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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Nepal and giving: my whys and what you can do

Shantideva wrote to the effect that if there is a situation about which you can do nothing, then why worry? Conversely, if there's a situation about which you can do something, why worry?

All too often, it's too easy to give in and give up to pathos and tragic sentimentality or despair. Yes, the world is full of tragedy, pain, and misery. But we have choices about what we can do to ease suffering at our disposal relative to our capacity. People all too often throw up their hands and cry about what they can't do due to lack of funds, or time, or just plain confusion about what they can do. They will work themselves into frenzies of sadness and do nothing or join the chorus of how shitty the world is. I had a pretty bout of that myself a couple of weeks ago, but it was motivated less by the world than by my focussing on a prickly situation in my own life and spending far too much time reading up on Honduras and reflecting on Baltimore. It's a rare occurrence for me to turn nihilist like that and it's not very much more than skin deep, but it's there from time to time.

And then, I woke up at six-thirty on Saturday morning a week ago to check my email. It is odd that each time I feel a compulsion to check my email on a day off, early in the morning, it results in bad news. This time, it was the earthquake in Nepal. I have a few friends from Nepal, and a number of connections witht the area, but my first concern was how this affected my bahin, my sister Meena and her kids at Bal Sarathi, the home and school for some three hindered abandoned children of which she has been the guiding force for decades.

Over the day, my heart sank by and by. On the other hand, it was clear what needed to be done. We met at Meena's, prayed, had dinner and resolved to raise funds for Bal Sarathi. Over the course of the evening, I was struck by two things.

One, that which requires our presence, our attention, and our engagement finds us. When I was in India, I knew I had something more to do than hang out, go on retreat and study. I met Kapil and Mahendra, my brothers, whose non-profit has made a huge difference in the village of Choraha, near Bodhgaya. Working with and for them to help keep the LBWS going is my on-going project. Similarly, when I signed up for Meena didi's Hindi class, something much richer came from that.

I had no idea of Meena's experience, her depth of humanity. Nor what she has accomplished. Bal Sarathi isn't just a NGO she started to take care of homeless children. Bal Sarathi is Meena and these are her children.

The second thing that occurred to me is how and why we get involved in this, not that. Over the years, I've volunteered for a variety of causes ranging from the environment to nuclear disarmament, but the bulk of my work has circled back South Asia. I love Latin America and had my druthers, I would move south in a heartbeat. Honduras and Guatemala are two countries I feel are owed special attention and I've nots tinted in critiquing the havoc that U.S. foreign policy has created in those countries and all across Latin America.

I often wonder if I come back to more visible support for India, Tibet, and Nepal because I have a different connection in one sense and no connection in another.

The first sense is my love and engagement with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism. This began at an early age. Disaffected with our so-called Christian nation's actions during the Vietnam war, I questioned how it was that people call themselves Christians and then unleash napalm and worse on people who have done no wrong except ask to be left alone and follow their own path. Closer to home, I had to question why we routinely killed people like Martin Luther King and a couple of guys who sounded like they were okay guys. And by "we", I mean We because even at a young age, I got that blood is on all our hands. We kill directly, we kill indirectly, by what we buy, consume, and produce. We kill by our system of appropriation, cultural, capital, and political.

I knew something else at an early age. We are responsible because we can vote. But we vote poorly or not at all. Or we vote for stumble bums who reflect who we are at the moment or extremely smart people who kind of look like what we'd like to be. But in any event, I also saw directly, that we are not as good as our ideals. Often, our ideals are themselves perverse.

I started looking at what the rest of the world believed, unpacking as best I could, these different religions and philosophies. These last loaded words don't mean the same in some cultures as they do in ours. The definition of religion in other, more traditional (for lack of a better term and time) cultures is a bit different or a lot different from how European and U.S. hermeneutics interprets them.

After years of study and middling practice, association and affiliation, I discovered that the personal is the political. I supported the Tibetan cause, I thought, less because of Buddhist affiliation than hating what the Chinese were doing to the Tibetans. I fell into Tibetan Mahayana ass-backward and that made it more personal. And so on.

In any case, I still continued to volunteer and contribute to other "areas of interest" and realized that I was spreading myself thin.does it make sense to consult, donate and/or serve on boards for a small set of diverse causes or start focusing on a more concentrated area of thematically commonality? I opted for the latter. For a while. For now.

Perhaps you reading this, are at a similar crossroad?

Whether that's the case or not, the situation in Kathmandu is critical. Following are some resources and ideas. But first and foremost is an email sent to Meena from one of the teachers at Bal Sarathi:



We have NO LIFE NO HOME NO FUTURE IT is a big shame.

Bal Sarathi children are very very sick, Afraid .NO FOOD, NO WATER ,NO Nothing getting for us , Most of them are crying, I am doing my best to comfort all . But I am also a simple human being. Most of our teacher are missing. Children are every asking for food.

Please help. You are our MOTHER , You have the power of protection and love.

WE need NEW HOME as soon as possible . I found a place but very different and expensive, Let’s build our own HOME. Please make us believe in Good that we will have OUR OWN HOME. Children need safe and secure place. You are coming to us. Please live together in Tent and we all build HOME together for this homeless children. Need YOU Please Please Pray harder for HOME.

Always Always waiting for your love and blessing . You are our Life . People like you in the world. You are every one’s life. Mala and all the children.

Dearest and most Respected our mother, Meena dijju sai ram,,

Always yours

Mala bahini"

Perhaps that makes the case better than anything else I can write.

There are so many issues at hand. There's the bumping up of prices for goods in country, the government taxing goods coming into the country for aid. Hell, the Nepalese government is seizing funds earmarked for non-profit support. There's the anarchy of what's going on on the ground.

Ideally, supporting groups developed in Nepal by Nepalese are the best since they can navigate the corruption and have their own supply chains. Outside agencies are stymied by the corruption of distribution along the lines. This is emphatically not to say that UNICEF, Medicins sans Frontieres or the Red Cross and the like shouldn't be supported. Of course, they should, but your dollar will go further more immediately supporting regional/local groups circumventing th government. Eventually, this will change. I believe it. For now, however, this is the best/most expedient route. With Nepal, particularly, aid distribution has met with varying levels of interference.

Following are Facebook pages for Bal Sarathi and a link to support via GoFundMe and contact information from Meena. Further down are some other worthy organizations to consider supporting.

About Bal Sarathi:


Also, since Bal Sarathi isn't a 501(c)(3), in recognition that some people like to make tax-deductible donations, Pastor Norman David at Christ Lutheran Church of Belmont, MA will accept checks made out to the church on behalf of Bal Sarathi.

Checks should be made payable to "CELC" with either "for Nepal children" or "Bal Sarathi" in the memo line and may be overnighted/snailmailed to: Christ Lutheran Church, 597 Belmont Street, Belmont, MA 02478.

Message Meena directly via Facebook/send a friend request. She's one of the greatest hearts I've encountered. You may have additional ideas to share with her and she'd like to hear them. If you would like to send funds directly to her, I'm sure she'd love to hear from you. Again, message her or send a friend request.

Read this to get a sense of perspective of how to proceed with this or any other disaster:

Other organizations (with ratings):

What the government is doing and impact:

Images from Bal Sarathi:

For the record, the building that housed, provided care and was the school for these children, no longer stands.

Nor, it should be said, does Meena's home. It, too, has been reduced to rubble.