Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Feeding Youth Starved for Meaning: The Reciprocity Foundation Is Fulfilling Its Goals

Last year, BGR began a partnership with NYC’s Reciprocity Foundation, which trains and counsels homeless youth. The partnership aims to enable Reciprocity to expand its vegetarian meals program. Their half-year interim report indicates this partnership is bearing fruit.

Reciprocity staff and students
Co-director Adam Bucko is lying down at center

For the past eight years, the Reciprocity Foundation has worked tirelessly in New York City to provide care for homeless youth in the age range of 13-26 years. The Foundation aims to nurture the transformation of homeless, impoverished youngsters—most living in homeless shelters—into educated, employed young persons able to take on leadership roles in society. Reciprocity offers a unique holistic synthesis of contemplative, psychological, and practical modes of training. It provides counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats, career coaching, college admission support, and digital media training.

In 2012, the staff at Reciprocity found that their homeless students were arriving at the center very hungry because of a shortage of food at the shelters. Budget cuts had meant there was too little food for too many mouths. In the spring of 2012, they decided to design their own vegetarian food program, which they called “Starved for Meaning.” They began serving home-cooked, vegetarian meals to homeless and foster-care youth in New York City— group meals that provided the homeless young people with companionship as well as food. By the fall of 2012 Reciprocity had the largest vegetarian food program in the country for homeless people.

For 2013-14 Reciprocity wanted to expand and improve the food program, and so they applied to BGR for support. The goals expressed in their application were threefold: (1) to reconfigure their kitchen by upgrading its cooking facilities and serving space; (2) to double capacity, increasing the number of students served per week from 30 to 75, and the number of meals from 2 to 4 weekly; (3) to provide nutrition education by hiring a nutritionist to educate students about the vegetarian meal program and teaching them how to make healthy food choices.
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BGR ED Kim Behan Honored by Oxfam America

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Kim-Close UpThis year Oxfam America is celebrating International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8th, by asking their staff and supporters to share stories of “women who are making a difference in the fight against hunger, poverty, and injustice.” One of their staff members chose as her inspirational model BGR Executive Director, Kim Behan! The writer is Oxfam America’s Manager of Strategic Alliances Elizabeth Carty, whom Kim and I first met in Washington DC in 2010 and who helped us establish an ongoing partnership with Oxfam America.

 In the covering email, the Oxfam America team wrote to Kim: “Thank you so much for all the work you’ve been doing to make a difference in your community and in the world. You’re an inspiration to us.” And, I would add, she is an inspiration to all of us at BGR—truly one of the world’s outstanding Buddhist women.

Here is the text of Elizabeth’s submission, the original of which can be found here:

Kim Behan – Westminster, CO

Submitted by Elizabeth Carty - Newton, MA

I am honoring Kim Behan, Executive Director of Buddhist Global Relief, because of her dedication to helping end hunger, poverty, and injustice. I first met Kim at a White House briefing for Faith Leaders in 2010. Her friendly and warm personality immediately drew me in, and we became fast friends. We were thrilled when Kim agreed to become an Oxfam Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. Not only has she and Buddhist Global Relief partnered over the years with Oxfam on World Food Day and International Woman’s Day, but they have also donated over $131,800 to Oxfam partners and projects over the past 3 years.

Like all staff at Buddhist Global Relief, Kim takes no salary but donates her time and expertise to the organization. She is truly dedicated to ending hunger, poverty, and injustice, and understands well how this vision will only be achieved by investing in women.

Kim, I am proud to honor you this International Woman’s Day!

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)

Plean Sreytoek: A GATE 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-plean sretoekPlean Sreytoek is the third of four children born to laborer parents in Bantat Boh village, Banteay Meanchey Province, Cambodia. Sreytoek’s parents care for the cattle of a rich family in their village. Sreytoek is the only child in her family who could reach the 12th grade; her other siblings were unable to even reach secondary school.

The extreme poverty of Sreytoek’s family discouraged her at a young age from academic pursuits. As a child she dreamed of completing high school, but she never believed it would be possible. Her family owns no land. They can grow no crops for sale. At one point in her early adolescence she thought she would drop out in order to migrate to Thailand and support her family from there.

When Sreytoek was in the 8th grade, she applied for and won a full GATE secondary school scholarship.  Sreytoek lived in a GATE residential house and earned excellent grades. Even when her mother fell ill and Sreytoek had to work weekends in the rice paddies to help pay her family’s debts, she maintained her position as one of the top ten students in her class.

Lotus Outreach’s GATE project supplied Sreytoek and her family with rice support to help lessen the burden of her mother’s medical bills. This tremendous assistance granted Sreytoek’s family the disposable income to pay their debts sustainably. Her family said they will never forget this great support for their daughter and their whole family.

Sreytoek is now graduating high school and dreams of becoming a high school teacher. She aspires to provide an education to her community and earn money to support her family. Thanks to the generosity of GATE supporters, Sreytoek and her family have been able to escape the pitfalls of poverty.

(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)

The Earth as Witness: Standing Together Against Out-of-Control Climate Change

 Cross-posted from One Earth Sangha

An International Dharma Teachers’ Statement on Climate Change — Endorsement Sought from Dharma Teachers and Buddhist Practitioners Worldwide

Over the past several months, a coalition of Buddhist teachers spread out across four continents have worked together to draft a collective Buddhist statement on climate change. The document–titled “The Earth As Witness”–is now online, where it is available for Buddhist teachers and practitioners to sign in recognition of the need for the global community to take urgent action to address accelerating climate change. Already a large number of Dharma teachers and Buddhist practitioners have endorsed the statement and the number is growing rapidly each day. Endorsement of the statement is sought from other Dharma teachers as well as Buddhist practitioners worldwide, in the hope that by signing the statement Buddhists will make solutions to climate disruption a central focus of their personal and collective activities. Signers may also use the statement to describe a Buddhist perspective on the causes of and solutions to climate change in interfaith dialogues, policy debates, and other public forums.

 Today humanity faces an unprecedented crisis of almost unimaginable magnitude. Escalating climate change is altering the global environment so drastically as to force the Earth into a new geological age. Unprecedented levels of suffering for all life on Earth, including human, will result. Significant reductions in greenhouse gases and other actions will be needed to reduce climate change to manageable levels. But more fundamental changes are also needed, and this is where we can draw guidance from the rich resources of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma. This statement briefly describes core Buddhist insights into the root causes of the climate crisis and suggests ways to minimize its potentially tragic consequences.

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The Price of Dignity

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Photo: Bruce Ayres/Getty Images

When it comes to eliminating poverty, private charity cannot replace public policy, and public policy must be guided by a moral perspective. We have the resources to overcome poverty. The big question, as always, is whether we have the will to do so.

Fifty years ago this month, in his first State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America.” Johnson saw this as a national priority and he urged Congress and the American people to join him in the endeavor “to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.” It was, he said, a war we “can afford to win,” one that we could “not afford to lose.”  

Johnson understood that to improve the condition of the destitute, we had to attack the root causes of poverty, and not merely its symptoms. In the years that followed, his administration launched a volley of programs, many of which are still with us today, to offer the poor better education, better healthcare, better jobs, and better homes. They included Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, better funding for K-12 education, loans to low-income college students, housing assistance for low-income families, and legal aid for the poor. Under Johnson, the food stamp pilot project became a permanent program that would eventually eliminate severe malnutrition, which, in the early 1960s, made parts of the U.S. seem as if they were in a Third World country.
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Improving Vegetable Cultivation in Ethiopia

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

In the spring of 2013, BGR entered into a partnership with Oxfam America to pilot a system of crop intensification (SCI) in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The aim  is to increase income from vegetables and enhance the household nutritional security of the participating families. 

Ethiopia-OxfamAmericaLast spring BGR entered into a partnership with Oxfam America to pilot a system of crop intensification (SCI) in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia.  SCI applies to other crops the principles and methods already being employed in other countries by the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Like SRI, SCI raises the productivity of land, labor, water and nutrients. It results in growing bigger, healthier root systems, and enhances soil fertility by promotion of soil biota (the life in the soil). The method is described as an “economically feasible, environmentally friendly, and climate smart irrigated vegetable production system.”
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Intensified Rice Cultivation in Haiti

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A 2-year grant from Buddhist Global Relief is enabling Oxfam to expand its program in Haiti providing  training in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of rice cultivation developed specially to benefit poor farmers. 

Haiti is one of the poorest and most food insecure countries on earth. It is exposed to natural disasters—especially hurricanes and flooding—and suffers from a legacy of neglect, exploitation, and marginalization. The country’s plight was made even more severe by a powerful earthquake that struck the capital, Port-au-Prince, in January 2010. The quake  demolished homes, ripped apart families, and left much of the population in utter destitution. Rural Haiti, home to the majority of the country’s population, is even more impoverished. Nearly 90% of rural Haitians  subsist on $2 a day, and two-thirds on $1 a day.
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NYC 2013 Walk to Feed the Hungry–The Gift of Life, the Gift of Love

by Deena Scherer

BGR Walk-13

The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, the joy was palpable, excitement rippled through the air, and the cause was noble. On November 2, nearly 200 people gathered in New York City’s Riverside Park to join BGR’s fourth “Walk to Feed the Hungry.” All were in complete accord with BGR’s motto that “no one needs to go hungry.”

What a day! The walkers acted and walked with conscientious compassion to ensure that hungry people all over the world are fed and that girls in particular would be given an opportunity to gain an education instead of being exploited to earn money to feed their families.
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