Building Bridges for Poor Widows in the Punjab
By Tricia Brick
Building Bridges India represents a bridge from the past to the future, from a patriarchal society to an egalitarian one in which women have role options, rights, and responsibilities; a passage from despair to hope
For more than thirty years, communities in the Indian state of Punjab have been stricken by an epidemic barely reported in the mainstream media: the suicides of small-scale farmers. These tragedies are precipitated by a cumulation of factors, including successive seasons of bad weather, the soaring costs of seeds and fertilizer, a falling water table, and usurious rates imposed by moneylenders, that have made it impossible for many to support their families on their ancestral lands. Seeing no way out, thousands have taken their own lives. Their deaths are tragedy enough. But for the widows and children they leave behind, life becomes a desperate struggle simply to survive.
Untrained, often illiterate and malnourished, burdened with their husbands’ debts yet lacking the skills needed to earn an income, the women left behind—some older, some quite young—are responsible for housing and feeding themselves, their children, and sometimes elderly relatives as well.
Buddhist Global Relief partner Building Bridges India (BBI) works to support and empower these widows. BGR has partnered with BBI on two projects, an organic farming training program and a handicraft and garment production initiative. READ MORE
Hot Meals and Mentoring for Poor Kids in Mongolia
By BGR Staff
One-third of Mongolia’s population experiences extreme poverty and is unable to afford basic food and shelter. The Tibetan monk, Ven. Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche, was determined to do something about this.
Born in Eastern Tibet in 1939 to nomadic parents, Ven. Rinpoche received full monastic ordination in 1961 under His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He completed his formal studies in India and was awarded the highest degree of Geshe Lharampa, equivalent to a Doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy. In 1995, the Dalai Lama asked Rinpoche to go to Mongolia to teach Buddhism to the Mongolian people. After his arrival in Mongolia, he set about finding ways to overcome the high levels of poverty he encountered there. He established Asral NGO in 2001 with the objective of keeping families together and preventing children from going onto the streets. Asral is the Mongolian word for “care.”
As part of Asral’s mission, Ven. Rinpoche established the Hot Meal Project in partnership with local government and community leaders. Since 2003, the project has provided essential nutrition to approximately thirty-two children annually ranging in age from six to seventeen, offering access to education they would otherwise have to forgo. In addition to the lunches, Asral further supports the children with mentoring, educational supplies, and vitamins.
Last year, Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) entered upon a partnership with the Washington State-based organization Maitreya Charity, which has worked closely with Ven. Rinpoche to support Asral. In 2018, with the hot meals program underfunded and in jeopardy of ending, BGR awarded a grant to Maitreya Charity to enable Asral to purchase groceries and educational materials, to fund an allowance for teachers, and to provide partial funding of a cook’s position to ensure the continuation of the project for the 2018-2019 school year. READ MORE
Training Single Women in Cameroon
By BGR Staff
BGR has been supporting the Cameroon organization CCREAD (Centre for Community Regeneration and Development) since 2017 on projects that provide livelihood training to widows and single mothers. In 2018, through the grant given by BGR, CCREAD was able to establish a second tailoring and design training unit, which enabled the organization to conduct more training sessions and enroll 68 new women and girls into the program.
As of February 2019, 68 widows and single mothers are undergoing full-time training, spending three days per week on intensive practical sessions in smaller groups split from the main training hall. Thirty-eight of the current 68 women in this cycle of training had been displaced as a result of political crisis and are now being empowered at the training center. Each of those 38 displaced women came to the training with children below the age of 10. CCREAD is helping to feed these children at the training center while their mothers undergo training.
In this current session, more than 52 trainees have achieved a fair degree of mastery over sewing, while 22 of the 68 are already producing garments on their own, with very limited guidance from the trainers at the center. Current trainees see this project as the only opportunity for them to become self-reliant. CCREAD is confident that within the next six months all the 68 trainees will have completed their training, giving opportunities for more women to enroll in the training program.
The text of this article has been adapted from the six-month report of CCREAD-Cameroon to Buddhist Global Relief.
A Buddhist Perspective on Women's Liberation
By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
This winter, BGR chair Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi spent two months in India. During this time he was invited to give the keynote address at a conference on “Buddhism and Women’s Liberation,” held in Bodhgaya on January 30 and 31, 2019, under the auspices of the Maha Bodhi Society of India. Here is a lightly edited version of his address.
Obstacles to Women’s Freedom
When we speak of “women’s liberation,” we first have to determine what women are to be liberated from. What are the obstacles to their freedom? Perhaps the most pervasive—and the most subtly disempowering—is the limitation placed on the opportunities available to women for personal expression and achievement. In traditional cultures, and even in the West today, these limitations are considered almost intrinsic to the social order. An unspoken consensus prevails that casts women into stereotyped roles that severely hamper their freedom to realize their creative potentials.
Women are seen assigned by nature to be wives and mothers. They are caretakers of the family whose role in life is exhausted by the tasks of finding a good husband, bearing children, and maintaining the household. If women do get the chance to take up a career, the general view holds that they should serve in the caring professions—as nurses, teachers, or social workers—but beyond these, when it comes to the more demanding professions and positions of social leadership, the gates are largely closed against them. READ MORE