Category Archives: Social justice

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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More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

Obama Africa TripIn a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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The Values That Guide Us

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, also known as “food stamps,” comes up for renewal every five years as part of the federal farm bill. Normally, its passage is a routine matter that engenders little debate. This year, however, things worked out differently. Different versions of the bill were recently brought up for a vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, both versions tagged with signs of the Right’s fierce austerity campaign. The bill approved by the Senate would cut food stamps by $4 billion over the next ten years. The bill considered by the House proposed slashing funding for SNAP by $20.5 billion over a ten-year period. The House bill was defeated this past Thursday (June 19th), but the reason it went down was because a cluster of Republicans, convinced the cuts did not go far enough, voted against it. The ultimate fate of the farm bill is not yet knowable, but one thing is clear: families that depend on SNAP would suffer greatly from such severe cuts.
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GMOs: Food, Money & Control: Part III

Charles W. Elliott

RoundUp Ready Soybeans(In Parts I and II of “GMOs: Food, Money & Control,” we explored the failure of the leading U.S. state proposal to require labeling of GMO foods (California Proposition 37), the control of crop seeds through GMO patents and licensing, the loss of seed and crop diversity, and the increasing domination of the seed industry by biotechnology firms.  In this post, we examine GMO contamination of other food crops and the impacts of GMO technologies on pesticide use.)

“When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe. —John Muir

Despite pervasive human intervention, the dynamism of the natural world overcomes virtually all artificial boundaries and limits.  We directly experience nature’s refusal to stay within the lines we draw. Plants penetrate concrete sidewalks; moving water inexorably surmounts or breaks through barriers; nature retakes land abandoned by humans.
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Ending Poverty in America

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Americans routinely hail their country as the greatest nation on earth, a land of boundless opportunity providing everyone the chance to fulfill their dreams of freedom, prosperity, and success. Reality, however, does not quite live up to this rhetoric. Over the past three decades, U.S. poverty rates have actually increased and by 2010 over 46 million people in this country, approximately 1 person in 7, could be considered poor. In flat contradiction to its self-image, the U.S. now ranks lowest among industrialized nations on many critical indicators of economic and social well-being.

According to a briefing from the Institute of Policy Studies, among all economically advanced countries, the U.S. has the highest rates of relative poverty and child poverty. It also has one of the largest margins of income inequality and the smallest number of social services provided to its citizens. Contrary to the creed of neoliberal economic theory, those countries in which the government devotes more funds to social services are consistently more successful in reducing poverty and inequality than those that adopt a “Wild West” version of corporate capitalism.

Politicians have treated poverty as if it were a taboo topic not to be spoken about in polite company. While long hours in Congress are devoted to debating how to avoid a fiscal cliff, barely a glance is given to those who have fallen off the poverty cliff and face a daily struggle just to survive. Talk about reducing the economic burden on the middle class and protecting small businesses is considered respectable, but acknowledging the existence of an underclass can raise shrieks about “class warfare,” as if it were the poor that are attacking the rich.
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