Category Archives: Social justice

Rockin’ and Rollin’ in the Climate Movement

Ven. Santussika Bhikkhuni

Last week the People’s Climate Train rolled across the country carrying 170 people to the People’s Climate March and about 200 Buddhist practitioners gathered to “Prepare the Heart to March” at New York Insight Meditation Center the day before the largest environmental action in human history. Both these events offer a glimpse into the diversity, determination and rapid growth of the climate movement.

Passengers on the People's Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate

Passengers on the People’s Climate Train rolled through spectacular landscapes from coast to coast and participated in 50 workshops on climate

At 9:17 pm on September 18th, after a four-day trip across the continent, the People’s Climate Train rolled into New York’s Penn Station to the cheers of well-wishers and climate activists who turned up in numbers to welcome their fellow marchers to the Big City. The train brought climate activists and concerned citizens into New York for the People’s Climate March, to take place on September 21st.

The People’s Climate Train came into being because a few of us in the San Francisco Bay Area wished to bring as many people as possible from the West Coast to the march without racking up the carbon footprint of numerous flights to get there. We also quickly realized that by traveling together by train across the country, we could use our time to prepare ourselves, learn from each other, and develop fruitful relationships. The project exceeded our wildest dreams as people with amazing skills and experience signed up for the train and then created and participated in four days of workshops held from early morning to late at night.

Leonard Higgins 1

Workshops on the People's Climate Train

Workshops on the People’s Climate Train

Workshop themes ranged from political strategies like “Putting a Tax on Carbon,” “Divestment,” and “Money in Politics,” to reports on direct action in “Utah Tar Sands and Beyond” and “Indigenous Struggles against Keystone XL,” to skills training such as “Non-violent Direct Action 101″ and “Buddhist Meditation.” Inspiration and leadership were featured in workshops like “The Work that Reconnects” and the “Faith Leadership Panel,” while creative expression was explored in “Community Circle: Music and Poetry” and “Artful Activism and Art Station.”

The Faith Leadership Panel included voices from more than ten different faith groups. The indigenous elders on board spoke to us with a profound depth and great heart about our true place in the natural world and the imperative to connect to Spirit.

Young activists inspired everyone with the power and clarity of their messages. The diversity of cultures and ages among us —which ranged from the 20’s to the 80’s—revealed the growth in diversity of the climate movement.

All along the way, people met the Climate Train at station stops, with full-scale rallies in a few cities. There were even people waiting  in fields and meadows to wave and cheer us on as we passed.

3rd graders meet the climate train in Glenwood Springs

The Citizen Climate Lobby and a class of 3rd graders met the train in Glenwood Springs, CO

Denver Rally

An enthusiastic rally in Denver

We all meet on this one issue: our care about the future of humanity and all beings on Earth. We are reaching across boundaries and stretching beyond our personal limitations to heed the urgent call to action.

Besides helping with the People’s Climate Train, I joined the national table for People of Faith at the People’s Climate March, the purpose of which was to mobilize people of every faith in the country. Preparations included months of weekly conference calls led by Rev. Fletcher Harper, Executive Director of Green Faith. I was awed by the diversity and commitment of the faith leaders participating in this group. At first, it seemed as if we Buddhists were slow to respond, but in the end we showed up and rocked.

About 200 people gathered at New York Insight Meditation Center on the Saturday morning before the march. We heard inspiring words from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi on transforming our fear into saṃvega— the sense of urgency— and our desire into fearless compassion. David Loy encouraged a shift in our relationship to the body, self, and the Earth. Ayya Santacitta brought attention to the reality and immediacy of climate chaos, stressing that there is nowhere to hide. Rev. T.K. Nakagaki compared our pollution of the planet by nuclear waste to a house without a toilet, where waste accumulates here, there, and everywhere. Wes Nisker brought humor and lightness with his take on the mystery of our cosmological reality. Thanissara read from her profound poem, The Heart of the Bitter Almond Hedge Sutra.  And I reported on the Climate Train and encouraged investigation into the Pledge to Mobilize.

As a final touch, musicians from the People’s Climate Train joined us and rocked New York Insight with original songs from the train and our own rendition of “Sing for the Climate,” which is quickly becoming the anthem of the climate movement worldwide. In the space of three hours, we laughed, we cried and we got ready to march.

The next morning, on Sunday, September 21st, we saw just how concerned and committed people in the US and around the world are about taking quick and decisive action on climate change. Along with nearly 400,000 people marching in New York City, more than 2,600 other events took place in 162 countries. It is good to remember that for every person who participated, there were ten or more who would have liked to have been there but couldn’t. It is also good to recognize how diverse this movement has become, and how strong, diverse and unified the representation is from people of faith.

This is not the end. It is really just the beginning. We need to keep the pressure on to get the binding agreements for sharp reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions that are necessary. We need to do all we can to ensure that our government leaders follow through. We take this action on behalf of everyone that Buddhist Global Relief supports, many of whom are on the front lines of climate chaos, for all children and for all living beings. And, we need everyone’s help to do it.

 

 

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 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

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!

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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The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

U.S. is most wealth unequal Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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