Tag Archives: Social justice

A Trump Presidency Need Not Be the End Times

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

It was with feelings of shock and dismay that early this morning I woke up to learn that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States. Although, as a monk, I do not endorse political candidates or align myself with political parties, I feel that as a human being inhabiting this fragile planet, I have an obligation to stand up for policies that promote economic and social justice, respect for the innate dignity of all human beings, and preservation of the earth’s delicate biosphere. By the same token, I must oppose policies detrimental to these ideals. I see politics, not merely as a naked contest for power and domination, but as a stage where great ethical contests are being waged, contests that determine the destiny—for good or for ill—of everyone in this country and on this planet.

Trump’s presidential campaign challenged each of the ethical ideals I cherish, and if he acts upon his campaign pledges, his policies may entail misery for people in the United States and all across the world. His campaign repeatedly demeaned people because of their ethnicity, religion, and national origins. He threatened to deny women their reproductive rights and access to critical healthcare. He said he would cut taxes on the rich, curtail essential social services for working families, and deport millions of undocumented immigrants. He proposed to deal with crime by imposing “law and order,” a code expression affirming the harsh American system of mass incarceration, particularly of black males. Most alarmingly, he said he would promote an energy boom in fossil fuels—just at a time when we desperately need to be launching a renewable energy revolution. If he actually acts on his words, carbon emissions will soar, climate change will spin out of control, and water and air will become terribly polluted. Huge swaths of the planet will be rendered barren, decimating ever more species and bringing disaster and death to hundreds of millions of people. Continue reading

Giving Girls in Nicaragua the Gift of Education

BGR Staff

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A partnership between Buddhist Global Relief and the North Country Mission of Hope is enabling ninety-four girls in Nicaragua to attend school. The Nicaraguan government mandates that children must wear black enclosed shoes and a uniform with their school insignia in order to attend public school. Considering that rural poverty is a staggering 67%, many poor children in the country are unable to attend school. A family will spend its precious financial resources securing food rather than putting shoes on the feet of their children. Purchasing a school uniform for their children, particularly a girl, is not a priority for survival. Over a third of adults cannot read or write, so they will have little interest in providing their children with the opportunity to obtain an education.

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Sadly, over 50% of babies in the country are born to teenage girls. Young mothers become completely dependent on the males in their community. The penal system in Nicaragua lacks laws protecting the rights of women and children, and therefore domestic violence is rampant. Without the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, this cycle will never end for the young women in Nicaragua.

The North Country Mission of Hope and Buddhist Global Relief have recently joined hands to help break this cycle. The North Country Mission of Hope sponsors nineteen rural schools in the barrios surrounding Chiquilistagua, providing a daily school meal, renovating and repairing the facilities as needed, and providing equipment such as school desks, blackboards, chairs, and tables. Through funding provided by BGR, ninety-four girls received sponsorship paying for their school shoes, uniforms, insignia, school supplies, backpack, and bi-annual parasite medicine.

The global partnership between BGR and the North Country Mission of Hope is a demonstration of what can be done when the power of compassion joins hearts in a common cause. The partnership offers these girls a safe haven to go to every day where they receive the gift of an education, necessary nourishment, and the chance to socialize with other children their own age. This generation of females will graduate and secure employment, which will give them financial freedom and a chance to make an impact upon their communities, society, and nation. In the faces of these girls one can see our future leaders—young women who will help make the world a better place for everyone.

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This article is based on a report from North Country Mission of Hope.

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.”

There is more aid in the world, but far less for fighting poverty

Farida Bena

More and more foreign aid seems to be doing less and less of what it’s supposed to.

DB-POP Today

Shanties in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: David Braughton

Every year the OECD, an inter-governmental organization made up of the world’s richest countries, releases figures on how much aid, or overseas development assistance, goes to developing countries. On the surface, the latest released data from 2015 suggests a reason to celebrate: once you take out inflation and exchange rate changes, the overall net amount of aid keeps rising, totaling $131.6 billion after an already record-high couple of years. That’s quite an achievement, particularly for those European donors who last year had to face major unexpected challenges, such as the arrival of migrants and refugees at their doorstep.

Look deeper into those figures and the picture changes quite a lot. Welcoming those refugees in donor countries was actually paid for by money that was meant to be used for other, equally important purposes, like fighting poverty and disease in the global South. These costs nearly doubled last year, meaning that a sizeable portion of ‘international’ aid – up to 34 percent of individual donors’ pots – never crossed Northern borders in reality. Continue reading

Seeing Haiti with My Own Eyes

David Braughton

DB_Meals on Steps

The children started filling the large cafeteria 90 minutes before lunch. They came, two, four, nine at a time and squeezed quietly 10 to 12 onto row after row of wooden benches. By the time the food was ready, over 600 kids, and the occasional mother cradling an infant, packed the room. Late arrivals were directed outside to large concrete steps where they sat unshaded beneath the afternoon sun or stood in line hoping that there would be enough food to go around.

Before the meal, adults led the kids in songs and repeated in unison, “Piti piti na rive!” The old Creole saying is a testament of hope and means “Little by little, we will arrive!” Then the other volunteers and I were instructed to form four long lines stretching from where the plates were prepared down the aisles and, like a fire brigade, started passing steaming plates of red beans and rice and a small chicken drumstick to each other and then along to the waiting youngsters. Continue reading

Every Human Life Has Value

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In recent weeks the world has been rocked by deeds of horrific violence, which have had tragic consequences and brought fear and sorrow into the lives of people everywhere. Yet sudden acts of terrorist violence are not the only type of random destruction occurring today. Structures of domination and exploitation impose a kind of subtle violence that also take many innocent lives as their toll. What unifies both terrorism and systemic violence is a refusal to recognize that every person is an irreplaceable center of subjective experience and thus a bearer of intrinsic value. 

Over the past two weeks, deeds of horrific violence have erupted across the globe, tearing at the strings of the heart. A suicide bombing in Ankara on March 13 killed forty people, the latest in a series of bombings in Turkish cities. Two suicide bombings took place in Brussels a week ago, at the airport and on a train, killing more than thirty, turning an ordinary business day into a nightmare. On Easter Sunday in Lahore, a major city in Pakistan, a suicide bombing in a park claimed the lives of more than seventy people, most of them women and children enjoying a family outing. Another suicide bombing in a soccer stadium in Iraq, south of Baghdad, killed thirty, mostly youngsters.

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Mourners in Pakistan after bombing at park in Lahore

Such deeds testify to a shocking disregard for human life that has spread like wildfire from country to country. These acts of senseless violence leave us speechless, stricken with grief for the victims, shaken by sorrow, anxious perhaps that in the weeks and months ahead we ourselves might just happen to find ourselves standing at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet the number of lives these deeds of desperate cruelty claim, while shocking, is still miniscule compared to another kind of violence that is all the more pernicious because it does not strike suddenly out of the blue but creeps up slowly, imperceptibly, like a viper hidden in the grass. This is the violence, often lethal violence, inflicted by global systems and institutions that are considered normal, inevitable, and even respectable. Continue reading

Fifth Concert to Feed the Hungry

BGR Staff

Winard HarperOn Saturday, April 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm., Buddhist Global Relief will hold its fifth Concert to Feed the Hungry, at the Middle Collegiate Church,112 Second Avenue, New York, NY. Dedicated to the worldwide struggle against chronic hunger and malnutrition, the concert will feature Grammy-nominated pianist and composer Fred Hersch, percussionist Rogério Boccato, singer/songwriter Becca Stevens, vocalist Jean Rohe, and the Colombian folkloric ensemble La Cumbiamba eNeYé. The concert is produced by saxophonist and BGR board member, Dan Blake.

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Funds raised from the concert will support BGR’s many projects, which combat hunger worldwide, in regions ranging from Cambodia, India, and Bangladesh to Ethiopia and Cameroon to New York City. These projects not only provide direct food aid to people afflicted by poverty and disaster, but help farmers develop ecologically sustainable methods of food production, promote the education of poor girls, and give women the chance to earn more to support their families. Here in New York City, BGR supports a meal program for homeless youth and funds the development of urban gardens in communities with limited access to nutritious foods.

Middle Collegiate Church is a culturally diverse, inclusive and growing community of faith where all persons are welcomed just as they are as they come through the door. As a respected venue for the arts, the Church features an Arts in Activism and Education ministry team, comprised of lay leaders and professionals dedicated to expressing Middle’s inclusive spiritual vision through daring artistic programming.

Seating is limited
Tickets are $25/$15 (with student ID)
To purchase securely or for more information, visit:
www.concerttofeedthehungry.org

FREE Livestream

Now you can watch this concert for free from almost anywhere in the world! All you’ll need is a computer or smart device and internet access. Invite your friends to view with you!

Please join us for this evening of music dedicated to the struggle against chronic hunger and malnutrition. All proceeds support Buddhist Global Relief’s projects for hunger relief, agriculture, education, and livelihood in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the U.S.

Please also make a donation, so that you can help the hungry too!