RMF went on an overnight trip to visit Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha and the home of some incredible programs run by Nepali NGO the Lumbini Social Service Program.
photo: RMF Director of Global Programs Cindy Stein flying on Buddha Air with Trevor Ironside of Mercy Medical Canada and Venerable Mettayya Sakyputta of Lumbini
The day started by visiting the Bodhi Institute. This is a new program started within the past year that has boys starting around age 7 training as monks. The idea is that they are local boys who otherwise do not have access to high quality education. They are from very poor, rural families, many from lower castes. Most of them will likely go back to a secular life after graduation but the monk training gives them spiritual guidance, discipline, compassion, and a solid foundation, thereby increasing their chances at higher education, success, and a chance for those from vulnerable populations to reach leadership roles. Ultimately, the program strives to move towards being a Peace Institute complete with an annual camp where people from various sectors of life from Nepal get together to learn and grow based on compassion. The center is funded by the Canadian Engaged Buddhist Association (CEBA) and in their words, “The center will contribute to the peacemaking efforts and the promotion of a culture of peace in today’s world.” The monks are among the cutest boys I have ever seen in my life.
photo: The boys met me and Venerable Metteyya Sakyaputta with gifts of flowers and smiles
photo: Metteyya teaching the boys
Just when I thought it could not get any cuter, we met the nuns at Peace Grove Institute. This place is amazing. In their own words, “Peace Grove (Shantikunj) is a haven for Lumbini girls who would otherwise be married as young as 10 years of age and face a life of no education, poverty and labour, only to perpetuate this cycle.” UNICEF has identified the Lumbini area as one of the most critical zone for girls' discrimination and child marriage problems. National education statistics report that only 33% of students in Nepal are girls. It's even lower in the Lumbini area where the average female literacy rate is one of the lowest in the world.” The nuns met us with hugs and giggles and flowers…and to my surprise, excellent English! They range in age from 9 to graduating seniors and are all amazing. As school was on break, even the 4 graduates who are all attending midwifery school away form the nunnery were back and available to spend time with me. RMF was proud to donate to their garden fund, which will help them grow food for both the nunnery and the Karuna School. I was lucky enough to stay overnight at the nunnery, which was an amazing experience. The girls were all eager to show me around and made me feel right at home. The girls are ordained as nuns and perform puja (chanting and meditation) every morning and evening for an hour, which is amazing to see. Some of the girls were married (as young as age 11) and negotiations were made with the families to allow them to finish their education and stay at the nunnery.
Karuna Girls’ College is on the same campus as the nunnery and is one of the most hopeful and impressive places I have ever visited. Currently a grade 6-12 program for girls, it seeks to empower them to hold leadership roles within the community. They have an incredible library, computers, music program, vocational training and plan to move towards civil service exam preparation programs, and perhaps its own nursing and midwifery college one day. Current plans include an expansion to accommodate at least 500 students, eventually hopefully as many as 3,000. The school board consists of people from the community such as the mothers of students. Karuna is one of the only schools specifically for girls in the entire nation and the community is extremely proud of this. RMF is proud to have contributed to the completion of the computer lab and expansion of the music program. We really look forward to continuing to support and partner at this amazing place.
Metta Schools- Metteyya started this school with a few students under a tree as there was NO SCHOOL SYSTEM for these kids at all. Now it has grown to over 900 students 1-5th grade with plans to expand to a secondary school for boys (and have Karuna for girls…the community wants them separate), the land was donated and the original tree it started under is central to the campus. The nuns and little monks ride bikes to go to school here until they are 6th grade….it is a co-ed, free, and secular mixed with nuns and monks—community involved, again led by the women/mothers. The Metta schools use compassion as a foundation to teach communities and individuals about equality, justice, and cooperation.
photo: With Metteyya and some of the mothers of students under the original tree where the Metta school was started
The next day was spent organizing more relief missions out of Kathmandu. Specifically, RMF has been focused on reaching nunneries that have not received any aid yet. The most recent of which was a mission to Bigu Gompa Nunnery in the tragically affected area of Dolkha near the Tibetan border. Under ordinary circumstances, food supplies can only be collected by way of a two day walk. Bigu, Dolkha is one of the most remote villages of Nepal, and it hosts 80 nuns who belong to an ancient lineage of Buddhism. The Venerable Metteyya flew by helicopter to bring relief to this devastated area. Everyone at the Global Karuna base camp woke up early to load blankets, rice, tarps, biscuits, noodles, milk powder, solar lights, tea, legumes, sugar, oil, and water filters for the Bigu Gompa Nunnery.
Metteyya was also tasked with recovering several cultural artifacts which are in danger of being stolen during this time of vulnerability. The village monastery was completely destroyed. He also ended up rescuing 5 people during the mission. Special thanks to Global Karuna and Metteyya for all their hard work and the use of these photos.
More than 8,500 people are dead and over 15,000 injured following a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the Himalayan region the morning of April 25, 2015. Eight million people are affected across Nepal, and one million children are in urgent need of help.