Author Archives: Bhikkhu Bodhi

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 6 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the last of a six-part series giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the board’s annual projects meeting on May 4th. The first five parts of this series described the nineteen international projects approved by the board. This final post describes the four U.S. projects that were approved. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, along with Jessie Benjamin, David Liu, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who all helped prepare the material used in this series.

 20. Detroit: Building Oases in a Food Desert      NEW

Detroit is known as a “food desert” where residents have to travel twice as far to the nearest grocery store than the closest fast food or convenience store. Keep Growing Detroit aims to promote food sovereignty in the venerable “motor city,” so that more fresh fruits and vegetables will be available to Detroiters, grown by residents themselves within city limits. The organization also aspires to foster healthy relationships between people and the food they eat, to increase knowledge of food and farming, to cultivate community connections, and to nurture leadership skills among Detroiters.

BGR will be entering upon a first-time partnership with Keep Growing Detroit, supporting a project that seeks to expand options for local food production by making available resources and education opportunities. The two objectives of the project are: (1) to support 1500 family, community, school and market gardens by distributing garden resources, and (2) to host 25 classes reaching 500 residents and provide information about basic gardening, farm and business planning, hoophouse construction, cooking and food preservation. BGR funding will go toward the purchase of seeds, plants, a greenhouse, and cooking and teaching supplies.

21. New York City: Reaching Youth Starved for Meaning

The Reciprocity Foundation was established in 2006 to address the plight of homeless youth in New York City. In 2012, when they found that the homeless students were arriving hungry and unable to focus, the RF team started a vegetarian meal program  called “Starved for Meaning.” Meals, prepared collectively and served “family-style,” with a moment of gratitude before the meal, fulfilled the students’ hunger for community, dialogue, and meaning. Last year, with the help of BGR funds, the number of meals doubled and there was an increase in the number of youth coming to the center for food. In a questionnaire about the program, 100 percent of the youth said that their life improved as a result of the meals, they felt a greater sense of belonging, and they felt more optimistic about their life. Over the next year, BGR funding will help the Reciprocity Foundation to increase the capacity of the vegetarian meal program for homeless youth in NYC and expand the food program to reach young people living on the streets. Annually renewable project.

22. New York City: Community Garden Plots in the Bronx

URI_Greenhouse 1

The Urban Community Food Project (UCFP) was started in 2011 as an initiative of the Urban Rebuilding Initiative. Its mission is to build a sustainable food system throughout New York in order to fight poverty and resultant food insecurity. UCFP’s farms are located in the 16th Congressional District of the US, an area that has the lowest median income and the highest rates of unemployment and incarceration in the nation. UCFP works with at-risk youth, young adults, and formerly incarcerated men in local neighborhoods to convert urban spaces into food production sites. The food grown on these sites is donated to neighborhood food pantries and homeless shelters.

The BGR grant will help the Food Project to fulfill its goals for 2014–15, which include: (1) developing four inner-city farms that will produce 5,000 pounds of produce for local food pantries and soup kitchens; (2) introducing a new fitness program called “good food and fitness go hand in hand”; and (3) offering regular workshops on sustainability, urban farming, green technology, and civic action. Annually renewable project.

 23. Home Gardens for Low-Income Families in Santa Clara 

Valley Verde-Children in Garden

Surveys indicate that one-quarter of Latino and black communities in Santa Clara County, California, live in poverty. Since 2009, the need to serve hungry children has increased 35 percent.  Valley Verde seeks to increase self-sufficiency and healthy eating across Santa Clara County by cultivating organic gardening skills and leadership among low-income immigrants and people of color. By helping to develop organic home vegetable gardens, it aims to create productive, healthy, and sustainable communities.  To date, Valley Verde has enabled 140 families, including more than 400 children, to cultivate home vegetable gardens.

Over the next year, by cultivating organic gardening skills,Valley Verde plans to increase self-sufficiency, reduce food insecurity, and develop income tools for up to ninety low and very low residents in San Jose and Gilroy. The team will also pilot a seed germination project among 7-10 experienced gardeners. BGR funds will go to purchase seedlings, materials for raised beds, starting kits, and irrigation equipment for this program. Annually renewable project.

Concluded

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 5 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

15. Rwanda and Malawi: Training in Organic Agriculture

Ecology Action of the Mid-Peninsula is a U.S.–based organization that disseminates a system of organic agriculture called Grow Biointensive. BGR is providing a second grant to Ecology Action for a two-year project that has been training farmers from Rwanda in the Grow Biointensive method.  The expected outcome is improvement in the health of malnourished children, increase in the diversity and quantity of household food, and better knowledge of health and care-giving. Farmers should also be able to increase their earnings through sale of surplus produce on the market.

In this second year, two master trainers will train a minimum of four Community Resource Persons (CRP) for Rwanda, who will then train individuals and their communities. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 could receive training directly, and an additional 1,500 to 2,000 trained by CRP and community members. The project includes a third year of support for trainers in Malawi, who hope to spread Grow Biointensive to other parts of the country, with a special focus on widows and their families. Year two of a two-year project.

16. Sri Lanka: Empowering Young Women

CENWOR (Centre for Women’s Research), founded in 1984, aims to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women in Sri Lanka. One of its major missions has been providing girls from poor families with education and vocational training. For the fourth time, BGR will be sponsoring a year-long project with CENWOR intended to remedy inadequacies in the public education system that result in a high dropout rates for girls. The project will locate ten girls not attending school at any level, determine the reason, and provide them with the support they need to return to school.

CENWOR will also locate fifty girls who dropped out of their final years of high school and provide them with vocational training that will enable them to find employment. CENWOR will also offer the women complementary courses in English, basic IT, personality development, and gender issues. Annually renewable project.

17. Vietnam: Meals for Hospital Patients

Vietnam_Red Cross_IMG_5965In Vietnam, the price of hospital stay does not include food.  Already challenged by the hospital expenses, most patients and their families are hard pressed to buy food.  With a grant from BGR, the Tam Binh chapter of the Red Cross of Vietnam, in collaboration with the local government, has stepped forward to feed poor patients in need. The BGR grant suffices to provide two meals a day to  patients throughout the year. This is one of BGR’s initial projects, which will now enter its sixth year. Annually renewable project.  

18. Vietnam: Scholarships for Poor Children

For the past five years, BGR has been sponsoring scholarships to students in elementary and middle schools in both the Cam Duong and the Tam Binh areas of Vietnam. The scholarships are given by the Red Cross of Vietnam to 150 students in each of the two school districts. These are children from the poorest families who achieve good grades and display good conduct. Without this aid, these students would not have the means to continue studies at the primary and middle school levels. The scholarship provides each student with an enrollment kit that includes the annual enrollment fee, educational materials, and basic health care during the school year. Annually renewable project.

19. Vietnam: System of Rice Intensification

This project, renewed for the fourth time, is conducted in partnership with the International Cooperation Center of Thai Nguyen University. The program expands training in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) to village farmers in three villages of Vo Nhai district, Thai Nguyen province. SRI results in increased yields with smaller inputs of water and fertilizer. Annually renewable project.

To be continued

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 4 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

12. India: System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

Badlao Foundation aims to empower people for social transformation and help them achieve self-reliance and gender justice. The organization promotes an equitable social structure and helps women and other socially disadvantaged peoples to claim their rights. Last year BGR completed the second year of a three-year partnership with Badlao to improve the economic status of 150 marginalized families in the Deoghar district of Jharkhand state, one of the most impoverished districts in the country.

The grant for the third year will enable Badlao to extend the program to an additional 50 families, for a total of 200 beneficiary families. The project aims to improve the economic status and financial independence of women, 88% of whom are moderately to severely malnourished. The selected farmers will be taught how to improve their livelihoods by making more effective use of their land. A women farmers’ association (Mahila Sabha) will be established to sell produce and manage finances.  Regular meetings for the beneficiary families will cover agricultural training as well as rights and responsibilities, gender issues, and the importance of education and health. Year three of a three-year project made possible by a generous grant from the India Charitable Trust.

13. India: A Girls’ Hostel and Women’s Community Center 

 Bodhicitta Foundation is a socially engaged charity established in 2001 by the Australian Buddhist nun, Ayya Yeshe, to help Dalits (scheduled classes) and slum dwellers in the state of Maharashtra. Last year, a two-year partnership between BGR and Bodhicitta culminated in the establishment of a women’s vocational training and community center in Nagpur, one of the largest cities in the state.

Now Bodhicitta plans to create a girls’ hostel for thirty girls aged 14–20, who will be trained as social and health workers or to qualify in a vocation. The girls will be selected from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, from rural Maharashtra, and from the urban slums of Nagpur—ten from each region. They will be trained for three years, after which they will return to their villages with the skills to empower other young girls, create their own businesses, and pass on their knowledge. In this way, thirty girls will become agents of change and establish institutions that will benefit hundreds of girls and women in the future.Such a project is especially important in India because investing in girls’ education can alleviate poverty and the ignorance that oppresses poor girls and women.

The  BGR grant will also go to support the women’s job training and community center. At the center, the women will receive education, loans, and business training to empower them to start their own businesses and gain income that will directly increase the well-being of their children, families, and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates space for awareness-raising, health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum. Year one of a three-year project.

14. India: Enhanced Food Security for Women Farmers

This is the third year of a three-year partnership with Oxfam India on a project being implemented in 13 villages in the Tehri Gharwal district of the Uttarakhand region. The project is designed to benefit over 6500 people in 1200 households of small and marginal farmers. Its focus is on enhancing food security for women farmers by building a sustainable production system that can prove resilient in the face of a changing climate. The project strengthens integrated farming systems; increases the use of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI); and teaches non-pesticidal sustainable agriculture.

This third year of the program will see the formation of a farmer’s field school; build the capacities of village-level resource persons; offer further training on low-input sustainable agriculture and forest, water, and soil conservation; and create links with the government to spread new information.

To be continued

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 3 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

8. Ethiopia: System of Crop Intensification (SCI)

Sofia 1-2Last year, BGR entered into a partnership with Oxfam America on a project to improve food production in the Meki-Ziway area of the Central Rift Valley in Ethiopia, a region affected by increased costs of farming, excessive use of pesticides and water, and decreasing water levels.

The project aims to meet these challenges by applying the System of Crop Intensification (SCI) to such crops as tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, and potatoes. SCI draws on the methods that have already proved successful in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), extending them to other crops. SCI emphasizes growing bigger, healthier root systems, and enhancing soil fertility. The method should increase vegetable production while reducing water use and reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Producing more while reducing costs will increase income and enhance household nutritional security among the Ethiopian farmers of the Meki-Ziway area. This second year of the two-year project will focus on building the capacity of local partners to continue SCI training. It will also organize workshops to share knowledge with other regions and develop manuals and videos to make the methods more widely available to Ethiopian farmers. Year two of a two-year project.

9. Haiti: System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

20131203_160353Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with nearly 90% of Haitians in the countryside living in poverty and two-thirds in extreme poverty. Haiti was once self-sufficient in rice, a staple in the national diet, but rice production has sagged and it now imports over 80% of its rice. To increase the output and income of rice farmers in Haiti, Oxfam America is promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of cultivation which lowers inputs but results in rice plants that are more resistant to climate extremes, pests, and diseases. Yields can increase by 50%-150% within one or two cropping seasons.

Last year BGR teamed up with Oxfam America on a two-year project to enhance the use of SRI in Haiti. The first-year of the BGR grant enabled the training in SRI to be extended to thirty additional farmers, both women and men, for a total of 300. In the second year, the grant will extend the training to still more farmers. It will also establish financial support for farmers, improve a local processing mill, and train youth to use cultivation and harvesting machinery. Year two of a two-year project.

10. Haiti: Meals for Hungry Kids

girl and boyThe U.S.-based What If? Foundation is dedicated to improving the lot of poor children in Haiti. WIF has worked in close partnership with members of the impoverished Ti Plas Kazo community of Port-au-Prince to sustain the the Lamanjay free meals program, which was started in 2000. The urgency of the program increased sharply following the terrible earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010. Every weekday, in the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood, over a thousand children (and a few adults) line up at the distribution center to receive a plate of hot, nutritious food. The community served by Lamanjay includes mostly children who still live in nearby tents with unemployed parents or guardians who cannot provide the children with sufficient, nutritious food.  Other children walk miles to attend. For most of these children, the food they receive at the food program is their only meal of the day. The grant from BGR will sponsor meals provided by Lamanjay between June 2014 and June 2015. The goal is to ensure that, as they struggle to rebuild their lives, thousands of hungry children and some adults in Port-au-Prince have access to hot, nutritious meals. An annual renewable program.

11. Haiti: Helping Kids Go To School

The What If? Foundation supports 184 young people through the School Scholarships program for the 2013-2014 academic year. Scholarships currently cover the cost of tuition, and occasionally assist with other costs, but generally families have to  pay for such fees as transportation, books, and uniforms.

A grant from BGR will provide scholarships for 38 elementary school students and 30 high school students. Reports indicate that 96% of the high school and elementary students sponsored by the What If? Foundation over the past three years graduated or advanced to the next grade level. This high pass rate is the direct result of the support the students receive from the Education Team in Haiti. An annually renewable program.

To be continued

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 2

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

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

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

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

5. Cambodia: Helping Women Escape the Sex Trade
Driven by desperate poverty, with no other opportunities in sight, many girls in Cambodia find themselves compelled to turn to the sex trade to support themselves and their families. Lotus Outreach’s Non-Formal Education program offers these women and their children a light in the dark. By teaching them basic literacy, health education, life skills, and vocational training, the program helps young women escape exploitation while discovering their own strength, self-worth, and competency. The renewed grant from BGR will provide non-formal education, vocational training, and life skills to approximately 30 sex workers and their children. Daughters of sex workers receive scholarship packages so they can return to school. Many of these women and children will learn to read and write for the first time in their lives. An annually renewable program.

6. China: Orphans Without Walls       NEW
In the rural mountainous areas of China with minority populations, 25–40 percent of students drop out before completing nine years of compulsory education. These children will not be able to enroll in high school and have no chance of entering university. Girls are more at risk of dropping out early, as nomadic and agricultural families prefer girls to stay home to help with household work. Children who grow up without one or both parents are especially at risk of dropping out .

The Hong Kong-based Shambala Foundation (unrelated to the U.S. Shambala centers), founded in 2006, is seeking to redress this problem in the western province of Qinghai with its Children of Shambala Qinghai (CoS Qinghai) programs. In 2010 CoS Qinghai began implementing a long-term poverty-alleviation program called Orphanage Without Walls (OWW). One of the main reasons poor children in backward areas drop out is the high cost of continuing in school. Even compulsory education, which is meant to be free, is costly for poor families owing to incidental fees. If students are able to attend academic high school or vocational school the cost per student becomes prohibitive for poor families.

With a grant from BGR, Shambala Foundation will provide a new set of clothes, shoes, school supplies, and child-friendly books directly to 60 children. These subsidies reduce each family’s burden of paying for their child’s education-related costs. The overall goal is for each child to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. Shambala Foundation works with each child so they can attend school for as long as possible and eventually find their first paid jobs.

7. Côte d’Ivoire: Enhanced Homestead Food Production
Last year, BGR entered into a partnership with Helen Keller International on a three-year expansion of its innovative Enhanced Homestead Food Production program in Côte d’Ivoire’s Bouaké District (Gbèkè Region), an especially poor district where families struggle with food security and lack access to food markets. Teams teach the Enhanced Homestead Food Production model to community gardening groups comprised mostly of women.

The project is designed to increase the availability and quantity of micronutrient-rich vegetables. A key component of the program is growing orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, a food rich in micronutrients, especially vitamin A, essential to preventing blindness. The project improves gardening practices, irrigation systems, and income generation. It also provides instruction in nutrition and hygiene to young mothers. Women farmers learn marketing strategies for selling their crops. Successful small-scale irrigation systems will be applied not only to programs in Côte d’Ivoire but throughout the region, especially to areas vulnerable to climate change. Year two of a three-year program.

(To be continued)

Projects for the Next Fiscal Year—Part 1 (of 6)

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

BGR group photo outside the library at Chuang Yen Monastery

 Over the first weekend of May, BGR team members held their annual general meeting on Saturday, May 3rd, followed the next day by a board meeting which focused on the selection of projects for our next fiscal year, which runs from July 1st, 2014 through June 30th, 2015. Both meetings took place at Chuang Yen Monastery, headquarters of the Buddhist Association of the United States. Team members came from across the US, even from such distant states as California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

 At the board meeting on May 4th, the board approved twenty-three projects for partnership grants in the next fiscal year, at a total cost of $348,250. This marked a 22 percent increase over the $285,000 allocated at the previous year’s project meeting. Several projects are renewals of those that have already proved their worth, while others are new undertakings with partners both new and old. Projects approved include several multiyear programs, which increased support for BGR has now made feasible. Experience has taught us that programs extending over several years allow for the pursuit of bolder goals than is possible with one-year projects.

 This is the first of a six-part series of posts giving brief summaries of the BGR projects approved at the meeting. Projects are arranged alphabetically by country. International projects precede the U.S. projects, which will be described in the final post. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, along with Jessie Benjamin, David Liu, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ, who all helped prepare the material used in this series.

1. Bangladesh: Making Markets Work for Women           

Women gather for a community meeting

Helen Keller International, established in 1915, works in 22 countries to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people through programs in vision, health, and nutrition.

Starting in July, BGR will enter the second year of a three-year partnership with HKI on a program in Bangladesh called “Making Markets Work for Women.” In the first year of the program five villages were selected in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), one of the poorest regions in the country. Meetings were held with traditional leaders to outline needs and goals, beneficiaries were selected from the poorest members of each community, and seeds were distributed. This second year will emphasize intensive skills-building and technical training of the beneficiaries. This involves training in food production techniques, pest control, and use of organic fertilizers; in nutrition and food storage; and in marketing techniques. The program aims to improve food security for 75 extremely poor indigenous households representing 375 people in five villages. Courtyard sessions focus on gender and nutrition issues relevant to both men and women, including optimal feeding practices for children from birth to two years of age. The project will also establish community marketing groups for women so participants can work together to process and sell their products, thus helping to combat discrimination at local markets. Year two of a three-year project.

2. Bangladesh: Educating Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

A class at Moanoghar

Moanoghar was founded in 1974 by a group of Buddhist monks to provide shelter to children of the Chittagong Hill Tracts affected by conflict or living in remote areas. Currently more than 1,250 children live at Moanoghar, some 40% of them girls. Many of the children were left homeless or orphaned on account of a decades-long ethnic conflict. All children at Moanoghar receive free or highly subsidized education.

BGR is currently sponsoring a three-year project to establish a sustainable educational system that can generate income to maintain the institution and support the children being schooled there. The goals during the second year of the project are: (1) to establish sustainable income to support the institution and the students; and (2) to add nutrition for students with crops like papaya and bananas. To meet these goals, BGR sponsorship will allow the creation of a bamboo plantation on five additional acres of land (beyond the three acres that BGR supported this past year); the planting of various fruit crops; and the hiring of an additional gardener to maintain the gardens. Year two of a three-year project.

 

The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A new report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food maintains that the right to food, poverty alleviation, and the reduction of global carbon emissions can all be facilitated by transitioning from the industrial model of agriculture to an agro-ecological system that benefits small-scale producers.

Buying food at the market. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats. But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on sub-standard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat, or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.” Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.
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