Category Archives: Social justice

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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Bussing for a More Just Budget

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

On his PBS program Moyers & Company, Bill Moyers recently featured a segment about the “Nuns on the Bus” tour that took place this summer when a group of Catholic nuns boarded a brightly lettered bus and zigzagged their way across nine states, from Iowa to Washington, D.C. The nuns had set out on a two-week journey of faith and compassion, seeking to draw national attention to the plight of the poor. Their purpose was not so much to inspire people to acts of private charity as to ring the bell for social justice. Their specific target was the federal budget passed this spring by the House of Representatives, crafted by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, a Tea Party hero now the Republican candidate for vice-president.

The ostensible objective of the House budget is to forge “a path to prosperity” by cutting government spending and thereby getting the federal deficit under control. But was this the real aim the budget’s proponents had in their hearts? Budgets are usually written in an arcane jargon that only trained economists can understand, but the nuns had evidently done their homework and had realized what the budget would do. They could see that behind its claim to serious fiscal responsibility, the budget would actually bolster the wealth of the ultra-rich while passing on the bill to just about everyone else.
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Stealing Bread from a Poor Man’s Lunchbox

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A week ago, the House Agricultural Committee drafted a version of a farm bill that’s tantamount to stealing bread from a poor man’s lunchbox. Largely the work of Tea Party conservatives, the bill is framed on the premise that the most urgent task facing this nation is to reduce the budget deficit. To accomplish this, the bill would lower farm expenditures by $35 billion over the next decade, slashing $16 billion off the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as food stamps. In effect this means that the bill gains 46% of its savings—almost half—by depriving the poor of the federal help they need to ensure their lunchboxes aren’t empty.

If the House Committee’s version of the bill prevails, up to three million people would lose their SNAP benefits. Nearly 300,000 children would also be ineligible for the free lunch program, which in many cases provides their only substantial meal of the day. These cuts would have a painful impact on working class families, an impact that hits especially hard when  jobs are scarce, wages are low, and the long drought is driving up food prices. Continue reading

Help on the Way: New Buddhist Global Relief Programs (Part II)

Feeding Children in Vietnam

As a followup to our June 21 post on Buddhist Global Relief’s new programs, we are pleased to announce new support to communities in Sri Lanka and Vietnam:

Tam Binh Red Cross (hospital feeding)

For the fourth consecutive year, BGR continues to support Vietnam’s Tam Binh Red Cross’ program to help the poor feed family members who are hospitalized. Located in the Tam Binh district in the Mekong Delta region, a single hospital exists to serve more than half a million people. The price of a hospital stay does not include food, and poverty-stricken families who must carry the heavy weight of medical and hospital costs are further burdened by the need to buy food for their ill family members. BGR’s funding will allow the Red Cross to purchase in-season vegetables, tofu and charcoal for cooking for these patients. These funds are leveraged with the volunteer labor of more than 80 volunteers, who prepare the meals and serve lunch and dinner to the most vulnerable ill and poor people.

Tam Binh Red Cross (Scholarships)

BGR continues to support the scholarship program of the Tam Binh Red Cross with a third year of funding. Entrenched rural poverty in Vietnam has forced many families to make the difficult decision to keep their children at home to work in the fields rather than send them to schools where they cannot afford the basic fees. BGR funds will provide the annual enrollment fee, educational materials and basic health care for 150 students, enabling them to overcome the barriers of poverty and to continue their studies. 100% of BGR’s funds will be used for these scholarships, without any deduction for administrative costs. To qualify for these scholarships, each student must meet criteria for low income, high teacher recommendations, and good conduct. By providing educational opportunities to these promising students, BGR hopes to break the cycle of poverty in their families.

Sarvodaya (Kelwatte water supply)

This year, BGR is supporting its long-time partner, Sarvodaya (“Welfare of All”) USA with a life-saving project to provide reliable clean water supplies in the Kelwatte district of Sri Lanka. Currently, these residents obtain untreated water from an open and polluted stream. An assessment of the needs of these villagers showed a high rate of childhood disease from drinking unsafe water. Dry seasons threaten water shortages every year, putting crops, livelihoods and health at risk. BGR funds will help provide safe and clean water to hundreds of residents with a new gravity water supply system. The local community participates in the construction by providing direct labor through shramadana: “sharing work, knowledge, talents and time.” This project will empower the community, raise individual and self-esteem and be a model project for neighboring communities. Thus, the project will provide a foundation for personal and social awakening and offer the gifts of water and health.

In making these grants, BGR addresses the twin problem of pollution and poverty,  helps ill and vulnerable members of poor families, and acknowledges the critical role of education in escaping intergenerational poverty and hunger.