Tag Archives: Cambodia

Defending the Forests in Cambodia

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Cambodian Monks and Trees

Photograph: Chantal Elkin (Flickr) for Alliance of Religions and Conservation

Forests are the lungs of the world. Their trees suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breathe out oxygen, thereby controlling carbon emissions and helping to maintain a viable planet. They serve as homes to countless varieties of animals, birds, insects, and plants, many with rare medicinal properties. In tropical countries the forests provide a blanket of coolness that protects against the heat of the day. And for centuries the forests have given shelter to Buddhist monks, who resort to them to pursue their quest for peace of mind, wisdom, and the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice, nibbāna.

Yet all around the world the forests are in danger. With the growth of global population and the need to expand agricultural production, the world’s forest cover has shrunk drastically. In almost every continent, trees are being cut down at alarming rates by loggers, land developers, and large agricultural firms in order to make room for mono-culture plantations and industrial-scale farms.

Deforestation has been occurring especially rapidly in Cambodia. According to the human rights organization Licadho, between 2000 and 2013 14.4 percent of Cambodia’s jungle disappeared. Over 12 percent of the trees were cut in protected areas. The loss of forest cover portends danger for people, animals, and the climate. As in so many poor countries, profit takes precedence even over survival, as people pursuing short-term aims recklessly undermine the prerequisites for our long-term future.

But the forests have a determined corps of guardians who have risen to their defense: Buddhist monks. The German news agency DW recently posted an article about an organization of Cambodian monks—the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice—that is battling to save the country’s forests. The organization’s leader, Venerable But Buntenh, explained: “No one has told me that I should go out there to protect the forest, but for me it was a logical thing to do. I am doing all I can to save it. I plant new trees, I help the people who live from the forest, I am reminding the government of the promises they’ve made.” A younger monk named Horn Sophanny, who was inspired by Buntenh to join the movement, states: “It is our job to lead society to a better place. We are the symbol of compassion. The pagodas are the roots of our knowledge.”

The monks hold workshops at which they teach local people how to use social media to protect themselves and the jungles near their homes. They receive staunch support from the villagers who live near the forests but have faced strong opposition from the authorities. They have been spied on, threatened, and sued; their workshops are interrupted by village chieftains; their temples have been raided by the police. Even the supreme patriarch of the Buddhist order has criticized them, saying that monks shouldn’t be involved in protests.

But the monks remain undeterred in their determination to protect the forests. Buntenh says: “I don’t think I’m a good monk, because I am mean to the police and to the military. But I’m ready to give everything for my people and the forest. If I have to give my life for it today or tomorrow, then I’m willing to make that sacrifice.”

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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Making an Impact in Cambodia

BGR Staff

The following is a letter from Ed Malley, the treasurer of Lotus Outreach International, our partner for educational projects in Cambodia. The letter, addressed to BGR’s ED Kim Behan, was a response to the grant we offered Lotus Outreach for their projects in the coming year (mid-2105 to mid-2016):

Dear Kim and all of Buddhist Global Relief,

Thank you so very much for your generous donation to provide education for the women and girls so in need in Cambodia. It is so wonderful that your funding covers the gamut of our educational initiatives from the Non-Formal Education program where sex workers learn the basics, to GATE where girls can progress through lower and upper grades, to GATEways where a college education becomes a reality for so many who likely never even dreamed of the possibility. Your gift, along with your previous support, will have a dramatic impact on both the lives of each student, but also on her family, her neighbors, her community, and all of Cambodia.

Also, though I suspect you already are well aware, the young women and girls are so heartfelt appreciative. The joy of learning and the determination to help themselves and others through our programs is abundant. And the smiles will melt your heart!

I would also like to mention that your support brings other benefits as well. When I told Glenn Fawcett, our Executive Director of Field Operations, of your continued support this year his excitement was palpable. For Glenn, working for so many years to reach and provide life changing skills through education to the at-risk women in Cambodia, a reaffirmation of his life’s work by organizations such as yours cannot be underestimated.

With warmest wishes,

Ed Malley,
Treasurer
Lotus Outreach International
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2015–16—Part 2 (of 6)

BGR Staff

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

cd609-hn2
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. This year the grant to GATE will provide rice support to 52 impoverished families so their girls can attend primary and secondary school. The grant will also provide food support to 89 university students enrolled in the GATEways scholarship program–an extension of GATE for those students who go on to higher education.

An extra year of primary school in Cambodia increases a girl’s eventual wages 10-20%; and an extra year of secondary school will boost wages 15-25%. Students enrolled in GATE program are more likely to attend and stay in school, lowering their likelihood of turning to exploitative labor. In 2013, 90% of GATE scholarship recipients passed their exams and advanced to the next level. These girls, chosen from the poorest families, can now look forward to a bright future of hope and opportunity. Continue reading

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 2

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

3. Cambodia: System of Rice Intensification
Rachana is a Cambodian organization dedicated to improving the socio-economic well-being of poor and vulnerable communities in Cambodia. Rachana promotes the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), an ecologically sensitive agricultural methodology that increases yields of rice from an average of 2 tons to 4.75 tons per hectare. BGR has already partnered with Rachana over the past three years in spreading the use of SRI, with highly favorable results. The program has enabled farmers to feed their own families better and obtain a surplus to sell on the market. As a result, SRI has substantially boosted family incomes. The annually renewable program will promote SRI in eight villages, five old ones and three new ones.

4. Cambodia: Giving Girls Access to Education
Since 2009, BGR has been partnering with U.S.-based Lotus Outreach International in support of its life-transforming Girls Access To Education (GATE) program, intended to ensure that girls remain in school. In Cambodia the education of girls is considered unnecessary, but LOI and BGR promote a new perspective. To encourage families to keep their girls in school, Lotus Outreach provides 50 kg of rice monthly during the school year to the families of poor girls in Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey. Students enrolled in the GATE program are more likely to stay in school, lowering their likelihood of returning to exploitative labor. In 2013, 90% of GATE scholarship recipients passed their exams and advanced to the next level.

With support from BGR, Lotus Outreach has extended rice support to GATE graduates who enroll in college or university programs. These graduates, who have risen up from poverty to enter university, are called GATEways scholars. The grant from BGR will provide rice support to 52 impoverished families of the poorest girls in the GATE program and to 89 university students enrolled in the GATEways scholarship program. With continued scholarship support, these young women will rank among the exclusive 1% of Cambodia’s female population to receive a college education. An annually renewable program.
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Norin Rotha: Building Bridges for a Future Engineer

Since 2009, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach to provide primary and secondary scholarships to high-achieving girls in Cambodia, along with bags of rice to their families. In 2010, the program expanded to provide 25 GATE program graduates with scholarships to college and trade schools.

A future bridge builder

The dusty border town of Poipet has been described as a wasteland. Much of the town was settled by refugees escaping the massacre of the Khmer Rouge genocide, and the shelters and and shacks in which much of the population still lives are a stark reminder that Cambodia is still recovering from those events decades ago. The streets have no sanitation services, and there is a serious threat of typhoid and malaria.

Norin Rotha’s family lives here. Their small home has tin walls and an earthen floor. One room has a small, raised wooden platform on which the family sleeps on straw mats. Just below the platform is a pool of black, stagnant water.

But from these inhospitable surroundings comes a ray of hope. Rotha, who attends 9th grade at Poipet Secondary School, is a Lotus Outreach GATE scholar. Piled on a shelf are her books and a small whiteboard she is using to teach her siblings to read and write. Rotha is completely committed to her studies, but managing the needs of her family and siblings is a considerable challenge.

Rotha’s older sister was married and divorced after having three children. She left Cambodia to find work in Thailand three years ago and never returned. Her family does not know what has become of her. Rotha dropped out of school in 8th grade to care for her sister’s children.

Thanks to BGR sponsorship and a grant from Lotus Outreach’s GATE program, she was able to attend school again. “Since I have the GATE scholarship, I am able to study from 7 AM to 6 PM and use my stipend to pay for a packed lunch that I prepare before I go to school,” she says. “Since November this year, I am now placed 8th out of 50 in my class!” Rotha’s family also receives 50 kilograms of rice support, which is enough to feed them for three weeks out of each month.

Rotha’s favorite subjects are physics, chemistry, and math. She dreams of becoming an engineer. “Ever since I was young, when I see bridges and tall buildings, I always wish I could build them,” she explains.

As GATE and its funders build bridges to brighter futures for these young scholars, Rotha is building academic bridges for her sister’s children, whom she tutors in reading, writing and math. With our continued support, perhaps Rotha will someday build brick-and-mortar bridges for Cambodia.

(Prepared by Jennifer Russ, based on Lotus Outreach’s report to BGR,
Three Years of Great Work, A Review of 2011-2013)

Chantha Luen: A GATEways Success Story

 Since 2009, BGR has partnered with Lotus Outreach to provide primary and secondary scholarships to high-achieving girls in Cambodia, along with bags of rice to their families. In 2010, the program expanded to provide 25 GATE program graduates with scholarships to college and trade schools.

LOI-from the boar-2The road to Chantha Luen’s success was not an easy one. Luen’s father abandoned her family when she was in ninth grade, and her mother passed away in her final year of high school. She moved in with her grandmother, but she also passed away that year. Fortunately, Luen was able to live in one of Lotus Outreach’s GATE residential homes.

Luen graduated from high school despite these significant setbacks and began teacher training with the help of a GATEways scholarship. Thanks to her hard work and good grades, she graduated third in her teaching class and had the choice to teach anywhere she wanted. A testament to the tremendous community impact of educating women, Luen chose to return to the rural Row Lueh Commune in the district of Svey Check, right next to her home village!

Luen knows the people of her hometown area, and she was proud to return. “I am so happy to be working in my home village. Here, I can be a role model and will help the children and families here to value education and stay in school as long as they can.”

Luen’s story has a fairytale ending. Luen met a young man while in pedagogy school, and they are now engaged to be married. Her fiancé is teaching at another nearby school.

Just several years ago, this kind of story would have been very unlikely in a country like Cambodia. Thanks to BGR and its supporters, and our partner Lotus Outreach, more women like Luen are attending school, and they are paying it forward to the next generation.

  (Prepared by Jennifer Russ, based on Lotus Outreach’s report to BGR,  Three Years of Great Work, A Review of 2011-2013)