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Girls in India as Agents of Change

by BGR Staff

BGR is presently sponsoring a project by the Bodhicitta Foundation in Nagpur, India, that has created a girls hostel to prepare girls for a better future. The hostel is accommodating thirty girls from extremely poor families, training them as social workers who will eventually return to their villages and become agents of change. At the end of January we received a half-year report from the Foundation. Below are highlights.

Adolescent girls in India make up a large percent of an invisible and vulnerable population. Prevailing cultural customs in India’s patriarchal society leave them powerless to decide their own future and disregard their potential as autonomous agents. Families traditionally favor male children, who are better fed and given preferential educational opportunities. Girl children are subject to gender-based discrimination. They are often denied an education but are instead forced into early marriage and child-bearing even before they outgrow their teen years. Investing in education for girls can be one of the most potent weapons in the fight for greater social justice. Educating girls can help alleviate poverty and the ignorance that leads to oppression of poor girls and women.

The focus of this Bodhicitta project is to enhance the education of adolescent girls. The project provides 30 girls with scholarships and hostel accommodations for three years. It trains them as health care and social workers or in other related fields of interest. These girls will become agents of change who will eventually return to their own villages, ready to empower other disadvantaged people and enable them to become self-sufficient.

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The girl’s hostel has 30 girls in residence, coming from Bihar, Maharashtra, and Nagpur. The girls, aged 10–22, are studying in nearby schools or doing university degrees by correspondence. When the girls first arrived at the hostel, many were so shy they could not speak in a group. Some were undernourished. Others suffered from worms, iron deficiency, head lice, and other conditions. Slowly the girls learned the routine at the hostel and developed their ability to study and focus. Now they can’t wait for the classrooms to open so they can practice their computer skills, play group development games, and share their opinions. On Saturday night the girls watch movies about inspiring people such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Gandhi. But what they enjoy most are Bollywood movies with fantastical plots, wonderful costumes, and lots of dancing!

Their growing confidence, laughter, and joy in learning is a privilege made possible by the kind volunteers and donors of Buddhist Global Relief.

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One hostel resident named Anjali, age 19, writes:

At home I spend all day serving my father, who drinks and is bedridden. Sometimes I felt like committing suicide because all my dreams for a better future were impossible. But since I found the hostel, I feel so happy. I have never been able to focus on my studies like this. I also really enjoy the extra programs like computers, counseling, classical dance and yoga. I feel myself growing in confidence. I never thought a woman’s life could be like this. Now I feel that I can be stronger in the future and secure employment and a better life. I hope I can get a good job and help my family and our community. But most of all I look forward to being independent.

Another resident, Nikki, age 14, reviews her experience:

My mother is a sex worker. Last year she was sent to jail. My father is an alcoholic and drug user. My brother and I were often alone in the house. We had no food and had to beg neighbors to give us something to eat. My father sold our food to get drugs. Some friends of my father came to the house and tried to molest my brother when I was away. I was afraid I would have to become a sex worker like my mum. I had given up all hope of having a normal happy life. How can you think about study when your brother is in danger and your father threatens to sell you?! Ever since I can remember I have had to fight for life, fight for food, fight to be safe, fight to be heard. Bodhicitta Foundation is like paradise for me. I am happy my brother is in boarding school, although he is still very naughty. I know this is my one chance to make sure I don’t end up married to a laborer or working like my mum. If you don’t have education people will cheat you, you will be a slave your whole life. I feel so safe and free here. I hope to become a social worker and activist. I want women to get good jobs and have better lives. Thank you for helping me!

As part of the project Bodhicitta has funded a small community center. This center provides vocational training, training in life skills and capacity building, counseling on domestic violence and sexual abuse, family and relationship counseling, meditation and yoga, and internet facilities. The center continues to offer tuition to slum children, meals to undernourished children, and vocational training to women.

Women receive loans and education to enhance their business acumen and empower them to start their own businesses. The income gained will directly increase the well-being of their children, families and communities, lifting them out of poverty. The community center creates offers health workshops, counseling, career guidance, and quality education that is currently lacking in the difficult environment of a large industrial slum.

Kunta Bhai, age 43, a sewing course participant, writes:

My husband and mother-in-law threw me out on the street. I had nowhere to go and no education. Through the sewing course I can get piecework for shops and make more money than collecting recyclables from garbage. Meeting other women and hearing their problems gives me hope and comfort. After so much pain, meeting with the women in my micro-finance group once a month is like having a family. We cook for each other and help watch each other’s kids. I feel happy and more optimistic about my future now. I hope my daughter will finish college and have opportunities I haven’t had.

  Jessie Benjamin contributed to the writing of this article.

 

 

 

Thank You from Haiti

A Thank You Message from Lavarice Gaudin
Program Manager, Na Rive

Since 2010, Buddhist Global Relief has been a partner of the US-based What If? Foundation, which over the past fifteen years has been providing free meals for hungry children in the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood of the capital, Port-au-Prince. During the first three years of our partnership, the focus of our projects was on the free meals program, which had become especially critical after the earthquake that struck the capital on January 12, 2010.

Over the past two years our partnership has expanded to include an education component, as WIF initiated a scholarship program to enable children to attend school. In Haiti school tuition is extremely expensive in relation to the country’s overall economy, and thus the assistance that BGR provides has been a great asset to children who would otherwise be unable to attend school. 

Below is a letter of thanks from Lavarice Gaudin, Program Manager of Na Rive, What If? Foundation’s on-the-ground partner in Haiti. His letter is introduced by WIF founder Margaret Trost and executive director Suzanne Alberga.

From Margaret Trost and Suzanne Alberga

Margaret Trost in Haiti

Dear Friend of What If? Foundation,

On this day, which marks the 5th anniversary of the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince, we hold the people of Haiti especially close to our hearts.  Below is a letter written to What If donors by Lavarice Gaudin, the program director for Na Rive, our Haitian partner. In it he shares reflections on the earthquake, our partnership, and the life-giving work that has been possible thanks to your support.

We are deeply grateful for our partnership with Na Rive, which offers a trustworthy and effective way to provide hope and opportunity to children in Port-au-Prince.  And we are grateful for your encouragement, your prayers, and your ongoing donations that are so crucial for this work to continue.

From Lavarice Gaudin, Na Rive Program Manager

Lavarice Gaudin with school children

Bonjou! Hello! friends of the What If? Foundation,

I write to you from Haiti and thank you for your support and love. Five years have passed since the earthquake that shook our country and broke our hearts. We remember it like it was yesterday.

On January 12th, the members of Na Rive will hold a prayer vigil to remember and honor the 300,000 people who lost their lives on that day. And we will remember in our prayers all of you who helped us.

The Haitian people remain strong and resourceful. We have deep faith and continue to hold onto hope for the future.

If you came to Port-au-Prince, you would see the rubble has been cleared and some new government buildings and hotels have been built, and also some new roads. But most people who lost their homes are still without a safe place to live. More and more people are hungry every day because they cannot afford to buy rice. The cost of living keeps going up. School tuition keeps going up. There is growing frustration throughout the country because people thought things would improve by now.

But you have made such a difference in the Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood. You have been with us and alongside us — before, during and after the earthquake.

Children enjoy a free lunch

When What If? Foundation partnered with us almost fifteen years ago, we were able to start serving hot, nutritious meals to the children; and then you made it possible for hundreds of parents to send their children to school. Because of the great food and education programs you support year after year, the children and their parents have been able to make it through all these difficult times.

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Students in Haiti

We see this every day in their eyes, and in their strength, courage and determination to have a better future. We do this work with all of our hearts. We believe love is the most powerful force.

Cooking team at Na Rive

There are so many who need help and we cannot help them all, but whoever is cooking the food, they do it with love. Whoever is working with the students, they do it with love.

And so, as we enter the New Year, we will continue, with your help, to feed the children, and teach them and guide them. We want to help them become leaders in this community.

We hope you will support the What If? Foundation again this year and continue to pray for us.

The children of Ti Plas Kazo join me and the rest of the Na Rive staff and volunteers in thanking you for standing with us all these years.

Piti piti na rive,
Little by little, we will arrive,

Lavarice Gaudin,
Na Rive Program Manager

Helping Orphans in Western China Attend School

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Shambala BGR 6Last May, at its annual projects meeting, the Board of Buddhist Global Relief approved a grant of $7,000 to a new partner, the Shambala Foundation, a Hong Kong-based organization working in rural China (unrelated to the American Buddhist network of Shambhala meditation centers). The purpose of the grant was to cover the costs of books, clothes, shoes, and school supplies for orphans and poor children between the ages of 10 and 16 from Qinghai Province in western China.

These children are already participating in the Shambala Foundation’s flagship program, Orphanage Without Walls (OWW), a long-term partnership with 650 rural children and their families. 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.

One of the main reasons poor children in rural China drop out of school is the high cost of education relative to income. Though compulsory education is meant to be free, poor families frequently have to borrow money to pay for food, uniforms, and other miscellaneous fees. Girls are more at risk of dropping out early, since nomadic and agricultural families prefer girls stay home to help with household work. Children who grow up without one or both parents are particularly at risk of dropping out because they have lost one or both income earners in their households.

Of the children benefiting from the BGR grant to Orphans Without Walls, 66 percent are girls and 94 percent are ethnic minorities. Most have lost one or both parents, or have been abandoned, and all are living at or below the UN poverty line. To date, halfway through the implementation of the project, Shambala has bought and packaged all books, clothes, shoes and school supplies for a hundred children. Sixty of them are covered by the BGR grant.

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A package of new clothing for each child.

 

Shambala has contacted and selected all children for the project and their staff are still visiting each family to distribute the packages. At the same time they are running a financial literacy project for each family. They are also offering training to guardians on how to support their child in individual study at home. This increases the impact of the offerings of books, clothes, shoes and school supplies. They expect to complete the project by March 2015, and express their thanks to Buddhist Global Relief for providing these important supplies.

The following photographs, provided to BGR by the Shambala Foundation, capture the impact of the project. The lucky children proudly show off their new clothes, which will enable them to attend school.

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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.

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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

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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.

 

 

Giving Everyone a Place at the Table

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This past Friday, Bill Moyers hosted a conversation of the type we need to hear more often on the problem of hunger in America. The program featured a long interview with Kristi Jacobson and Mariana Chilton that revolved around their new documentary, A Place at the Table, which Jacobson directed and produced and in which Chilton plays a prominent role. Though I have not yet seen the film myself, Moyers calls it “one of the best documentaries that I’ve seen in years.” Continue reading

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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A New Slate of Projects–Part 4

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the fourth and final part of the four-part series on BGR projects approved for fiscal year 2013–14. We here provide overviews of our three U.S. projects, all new partnerships. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ for preparing the material.

19. New York City: Feeding a Hunger for Meaning  NEW

Reciprocity-Homeless Not Hopeless

Homeless But Not Hopeless

The Reciprocity Foundation was established in 2006 to address the plight of homeless youth in New York City. In 2011, RF opened the first Holistic Center for Homeless Youth in the U.S., offering homeless youth personal counseling, vocational training, and college preparatory coaching along with meditation, yoga, and retreats. When they found that the homeless students were arriving hungry and unable to focus, RF started a vegetarian meal program in 2012 called “Starved for Meaning.” Meals at the program are prepared collectively and served “family-style,” with a moment of gratitude before the meal.The meal fulfilled the students’ hunger for other things besides food: for community, dialogue, gratitude, and meaning. Our first project with the Reciprocity Foundation provides funding to increase the capacity of the vegetarian meal program from 30 to 75 students weekly. As part of the program, the number of weekly communal meals will be doubled from 2 to 4, the kitchen will be upgraded, and a nutritionist will be hired to ensure balanced and nutritious vegetarian meals.

20. New York City: The Urban Community Food Project  NEW

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Growing Food in the Heart of the City

 The Urban Rebuilding Initiative is a community-based organization established  in New York City to give  low-income New Yorkers a chance to rebuild their neighborhoods and their lives. In August 2011 URI started the Urban Community Food Project, with the mission of building a sustainable food system throughout the City in order to address poverty, food insecurity, and high incarceration rates in low-income communities. The Food Project will train at-risk youth, young adults, and formerly incarcerated men to convert urban spaces in local neighborhoods into food production sites. Trainees will be taught how to build and maintain food systems that will supply fresh produce to community safety-net programs. The Food Project’s goal for 2013 is for each of three farms to produce 2000 pounds of produce per year for local food pantries and soup kitchens. The use of aqua-ponics and solar energy will permit the growth of winter crops. BGR funds will partially support the procurement of equipment and supplies to construct the first garden at Tried Stone Baptist Church. 

21. Santa Clara County: Building Organic Home Gardens          NEW

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Esperanza: “I feel good about growing my own food.”

Due to the devastating recession, for many immigrant and Latino residents in Santa Clara County, California, food insecurity is a hard fact of daily life. In Gilroy, where 63% of the population is low income, there is only one healthy food resource for 4,000 people. Valley Verde was launched in 2009 (and registered as a nonprofit in 2011) to  increase self-sufficiency and healthy eating among Santa Clara’s low-income immigrants and people of color. VV teaches organic gardening skills. By the end of Year 2 in its pilot program (2010) , 83% of families enrolled had healthy gardens and 91% reported increased vegetable consumption. The new project being sponsored by BGR will recruit and support 60 low income residents of Gilroy to cultivate and maintain organic home gardens. VV will use BGR funds to purchase seedlings for winter and spring planting and to purchase planks of untreated redwood to build raised beds for participant families. Participants will acquire organic gardening and leadership skills and nutritional knowledge through monthly garden club meetings, mentoring, and recruitment and training of future mentors.

Concluded