Tag Archives: Girls’ Education

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.

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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.

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.

Being the First to Finish School  


By BGR Staff

The following article, from Suzanne Alberga, Executive Director of BGR’s long-time partner, the What If? Foundation, features an interview with Cadet Fridelène, a student in Haiti who recently graduated high school through a scholarship from Na Rive, a program that BGR has been supporting over the past few years. She also speaks about the Father Jeri School, which a grant from BGR has helped to equip and staff.      

 Na Rive scholarship student Cadet Fridelène will not be returning to school this year. And it’s for the best possible reason: she graduated in June!

cadetoneCadet is entering a world of possibility that would not be open to her without your support. She is a wonderful example of the intelligence, determination, and hope that our partner, Na Rive, see in their students every day. And as you’ll hear from Cadet, the financial support and encouragement she received over the last six years has changed the course of her life.

The Father Jeri School begins its second academic year in just a couple of weeks. With your support, we can change the lives of many more children and expand the grade levels offered at the school so students like Cadet can proudly graduate in their own community.

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Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 5 (conclusion)

By BGR Staff

23. U.S.: Urban Farming in Detroit

Nearly 40% of Detroit residents live below the poverty line and 21% of metro Detroiters are food insecure. Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) was established to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. The aim is not only to provide residents with seeds to increase food security but to achieve “food sovereignty,” where residents are the leaders and beneficiaries of a transformed food system, able to make decisions about the health, wealth, and future of their families and community.

The grant from BGR will support KGD’s ongoing programs. These include: (1) The Garden Resource Program, which helps increase access to healthy food by providing technical and resource support to 1,500 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, including 400 new gardens in 2017. Together these gardens will produce over 180 tons of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce for predominately low-income families and engage more than 16,000 residents. (2) Twenty-two events including 16 educational workshops and 6 garden workdays reaching 440 residents. At these events a diverse pool of community leaders and instructors, many Garden Resource growers, will provide hands-on instruction on basic gardening, water conservation, and food preservation techniques to build the skills and confidence of urban farmers. Annually renewable project

24. Vietnam: Enhanced Homestead Food Production

This is the second year of a three-year partnership between BGR and Helen Keller International that addresses household food security for residents of Muong Lang Commune, in Son La Province, a remote mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. There is high malnutrition in this region, which is a contributing factor to 50% of infant and childhood deaths. The Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program trains multi-generation families to increase year-round food production with more diversified crops to improve nutrition and thereby to improve health. In all over 100 families in 10 villages will benefit from the program (approximately 550 individuals). The grant from BGR sponsors a third of the program.

In year two, an additional ten communities will benefit from the establishment of Village Model Farms (VMF)—a community based resource for training and technical support for the roughly ten families that typically make up each small village. Within each village a community husband and wife are identified and trained as the VMF demonstration farmers. These VMFs will provide agriculture resources for the community households (i.e. seeds),  educate families on nutrient rich crops, and  provide hands on training including bio-composting, crop diversification,  sanitation and hygiene, and even marketing strategies for income generation from sale of excess food production. The family model empowers women to actively contribute to the improved health of their village.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 4

By BGR Staff

16. India: Nutritional Support for Garden of Peace School
NEW PARTNER

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White Lotus Trust, an affiliate of Lotus Outreach, is a grass roots level organization in India working toward the development of a common school system, seeking to ensure the Right To Quality Education, especially in government schools. The Trust runs a holistic educational program called Garden of Peace, which provides students with the traditional primary school curriculum, English and Tamil courses, training in meditation and in philosophies of non-violence. The program supplies the students with school uniforms, books and other materials, transportation, and nutritional support twice a day. All of these services are critical to the holistic enrichment of the students’ lives and the long-term sustainability of their educational commitment. The nutritional component is at the program’s core, especially considering that the facilities are situated on an organic farm. The students and their parents are involved in farm activities, helping to grow a portion of the food served to the students. The school serves morning and midday meals to all students, which creates a further incentive for the support of the children’s continued education.

The grant from BGR will cover nutritional support for 174 students and assorted staff members for an entire academic year. This funding will facilitate Garden of Peace’s holistic educational and wellness objectives.  The grant will go toward the purchase of food items for direct nutritional support for the students. This includes rice, ragi (finger millet), gur (a sugarcane product), vegetables, cereals, oil and spices, and other items for the provision of two meals daily for the students and assorted staff members.

17. Jamaica & Haiti: Nutritious Morning Meals for Young Children

The Trees That Feed Foundation was founded in 2008 and is currently run by two Jamaican natives, Mike and Mary McLaughlin. TTFF has worked in the Caribbean for over eight years and maintains an intimate working knowledge of the people, economies, and agricultural sectors of both Jamaica and Haiti. In Latin America and the Caribbean more than seven million children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, which has a far-reaching negative impact on health and cognitive development. To address these challenges, TTFF has partnered with BGR on a school-feeding project in Haiti and Jamaica that provides children in both countries with nutritious, locally-sourced morning meals at their local schools. These meals will be produced by local small businesses. In addition to alleviating hunger, this model encourages a gradual increase in availability and accessibility of nutritious food within communities and a gradual decrease in reliance on continuous charitable food donations.

The key objectives of this project are: (1) to alleviate hunger, (2) to provide nutritious food for children in need, and (3) to build economic opportunity so communities can become self -sufficient. This project will provide approximately 36,000 meals to young schoolchildren at ten schools within Haiti and Jamaica. Each of the ten schools will be able to provide a breakfast meal to three classrooms of 30 children, about three times per week, for a full semester. This project will dovetail with other separately funded TTFF programs that help to build local markets for nutrient-rich food. Annually renewable project 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

Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 2

By BGR Staff

7. Cameroon: Practical Vocational Training for Single Mothers and Marginalized Women    NEW PARTNER

CCREAD-Cameroon—the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development—is a civil society organization based in Cameroon with a United Nations Special Consultative Status. It runs strategic programs developed in collaboration with state and non-state actors. Its interventions aim to introduce marginalized people and communities to social and economic empowerment opportunities and foster environmental sustainability.

This new BGR project will be launched in Mile 16 Bolifamba, a typical slum community with a population of 17,850 inhabitants, 98% of them peasant farmers. More than 85% of households live below the UN poverty line, with extreme marginalization of women and girls. More than 60% of children born of single/teenage mothers and widows are unable to complete a single academic year in school because of extreme poverty, as their mothers are unemployed. These households face major challenges in purchasing food and paying rent, medical bills, and school fees for their children.

This project is aimed at reducing extreme suffering for marginalized women and single and teenage mothers through practical vocational training. This will equip the women with the social and vocational skills they need and with the financial means to send their children to school; it will also transfer the skills to other girls to tackle long-term poverty within the area and beyond. Each year, the project is expected to benefit 100 women  (adults), 50 young girls (youth), and 100 children. Continue reading