Tag Archives: Girls’ Education

CAMFED: A Pan-African Effort to Support Girls and Young Women

By Kate Zemlo Rivas

This year, Buddhist Global Relief has launched a new partnership with CAMFED (Campaign for Female Education), a pan-African organization combating poverty, inequality, and injustice by educating girls and supporting young women to become leaders in their communities and nation. CAMFED’s collective efforts have helped almost 5 million girls go to school in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, and the movement intends to support 5 million more girls over the next five years. For CAMFED, education is a fundamental right and a matter of justice. The organization regards girls’ education as a key to tackling our most pressing global challenges. CAMFED catalyzes the power of the most vulnerable girls and young women to create the future they imagine—for themselves, for their communities, and for Africa.

 The partnership between BGR and CAMFED is focused on a project in Malawi that will support the education of 1,333 marginalized girls and young women, providing them with the critical support they need to pursue their studies. In Malawi, a majority of people live in extreme poverty; 62 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 171 out of 189 countries in the 2018 UNDP Human Development Index. Many families are unable to afford school costs for their children, and when resources are available, they are generally allotted to boys, leaving girls without a formal education. Furthermore, when they reach adolescence, girls are pressured to marry in order to reduce the financial burden on the family.

The partnership between BGR and CAMFED delivers individually tailored support and crucial supplies for the girls to continue learning. These school-going costs are assessed on a case-by-case basis; they include food, school fees, uniforms, sanitary wear, bedding, medical costs, personal protective equipment, and remote learning resources for those without access to digital learning platforms.

CAMFED was founded in 1993 by Ann Cotton. It began in Zimbabwe with scholarships to a group of 32 girls. By 2021, the number of children served had grown to nearly 5 million. CAMFED post-secondary programs are implemented by members of CAMA, the CAMFED Alumnae Association. Established in 1998, the CAMFED Association now consists of 180,000 alumnae of CAMFED’s programs. They are women leaders who demonstrate how education can break the cycle of poverty. CAMA provides a structure for the women to continue their work and grow their activism and leadership. As CAMFED beneficiaries become professionals, they give back their time, expertise, and financial support to the association.

In implementing the BGR project, CAMFED Association members identify which girls in their communities need the most urgent support. Without this support, many girls will not return to school, especially those “invisible” school-age girls who are currently not being reached by—or falling through—existing services and safety nets. On average, each CAMA member is helping three girls go to school; this is what CAMFED calls the “multiplier effect.” Because the members live in the communities where CAMFED operates, they are uniquely equipped to identify and support the most at-risk children. Additionally, in 2017 the CAMA Fund was launched, bringing formality and structure to the Association’s initiatives. Many CAMA members also contribute directly to the fund with their own financial resources, joining a wide network of donors.

CAMFED also engages more than 300,000 teachers, parents, traditional leaders, local education officers, social workers, and magistrates known as CAMFED Champions. CAMFED’s grassroots-led approach means that communities take responsibility for girls’ well-being and success. The contributions of international donors are matched with local networks and resources for optimal outcomes.

The model used by CAMFED is highly cost efficient, as it provides individually assessed school-going costs for eligible children. The support ranges from tuition and exam fees to bedding, medical expenses, school supplies, and direct food aid, where necessary. Financially, it combines the transparency and rigors of centralized financial systems administered by CAMFED with its alumnae’s experience, insight, and activism.

CAMFED supports girls at the point of leaving secondary school, at a time when young women face a lack of opportunities. Many women are pressured to marry young or migrate to urban centers where they may be exploited and abused. CAMA provides women a six-month Transition Programme, including financial literacy, business planning, reproductive health information, and leadership training. After completing the initial training, women can gain further expert training in specialized skills, including climate-smart agriculture.

CAMFED’s studies have consistently found that the second-highest cause of school dropout for girls—after poverty—is low academic self-esteem. Therefore, CAMFED provides guidance and counseling support in every partner school by trained “Teacher Mentors.” Additionally, the “My Better World” school curriculum is designed to improve students’ confidence, resilience, self-reflection, and autonomy, as well as their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It also encourages girls to become more aware of their rights, responsibilities, and values.

“Learner Guides” are peer counselors tuned into children’s needs and social challenges in their communities and equipped with the tools and resources to support children academically and socially. The guides provide a bridge between schools, families, and local authorities, as they are exceptionally prepared to protect girls from early marriage and bring them back to school. They are able to deploy their first-hand knowledge and experience where others may lack the time, insight, or resources to persevere. Learner Guides are closely connected to school and local authorities and have child-abuse reporting systems in place. They are at the forefront of social activism and have been recognized by official agencies as essential during the Covid-19 crisis. To date, CAMFED has trained almost 11,000 Learner Guides and in 2020 there were over 4,000 such guides active in Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.

Beyond school, “Transition Guides” support young women to capitalize on their education to become leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners; to obtain gainful employment; or to enter advanced studies programs. The Transition Guides themselves have access to interest-free loans in exchange for their volunteer work, allowing them to start their own businesses and earn a vocational (BTEC) qualification as a stepping stone to a teacher’s training or career employment. As a result, over 11,000 CAMFED Association members created their own businesses in 2020, notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic—a true testament to the program’s resiliency and sustainability.

Through its partnerships with schools, district, and national education authorities and networks during the pandemic, CAMFED has supported the safe reopening of schools. In addition, CAMFED has been advocating for the prioritization of the most marginalized children, including those with disabilities, and for investment in a strategic transformation of the education system, ensuring that those without electricity and connectivity are not left further behind.

CAMFED recognizes that investing in girls’ education is one of the most powerful ways to address the climate crisis. Quality education and support for climate-smart livelihoods provide girls with the tools needed to sustain themselves and their families while facing climate change. It is well documented that developing nations with higher levels of female education suffer less loss of life, injury, and displacement due to weather disasters. Educated women are better prepared to champion climate-resilient technologies at the community level. They engage in national and international leadership for sustainability and make personal choices that reduce the level of carbon emissions.

CAMFED has received many awards from different agencies and organizations around the world. In 2021 it was announced as the recipient of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest annual humanitarian award. The prize is given in recognition of extraordinary contributions toward alleviating human suffering.

Peter Laugharn, president and CEO of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, said: “CAMFED has revolutionized how girls’ education is delivered, tapping into local expertise in a way that is sustainable and scalable. The Jury’s selection … speaks first and foremost to its community-led approach and to the power of investing in girls. The pandemic has had a catastrophic effect on families and girls, with estimates that 11 million girls may not return to school as a result of the crisis. The time for the global community to learn from this model is now.”

Kate Zemlo Rivas is a volunteer at BGR. She lives in California and works for the University of California, Davis. Kate is also an attorney focused primarily on assisting immigrants, workers, and children. She has been a student of Buddhism for over ten years.

We Are All Interconnected

By Kim Behan

On October 15, the Nagarjuna Training Institute (based at Nagaloka in Nagpur) presented the Dr. Ambedkar Prabuddha Bharata Peace Award jointly to BGR’s chairperson, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, and our executive director, Kim Behan. The award is given, according to the Institute, “to appreciate those who have made significant contributions to the development of Buddhism and the welfare of humanity, not only in India, but throughout the world.” The award is named after Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, an Indian jurist, economist, politician, and social reformer, who inspired the Dalit Buddhist movement and campaigned against social discrimination towards the Dalits, formerly known as the “Untouchables.” A Dalit himself, Dr. Ambedkar became independent India’s first Minister of Law and Justice and is considered the chief architect of the Indian Constitution of India. On October 15, 1956, at Nagpur, he led a mass conversion of 500,000 Dalits from Hinduism to Buddhism. The Award Committee requested Kim Behan to give a short talk on the occasion. There follows here the prepared text of her talk.

It is a great privilege for me to join you today as we celebrate Dharma Chakra Pravartan Day. What an inspiring day of remembrance, on this anniversary of the conversion of Dr. Ambedkar, and of hundreds of thousands of people who found the Dharma under his leadership!

As we celebrate the dawn of the Buddhist revival in India under the guidance of Dr. Ambedkar, we see so clearly how the gift of the Dharma transforms not only our individual lives but the world. This is a beautiful example of the interconnection of all beings, and an opportunity for us to recommit to the work of “compassion in action.”

Dr. Ambedkar had a vision of a society, and a world, free from inequality and discrimination. As a leader, he also recognized that this vision of true compassion in the Dharma is not separate from the struggle for justice in our societies. The impact of the Dharma Revolution (dharmakranti) has resonated across time and around the world, sounding a call for all to act against oppression and injustice.

Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of action guided by love offered India a path toward equality and progress, and his notion of “compassion in action” has given Buddhists everywhere an example of how to build a better world. We see that aspiration continued at the Nagarjuna Training Institute, where you are bringing the dream of Prabuddha Bharat—an Enlightened India, an enlightened world—into reality.

At Buddhist Global Relief, our vision statement says:  “We are inspired by the vision of a world in which debilitating poverty has finally been banished; a world in which all can avail themselves of the basic material supports of a meaningful life—food, clothing, housing, and health care; a world in which everyone can achieve a satisfactory level of education and freely pursue that which gives their life value and purpose; a world in which all people dwell in peace and harmony with one another and with the natural environment.”

Just as Dr. Ambedkar guided India toward greater justice through the Dharma, we at Buddhist Global Relief allow the teachings to guide us in seeking to transform the material conditions of those who are left behind by unequal societies—in the U.S., in India, and in many other nations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

For example, a project with our longtime partner, the Bodhicitta Foundation, provides housing and schooling for thirty young women in Nagpur. These are young women, ages 14 to 23, who are at risk of having their education cut short due to poverty. Many belong to the Dalit caste and other groups with high dropout rates. Following their completion of the program, the young women are supported in returning to their home villages to create their own businesses and share their knowledge with other girls and young women.

At the Garden of Peace School in Kurumbupalayam, Tamil Nadu, our partner Lotus Outreach International provides nutritional support twice a day for 175 children, half of whom are girls. The school is located on a small organic farm, and the children and their families are involved in farm activities, helping to grow a portion of the food served to the students.

In Punjab state, our partner Building Bridges India works to support and empower the widows of men who committed suicide because of poverty and indebtedness, leaving the debt to their widows. One Buddhist Global Relief project provides training in organic farming methods to 300 widows; another offers vocational training in sewing to 125 women.

In Diyun township of Arunachal Pradesh, BGR partners with the Mahabodhi Maitri Mandala on a project that provides 245 poor children with three nutritious meals a day as well as uniforms, health care, and school supplies. The children are from tribal clans and more than half of them are girls.

The coronavirus pandemic has created tremendous hardships and suffering for many of the people we serve. This pandemic reminds us that we still have much work to do to achieve Dr. Ambedkar’s vision of equality. Around the world, those most harmed by the pandemic’s impacts continue to be those who are already disadvantaged, while the wealthy and powerful remain largely protected.

And yet the pandemic also teaches us about the interconnectedness of all life. If highly-resourced countries do not make vaccines available to those with fewer resources, the virus will continue to spread and mutate, threatening all of us. Only when vaccines and other medical care are shared with all people will we be able to lessen the destructiveness of this pandemic. Our fates are powerfully intertwined with those of our sisters and brothers in our communities and around the world.

When Buddhist Global Relief provides a Covid-care ventilator to the hospital of the Mahabodhi Society in Bangalore, as when the Buddha Charity Covid Care Centre distributes food and sanitary supplies to poor communities during the pandemic, we act not only from compassion but also from an awareness of our profound interconnectedness.

The Dharma moves us to recognize and act from this interdependence. It offers a path to safety, peace, and contentment that we must travel together with others, realizing that all beings are worthy not only of our love but of having their fundamental needs met.

Our desire for happiness is not separate from our commitment to helping others who face hunger, poverty, injustice, illness, and any other form of suffering. And so we work, side by side, to build a world in which all people live in peace and harmony.

Nourishing and Educating Girls in Lima, Peru

By Shae Davidson

For more than 30 years, the Asociación Grupo de Trabajo Redes (AGTR) has helped children in Peru empower themselves and escape child labor. A grant from BGR supports AGTR as it works to develop educational opportunities for girls in San Juan de Miraflores, one of the poorest districts of Lima. Over 55 percent of the people there live in poverty, and 10 percent live in extreme poverty; more than 80 percent of the children and adolescents have worked as child laborers. Child labor has a lasting effect on those involved, denying or delaying educational opportunities, exposing children to emotional and physical health risks, depriving youth of recreational and social activities, and putting them at greater risk for sexual abuse and trafficking.

Some families in poor neighborhoods in and around Lima see domestic labor as a chance to improve the lives of their children. Employers claim that they will provide educational opportunities to children, and that they will be welcomed into a loving household environment as “godchildren.” In reality, however, the children never become part of the families they serve. They devote their time to cooking, cleaning, gardening, and caring for young children. These affluent children often learn to objectify and abuse the child domestic workers by watching the actions of their parents. All the while, the young domestic workers are losing contact with their own families and communities and are falling behind educationally—often up to three years behind their peers.

AGTR offers a range of programs to help support former child workers and prevent other girls from becoming involved in child labor. Funding from BGR supports workshops that explore health, self-esteem, and communication and emphasize the importance of education in building future opportunities. In addition, AGTR provides food baskets to families who participate in the program and school supplies to students, helping alleviate some of the stresses that push children into domestic labor. The project currently serves 30 students.

The program stresses the importance of education and helps children cultivate a stronger sense of personal worth and self-esteem. AGTR relies on the experiences of former child workers to develop its programs, allowing them to celebrate the strength and perseverance of child workers without stigmatizing them while recognizing the dignity of their labor. “I felt very good,” one explains. “It is the first time that I hear that our work is very good, that we each have our stories as domestic workers: some are very ugly, but we’re strong enough to move on.”  

Between 2012 and 2017 AGTR created five youth groups in poor communities around Lima. Led by former domestic workers, the youth groups provided tutoring and mentoring support for at-risk youth, and gave children a voice as AGTR worked to improve its ability to help children. The project in San Juan de Miraflores began at one of these youth centers.

Etsi is one of the children served by an AGTR youth center. She moved into a wealthy home in Lima, Peru, to work as a domestic servant when she was a child. The family refused to pay her for seven of the nine years she worked for them, and denied her basic rights granted to workers. After leaving the family Etsi made contact with AGTR, which helped her understand her experiences and reconsider the value of domestic workers.

COVID-19 has created challenges for AGTR’s programs. The lockdown has increased adult unemployment, heightening the risk that children will enter the workforce. Children who remain in school risk falling behind due to disrupted schedules. Although schools in Lima offer virtual classes, the range of subjects is limited and many students do not have reliable internet access. Officials have tried to fill this gap by sending assignments and relying on the government television program “I Can Learn at Home,” although many families feel the program is of limited value. Before the pandemic, AGTR offered tutoring services at their community center. Tutoring sessions helped students whose parents were unable to help them with homework, and gave them an extra edge in more difficult Math and English classes as they moved into high school. AGTR hopes to resume meeting face-to-face with students at its venue in the near future.

Government agencies have stepped in to provide additional support for families in the area during the lockdown. For example, San Juan de Miraflores lacks running water. Prior to the pandemic, families would buy water from trucks or fill jerrycans and portable tanks outside of the neighborhood. The lockdown cut household income and made it harder for families to meet vendors. The municipal government has agreed to cover the cost of water for residents during the crisis.

AGTR has continued delivering baskets of food to each of the 30 girls participating in the program, and staff members use the opportunity to meet with students and their families. Thanks to additional donations from friends and former volunteers, AGTR is also able to give food to other children in San Juan de Miraflores. This allows families in the district to pool their resources and prepare large common pots of food that are shared with the community. “Solidarity,” AGTR observes, “is a great resource in these difficult times.”

Shae Davidson holds a PhD degree in American history. His dissertation research explored the importance of inclusive community partnerships in building food systems.  He has served as a museum director and taught history and public policy.

BGR Awards Grants to 51 Projects Worldwide

By Kate Zemlo Rivas

In late April, BGR’s Board approved 51 projects with potential partners around the world. These grants for BGR’s fiscal year 2021-22 amounted to $969,000. The Board provided $60,000 in additional emergency assistance to regions afflicted with the Covid pandemic–most in India–pushing BGR’s grant total to over $1,000,000.

During the weekend of April 23–25, 2021, the Buddhist Global Relief Board and staff members met via Zoom to review 51 project proposals from potential partners around the world. By the weekend’s conclusion, all of the projects for BGR’s fiscal year 2021-22 had been approved, with the Board awarding $969,000 in grants. The $400,000 increase compared to the previous year was made possible by several extremely generous donations we received over the past year. Decisions by the BGR Board in May to provide $60,000 in emergency assistance to regions afflicted with the Covid pandemic–most in India–pushed BGR’s grant total to over $1,000,000.

A majority of BGR’s projects are renewable projects with existing partners. Through the years, these projects have proven to be successful and aligned with BGR’s mission of fighting hunger, supporting sustainable agriculture, educating children—especially girls—and providing opportunities for women to start livelihood projects to support their families.

The projects support partners operating in countries around the world, among them Nicaragua, Peru, Haiti, Brazil, the United States, Uganda, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Malawi, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the challenges caused by the pandemic, most of the partner organizations have reported that they are staying on track with their goals as they adjusted their operations to ever-changing conditions.

This year, the Board approved eight new projects, half of which introduce new organizations into BGR’s circle of worldwide partners.

Each CAMFED Association member, on average, supports three more girls to go to secondary school, and rallies community support around the most vulnerable.

CAMFED, one of BGR’s new partners, is more formally known as the Campaign for Female Education. An international non-governmental, non-profit organization, CAMFED’s mission is to eradicate poverty in Africa through the education of girls and the empowerment of young women. CAMFED programs operate in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Malawi. BGR awarded CAMFED a grant to address the urgent needs of female students in Malawi, one of the least developed countries in the world. For most families in Malawi, school costs are prohibitive and thus poor children, especially girls, often lack opportunities for education. The grant from BGR will support the education and basic nutritional needs of 1,333 girl students in Malawi.

In Myanmar, BGR’s new partner is New Eden Charity Foundation, which will provide school supplies to about 800 children of families in the Chin State who have been internally displaced due to the heavy fighting in the region.

Mahabodhi International Meditation Center (MIMC) is a new partner in the Himalayan region of Ladakh, India. MIMC operates a school for disadvantaged boys and girls from remote parts of the region. Thus far, every year during the admission period, MIMC’s selection committee has had to turn away many deserving boys simply because the present boys’ hostel can only accommodate 100 children. BGR’s grant will support the construction of a new hostel to accommodate an additional 80 boys. This will make a difference not only to the students but to their families and communities.

BGR will join an existing partner, CARE, in a new project this year that will expand a university scholarship initiative for female high school graduates in Afghanistan’s Khost province. More than 866,000 adolescents in Afghanistan are out of school, including 622,084 (71.8 percent) girls. Since 2012, CARE has helped more than 300 young women to continue their education, and as a result, the graduates have found job opportunities allowing them to support themselves and their families. This grant will provide scholarships to an additional 100 young women for the coming academic year.

Uganda Buddhist Centre is another of BGR’s existing partners. This year, in addition to the current UBC Peace School, the organization is introducing a new project to provide hunger relief for orphans in Bulega Village, Entebbe. In this Ugandan village, many children have been orphaned or abandoned due to HIV/AIDS, poverty, conflict-related violence, inadequate healthcare, neglect, and exploitation. This project will provide two nutritious meals a day for about 20 children for a year. The program also offers emotional support, yoga classes, and mindfulness training for the children.

A partner from earlier years, Sri Lanka’s Karuna Trust was awarded a grant to support the professional training of fifteen girls from low-income families to become graphic designers, a profession in high demand in Sri Lanka. Karuna Trust has run similar programs in the past, and all the graduates are either well employed or running their own businesses. BGR has also given Karuna Trust an emergency donation to provide dry food rations to families negatively impacted by the corona pandemic.

Karuna Trust hunger relief sponsored by BGR

A longtime BGR partner, Oxfam America, was awarded a grant for its new project supporting women’s livelihood support and climate-smart agriculture in Uganda. This project aims to benefit 200 women and men farmers and their families by training them in climate-resilient agricultural practices and business skills related to farming, purchasing tools, and planting seeds for home consumption and income.

Finally, the Sahuarita Food Bank and Community Center, located in southeastern Arizona, is a second-year beneficiary of BGR funding. A BGR grant last year supported the construction of the center’s new facility with a commercial kitchen and classroom. This year, BGR is supporting a pilot project in which women will be trained in food preparation and other skills needed to operate a small food business.

Feeding hungry children at Sahuarita Food Bank

BGR expresses its deepest gratitude to all its generous donors who allow us to continue our work of helping to relieve the suffering of the most vulnerable among us.

Kate Zemlo Rivas is a volunteer at BGR. She lives in Sacramento, California, and works for the University of California, Davis. Kate is awaiting admission to the California Bar and is hoping to practice in the area of human rights and continue supporting the immigrant community. She has been a student of Buddhism for over ten years.

BGR Projects Meeting Awards $600,000 in Grants

By Tricia Brick

Buddhist Global Relief’s annual projects meeting, typically held over the last weekend in April, usually brings all of BGR’s board members and staff together for an in-person gathering at Chuang Yen Monastery, in Carmel, New York. Members fly in from as far away as Washington State, California, and Florida, to put their minds and hearts together in the joyful task of approving the projects to sponsor over the next fiscal year. This year, however, because of the restrictions on travel imposed by the national lockdown, BGR held its projects meeting via Zoom. The meeting was divided into three sessions over the weekend of April 24–26. By the time the meeting was over, the BGR board had approved funding for 41 projects, offering more than $600,000 in grants to sponsor projects with our partners around the world.

These projects cover the four areas of our mission. They provide direct food aid to people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition; promote ecologically sustainable agriculture; support the education of children, with an emphasis on education for girls; and give women the opportunity to start right livelihood projects to support their families. The approved funding also included a $5,000 donation to support the construction of a new distribution center for the Sahuarita Food Bank in southeastern Arizona.

A new BGR partner this year is Shraddha Charity Organization, whose project in Sri Lanka will provide food, nutritional supplements, and hygienic supplies to women in need through their pregnancies and postpartum period.

New projects with existing partners include our first projects in Tanzania and Senegal. In Tanzania, BGR partner Action Against Hunger has created a nutrition program for the Dodoma region to address child malnutrition through a combined women’s livelihood and climate-resilient agriculture project. The project will provide agricultural training for smallholder women farmers to increase production of nutrient rich crops such as peppers, kale, cabbage, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, okra, eggplant, and papaya. The project also provides nutrition education for families and health screenings for at-risk children.

In Senegal, a project with Helen Keller International will construct boreholes and wells to supply clean water for drinking and agricultural irrigation. The project also provides seeds and agricultural inputs to improve the nutrition of approximately 900 people in need.

Other projects, renewals or extensions of existing projects, will be implemented in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Haiti, India, Kenya, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Peru, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand (for Burmese refugees), Uganda, and Vietnam, as well as U.S. projects in Detroit and Easton, Pennsylvania.

At this year’s meeting, BGR was delighted to welcome Raimund Hopf and Karl Wirtz of Mitgefühl in Aktion (MIA), a new Buddhist aid organization based in Germany. MIA, whose German name means “compassion in action,” was established as a “sister” to BGR, with the aim of working alongside us in funding life-saving projects around the world. This year, its first year of operation, MIA will be co-funding three projects with BGR in the current grant cycle.

Learn more about MIA here: https://www.mia.eu.com/ .

BGR would like to express our deepest gratitude to all our supporters wherever they might be. It is through your generosity that these projects will relieve the suffering of thousands of people in need in the U.S. and around the world.

Rice Support for Girl Students in Cambodia

By BGR Staff

Through its partnership with Lotus Outreach International, BGR is helping provide poor girls in Cambodia–and their families–with rice support, thereby enabling them to continue their education through high school and even to pursue university degrees.

Lotus Outreach International (LOI), a trusted BGR partner since 2009, works to improve the lives of women and girls in Cambodia and India through initiatives that increase girls’ access to education, provide counseling and safe havens for victims of trafficking and domestic violence, and support women’s economic empowerment through skills training and other programs.

A foundation of LOI’s education programs is its policy of providing rice to impoverished female students and young children in rural Cambodia. This policy ensures reliable nourishment for people persistently affected by food insecurity while also freeing up limited familial resources for the girls’ education. Without such rice support, many of these young girls would need to work to support their families rather than complete their studies. The rice often feeds the girls’ parents and siblings as well, and the cost savings can benefit entire families, who may be able to invest a greater portion of their earnings into a farm or other business.

BGR has funded rice support for Lotus Outreach’s GATE scholarship program since we first made contact in 2009, and for the CATALYST program since it was introduced as a sequel to the GATE program. GATE (an acronym meaning “Girls Access To Education”) offers educational scholarships to girls in primary and secondary school. CATALYST, also supported by a grant from BGR, builds on this foundation by helping girls pursue higher education at universities and vocational training institutes across Cambodia. All participants in these programs commit to attending school for the duration of the year.

Last year, the BGR grant was expanded to support not only the female students in the GATE and CATALYST scholarship programs but also the families of 301 kindergarten students.

The distribution of rice is implemented through local organizations. The kindergarten students’ rice-support program is carried out in partnership with Khemara, Cambodia’s first locally founded and operated NGO, which works to support the health, education, and welfare of Cambodian women and children. The GATE rice-support program is carried out through the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center in cooperation with Local Education Working Groups in the students’ villages. These groups, consisting of teachers, parents, government officials, and other community volunteers, then deliver the rice directly to the recipients. The CATALYST program’s rice distribution is carried out by LOI staff.

In all, in the 2018–19 grant cycle, the rice support program distributed nearly 60 tons of rice to 464 students and their families, feeding a total of 1,067 people.

Younger students in class

Twenty-year-old Hao Pheara is the oldest of six children in an impoverished family in Soth Nikum district in Siem Reap. Her mother, who is herself illiterate, prioritized her daughter’s education, and so Pheara helped the family make ends meet. Working as a laborer, carrying and transporting bricks, in addition to her schooling, she struggled academically and considered dropping out.

After joining the GATE scholarship program Pheara was able to focus her attention on her schooling. In addition to rice support, the scholarship also provided her with a new bike, school uniforms, shoes, school supplies and other necessities, and a monthly stipend. Her grades improved and she has begun to imagine a hopeful future in business. “My family is very happy because of the support from the program, which is crucially important to reduce the financial burden of my education and livelihood,” she said.

Lunh Chainey is a twelfth-grade student in LOI’s GATE program and a recipient of BGR-funded rice support. Her father is a food vendor and her mother raises small livestock at home. Before she joined the scholarship and rice-support programs, the costs of education meant that her family often ate only two meals a day. “Our life is difficult; we have to devote everything to the children to secure their future, so they don’t have to suffer as we have,” her mother, Khim Keng, said. The rice-support program ensured that the entire family would have three daily meals.

In a conversation during her twelfth-grade year, Chainey told an interviewer, “In terms of academics, I am between fifth and eighth in my class of 50 students, and I’m 80 percent confident of passing my year 12.” Indeed, a few months later she reported that she had not only successfully graduated but had also secured a coveted seat at a premier IT institute in Phnom Penh, a pathway to a career in the high-growth technology sector.

Hong Rina is 17 and a tenth-grader. The second of seven children, she lives with her mother and five of her siblings in a small room on the outskirts of Phnom Penh City. Her father and older brother live elsewhere as they work to support the family and send the younger children to school. “Previously, it was hard for me to stay in school. I always wanted to leave school to work like my brother, but my parents didn’t allow me to drop out,” she said. She attended extra classes, but couldn’t concentrate well because she was always worried about her family’s struggles.

Since the sixth grade Rina has participated in LOI’s GATE scholarship and rice-support programs. She said, “The monthly rice support is a big support for my family as a whole. It helps to cover the daily consumption of every member of my household. Staff from the scholarship program and teachers often visit my home, to meet with my mother and encourage her to follow up on my study. They also check on my study performance and motivate me to go to school.”

Today Rina attends extra classes and volunteers in her community as leader of a Red Cross group at her school. She said, “I want to pursue my study to university. In the future, I want to become a doctor or have a good job that can help my family and support my six siblings.”

This article is based on reporting by Lotus Outreach staff.

Educating the Children of Backpack Medics from Myanmar Conflict Zones

By BGR Staff

The oppression and persecution of religious and ethnic minorities by military forces in Myanmar (Burma) has a long and violent history. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an estimated 401,000 people are internally displaced, living in isolated villages or in IDP camps, without access to sufficient medical care.

Since 1999, the U.S.–based Burma Humanitarian Mission (BHM) has partnered with the Back Pack Health Worker Team to provide health care to members of the country’s oppressed and persecuted ethnic minorities. In 2019, BHM supported 30 teams of backpack medics from the ethnic minority Karen, Kachin, Shan, Pa’laung, Mon, Chin, and Rohingya communities. The teams of five medics each travel to between nine and twelve villages each month, working with local village health volunteers and midwives to provide health care to people from their respective communities. Serving the most vulnerable areas of Myanmar, each team provides care to an estimated 2,000 people each year. Continue reading

A Buddhist Perspective on Women’s Liberation

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Kisa Gotami asks the Buddha to heal her dead son.

This winter, BGR chair Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spent two months in India. During this time he was invited to give the keynote address at a conference on “Buddhism and Women’s Liberation,” held in Bodhgaya on January 30 and 31, 2019, under the auspices of the Maha Bodhi Society of India. Here is a lightly edited version of his address.

Obstacles to Women’s Freedom

When we speak of “women’s liberation,” we first have to determine what women are to be liberated from. What are the obstacles to their freedom? Perhaps the most pervasive—and the most subtly disempowering—is the limitation placed on the opportunities available to women for personal expression and achievement. In traditional cultures, and even in the West today, these limitations are considered almost intrinsic to the social order. An unspoken consensus prevails that casts women into stereotyped roles that severely hamper their freedom to realize their creative potentials.

Women are seen assigned by nature to be wives and mothers. They are caretakers of the family whose role in life is exhausted by the tasks of finding a good husband, bearing children, and maintaining the household. If women do get the chance to take up a career, the general view holds that they should serve in the caring professions—as nurses, teachers, or social workers—but beyond these, when it comes to the more demanding professions and positions of social leadership, the gates are largely closed against them. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Children: The Face of Hunger

By David Braughton

Introduction

Look into the eyes of someone who is hungry and one out of five times it will be a child under age five staring back at you. The child will probably bear little resemblance to the graphic images found on the internet of a little wizened skull with sunken eyes sitting atop an emaciated body that more resembles a skeleton than a small living being grasping for life. What you will see is an otherwise ordinary kid who appears stunted (too short for its age) and wasted (underweight for its age). Or, you may see a child who is both too short and, at the same time, obese, another seemingly paradoxical symptom of chronic malnutrition.

Stunting and wasting represent two key markers of child malnutrition.  In 2017, there were 151 million children who were abnormally short for their age.  There were also 51 million kids who were seriously underweight for their age and 38 million who were overweight.  What is particularly alarming is the growing number of children who are overweight and stunted, although no reliable statistics are available to determine the true scope of the problem (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank). Continue reading