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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Individuals, Organizations and why I'm not slagging Facebook (at least for a while)

For anyone who read the earlier post about a friend of mine at risk, the coast is clearing. I called on a number of friends in the human rights field for ideas and suggestions for interventions to get Anshita to a safe haven. As it happens, the response was quick.

I've known Mark Hiznay for I don't know how long. Mark is a man of sound principle and good taste (he married one of my nearest and dearest...also proving his bravery and resilience; Juliet do not throw anything at me the next time I'm in town.) Long story shortish; Mark is a senior investigator at Human Rights Watch and called on Binalakshmi Nepram. I'm linking to the organization that Bina has founded and cannot stress enough how valuable people like her are. She stands with Rigoberta Menchu and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in my pantheon. That she's stepping in to do the heavy lifting doesn't just make me feel better; it humbles me no end.

Additionally, as an interesting coda, Simon Billenness who I met throught the US Campaign for Burma (speaking of the Lady herself), drew in Shalina Nataraj, VP of Programs, last I heard, at the Global Fund for Women. What makes this interesting is that Bina is a grantee of theirs.

Several thoughts come to mind as a result of all that. One is that I'm fortunate in these friendships; but another is that the world is fortunate to have people in it like Mark and Simon and Nataraj and Bina. This would be a much darker place without them. I know each of them will deny this and say something to the effect that there would probably be someone else and while that might be so, they're the ones that stepped up to the plate.

Another thought is that is that without social media like email and yes, I'm going to say something nice about Facebook, there's no telling how long it would be before I would have heard how Anshita was doing. I can remember the pre-interntet days very well and looking back, it was magnitudes easier to hide, bury and delay news. I personally feel that truth will out, but it takes a lot less time nowadays. In short time after my email went out, Mark and Bina and I were holding a conversation. On Facebook. And just about everyone who knows me, knows how much I grouse about FB as software, as a company and as a social phenomenon. I'm going to declare a moratorium on my snark toward FB. At least for a time.....

The following are organizations that various principles have been involved in and whether you need to call on these groups or not someday, consider supporting them if you don't already. I've had the good fortune to help out with a couple, if not with funds, then with time, and you better believe, my bank account is going to notice a down-tick after I post this.

Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/

Control Arms of India: http://www.cafi-online.org/

Global Fund for Women:http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/

Amnesty International:http://www.amnesty.org/

US Campaign for Burma: http://uscampaignforburma.org/

Lastly, permit me an indulgence. The bodhisattva Tara is the embodiment of the instaneous salvafic/enlightening activity of the Buddha. It's telling that she's the most loved in the pantheon of buddhas and bodhisattvas in Tibetan Buddhism and that one of her origin stories is that she was a princess bodhisattva in a former lifetime; she was told (by a man, duh) that with all her merit and beneficent activity, she would certainly be reborn as a man and achieve enlightenment.

To which she replied: bullshit. No, she didn't say "bullshit"; she explained gracefully, I'm sure, that she didn't need to and wouldn't, take rebirth as a man in order to achieve Buddhahood. I believe today, I've seen Tara in action both in form and substance as a manifestation of that enlightened activity and refuge.

May all beings flourish!




 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Important notice

This is a note that I've posted on Facebook and the request holds good. Leave comments or if you havem't email, please get in touch immediately.

I have a friend in India who's typical of many young women from communities in the interior whose parents are pretty much determining her life against her wishes. I'm being diplomatic in the way I'm putting this. I'm not being melodramatic when I say that she is in a certain degree of physical danger and what I would like, if I may impose on all who read this and feel so compelled, to provide me a few options to give her in how to proceed in getting out of a messy situation.

What I'm looking for are NGOs in India that work with young women at risk. Additionally, she could probably use some words of encouragement, so at the very least, I'd be happy to share that encouragement with her.

I'm assuming most of you have my email and for those of you who don't, pleasepleaseplease leave comments.. Time is of the essence, and I would like to see what I can do to get her to a place of safety, if possible, and if not, to at least let her know that she isn't forgotten.

Thanks.

P.S.

I will be contacting those of you work in foreign service. This young woman is a perfect example of how sad net position of women in developing nations is. I will be in touch.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

India is not so far away

It's been an eventful month, being gainfully employed again and keeping in touch with just about everyone in India. Dolma, Fleur and Anne and I maintain running dialogues; the guys at BuDan are doing well and Mahendra and Kapil and the LBWF are now getting funding. It's this last that I want to address a bit here.

I think I've written this before, but the business model that Mahendra and Kapil are implementing is one that should serve as a template for the rest of non-profits in India. Maintaining relationships with your donors is possibly the most important part of keeping a non-profit/NGO healthy. Naturally, growing new donor relationships is also necessary, but you have to build and maintain interest in your donor base to really achieve some measure of accomplishment.

I believe that what Leigh and I saw in Mahendra and Kapil is worth nurturing and supporting. This is why I write about it. But here's the additional icing on the cake; if the LBWF can thrive and grow in Bihar, there's every chance that this might prove to be a template for other groups, and possibly foster a stronger sense of community activism both in the state and the rest of the country over a longer period of time.

The principle thrust of the Lord Buddha Welfare Foundation (seriously, this is not a religious organization) is educational. I'll share an update from an email I received from Mahendra a month or so ago:

Last week there was held meeting of parents and teachers in the school in Choraha.

In which we discuss about education, provlems of students. we requested to them to send their children regular in the school. Particularly they get work in the agricultural season. We talk about cleanliness. Some children come school in dirty cloths and without bath

We appeal them to send in clean clothes. We also decide to build fence around the school so we need funding for it. After school teaching period children who live near the school building they play here and make it dirty as well they have broken little bit surface of the bramdah. We have appealed to the people to look after the school building.

Teaching is going very well in the school. It is the raining season here.

At present, we have only about Rs 3300 per month from Finland with which we are paying to the teachers and teaching materials. Teachers are not satisfied with the salary which we are paying.

We need Rs 3000 per teacher per month. We have two teachers. We need a hand pumpand toilet in the school. We need first aid box and one white board.

The computer class is running here but here are problems of electricity so we are not able to keep it regular. We had bought the Inverter in March but it is very helpful; for this we need a generator.

We got funding from Shindo association for the teacher salary and maintainanance for the computer class for 2012-13.There are 18 students are studying computer.

For FCRA we are arranging documents,such as audited report of last three years.We want also make good infra structure because after applying for FCRA officers will come to see the school and then they report to the home ministry Delhi so we want make all needy document which will see the officer.As soon as we will complete it I will inform you.

How we are using money which we get from Finland for Choraha school

Total exp./month

Teacher salary

2 (teachers) 1500 Rs each: Rs 3,000

Markers,brooms,etc: Rs 150

internet: Rs 150

Total Rs 3,300

Our needs estimate

Estimates

Hand pump (1): Rs12000

toilets (2): Rs 25000

fence: Rs 60,000

Total: Rs 97,000

To put this in perspective, 3,300 rupees is approximately $60 US and 97,000 rupees is about $1560 US.

I think that with a little regular support, the LBWF can do more. At issue, is the FCRA which needs to happen, so that funds can be deposited directly into their bank account. As anyone who has spent time in India knows, this is far more easily said than done. That said, I have wired funds to Kapil, the foundation's secretary; however, knowing how business is done in Bodhgaya, I'm hesitant to wire more than a hundred dollars US. Even that seems like tempting fate. Nevertheless, with even a smallish donor base, I think the foundation can do more than tread water.

Obviously, they're very much connected to the community and this is also key. If the Choraha school is any indication, the villagers want better lives for their kids. I think the Gandhian view of the village as the ideal model for national community in India was sound for the time, but since independence, it's grown obvious that the villages are failing by neglect from that larger national community. Consequently, non-profits and NGOs like the LBWF take up the slack absent government support or other community support.

Additionally, since there is no buy-in or incentives from the governments - either national or local (that I know of) - it's left to members of the international community to support development in India and countries like her. One of the issues that plagues India is the idea that if someone else is willing to help, then the sense of necessity of supporting from within the community is reduced; this is not to say that international aid should be withdrawn, ever. However, it's integral to the survival and growth of a community on whatever scale to support education and educational reform. At some point, it may become obvious to the leaders in the business and government sectors of Bihar and the other states, to invest more in local educational and civic development. This would be enlightened self-interest at a major level and could initiate a new trend in communal growth in areas that need it most.

When I spoke to younger kids in Bodhgaya, Gaya, Varanasi, Patna and elsewhere, I was struck by their concern for Bihar, particularly. But I was also impressed by how they perceived what needed to change at a national level, as well. These are young people who may well leave the area because they are not afforded lives of advancement in their region and that would be the costliest divestment for Bihar. Conversely, if the business leaders and pols in the state were to actively support young people in pursuing education and utilizing that passion for their state and country, things may change radically.

I'm heartened by reports of more sophisticated waste management and environmental initiatives in the state, but one wonders how much of this is real and how much is wishful thinking.

Once again, if anyone is interested in supporting LBWF or just meeting a couple of great people, feel free to contact Mahendra Kumar at mah0_2004@yahoo.com. He's the director of the LBWF and his personal story of how and why he started it is worth hearing directly from him. In fact, I may ask him and Kapil to contribute their stories to this blog; they're both worthwhile. Kapil Kumar is the secretary and can be reached via kapil5b@yahoo.com. Both are young people who have taken the decidedly difficult step of pouring their efforts back into their community when both could be doing other things. But this is what makes community activism in all its formw worth supporting; if we leave it to the other guy, it may not get done. If the other guy steps up to the plate, then we have an example (and an obligation) to follow suit.

Photo by Leigh Kumar

 

Monday, September 3, 2012

A new blog in town

I've been threatening this for a while. This is a lot of text. In fact, it's all text! But it's about topics that matter a little to me and at the same time, that I've fielded a lot of questions on over the years. Ostensibly, it's about Buddhism, but it's larger concerns are the nature of belief, faith, what it means to be awake, what is psychology or for that matter, what is religion or philosophy.

I can't apologize for the Buddhocentric thrust of the blog, but I'm hoping it will spur discussion and reflection. I touch on some of the controversies that are specific to Buddhism and Buddhist studies, but I think these have their corollaries in other faiths and philosophical movements.

It has a beginning and will have a middle and an end; so this won't go on forever. I probably won't be updating it as much as Points of Return because I actually work off of notes and hours of reflecting before I sit down to add content.


Lastly, it does have a structure. Each post is numbered and should be read in that order. The footnotes and bibliographical info I hope will provide additional resources for those who are interested in these matters, as well as provide sources for each post's content.

I have one more blog I'll eventually launch that will be more general in nature and probably broader in scope, but it'll have more pictures! We like pictures!

In the meantime, here are words: http://algebraofrebirth.wordpress.com/