrolled at ACFFC, the meals they receive there are their only opportunity to eat. Without the feeding program many of the children would spend their days either looking for food or working rather than attending school or being part of an art program. The feeding program is implemented by the staff of three kitchen personnel who prepare a minimum of 360 meals per week. BGR’s grant covers about a third of the total budget for the program. Annually renewable program

11. Haiti: Improved Production and Diversification of Crops in the Artibonite Valley

This project, with our partner Oxfam America, supports improved rice production and backyard vegetable gardening in the Artibonite Valley in Haiti. Agricultural activity is one of the main sources of income for this population, focused on rice produced in the Artibonite Valley. Attempts to increase the production of rice face structural constraints. In spite of this, Oxfam has worked for approximately five years to help smallholder producers to develop the potential for rice cultivation and maintain the livelihoods of poor families. Previous projects have encouraged the adoption of innovative farming practices such as the Sustainable Rice Intensification (SRI) techniques, irrigation, post-harvest improvements, and improving production practices in vegetable gardening.

The proposed project will leverage the grant from Buddhist Global Relief to expand upon existing activities in the small rural community of Délogner, in the third communal section of Petite-Rivière. This vulnerable population (pop. 5,139, 90% poverty rate, 50% food insecure) experienced a flood in January 2017, which nearly annihilated agricultural production, their primary means of subsistence. By reinforcing ongoing efforts in response to this recent shock, the project will directly reach 224 beneficiaries through a suite of activities including SRI training, establishment of an agricultural credit fund, rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructures (5 km of canals), agricultural diversification with backyard vegetable gardening, provision of specialized SRI equipment and plastic sheeting for drying of harvested rice, establishment of collective local nurseries, and local partner capacity building. Continue reading

Bodhicitta-BGR Solidarity Walk in Nagpur, India

Ayya Yeshe

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Many women and children from central Nagpur, India, as well as girls from our girls hostel-girls home, which is sponsored by BGR, joyfully walked together to raise awareness of poverty and to express our deep gratitude and solidarity with all our friends around the world who have raised money to fund BGR, our NGO partner. Without your care and hard work, we would not have 125 slum children in extra study classes, 25 children sponsored for school, several hundred women trained in small businesses like sewing, beauty therapies and computers. We would not have been able to run countless workshops on health, women’s rights, and children’s rights, or offered emergency health and accommodation services and counseling to thousands of people. Without you we would not have prevented child marriages, saved lives, kept girls in school, and cooked 5,000 meals per year for undernourished children. You are our heroes, you march for us, and we in turn light candles in dark places. Together, we can make the world a better place! Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2016–17—Part 4 (of 6)

BGR Staff

13. India: A Girl’s Hostel & Women’s Community Center in Nagpur

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The Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. With funding from BGR, Bodhicitta has established a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 16–22, who are being trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The hostel helps them escape poverty, trafficking, and the sex industry. The girls, chosen because of their dedication to their studies, come from the poorest regions in India: 10 from Bihar, 10 from rural Maharashtra, and 10 from urban Nagpur slums.

The girls are now in their third year of training, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls. In this way, the thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future. Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The other portion of the BGR grant to Bodhicitta supports a women’s job training and community center, where women receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year three of a three-year project. Continue reading

Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 4 (of 6)

BGR Staff

16. India: A Youth Hostel for Girls & Women

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The Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. Last year, BGR partnered with Bodhicitta in establishing a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 14–20, who are being trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The girls, chosen because of their dedication to their studies, come from the poorest regions in India: 10 girls from Bihar, 10 from rural Maharashtra, and 10 from urban Nagpur slums. The girls are being trained for three years, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls. In this way, the thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future. Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The other portion of the BGR grant to Bodhicitta supports a women’s job training and community center, where women receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year two of a three-year project. Continue reading

Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.
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