One way to give compassionately and intelligently this holiday season is to widen the net of those who receive the benefit of your generosity by donating to charities and nonprofit organizations. You can forego traditional presents and instead make a donation in your loved one’s name, or you can pledge to donate the amount of money you spend on holiday gifts this year to a worthy cause. Every Tuesday and Thursday here on Tricycle’s Buddhist Holiday Survival Guide, we’ll be posting about Buddhist organizations who could use your help this holiday season.
In 2003, the Metta School was established in Lumbini, Nepal, by the Lumbini Social Service Foundation. Created in response to the need for education in Lumbini’s surrounding farming communities, the Metta School currently serves 800 children—free of charge—from kindergarten through eighth grade. The school was founded by a group of local youth volunteers who were studying Buddhism in Lumbini’s various monasteries. “This is our gift of metta to our community,” says Venerable Metteyya, the director and school’s principal founder. “I have to make this school a living practice of metta.”
The school’s curriculum includes both secular academic subjects—English, Nepali, math, social science, and environmental education—and a religious curriculum of meditation, Buddhist ethics, and Buddhist psychological principles. In addition, students are instructed on a variety of health issues, including anatomy, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Surveys indicate that nearly half of the school-age children in the Lumbini area never have the opportunity to attend school. Most are young girls. Because they are generally married off to other families between the ages of seven and thirteen, families tend to view any investment in girls’ education as a waste of funds. Such cultural views have put the female literacy rate in the Lumbini area at 18 percent—one of the lowest in the world.
UNICEF has identified Lumbini and its surroundings as one of the most critical zones for girls’ discrimination and child marriage problems. Girls make up only 33 percent of students in Nepal, and this figure is even lower in the Lumbini area. The lack of education for girls results in, among other social ills, poor basic health and hygiene: high infant mortality rates and malnutrition are prevalent.
Ven. Metteyya and his dharma mother, Bodhi, established Sakyadhita Nunnery (now the Peace Grove Institute) to remedy the educational injustice that affects women. The nunnery gives girls the opportunity to become temporarily ordained and thus continue their education after Metta School for another two years. The nunnery currently houses, clothes, and educates 11 girls aged 12 to 15 free of charge.
Sakyadhita Nunnery hopes to empower young girls to become confident women who will in turn pass this empowerment on to their families. This aim is founded on the belief that education is the most powerful antidote to poverty.
Both Sakyadhita Nunnery and the Metta School struggle to receive adequate funding. The number of students attending the Metta School continues to grow, and there is great demand to provide education through high school. The school needs to build more classrooms, hire more teachers, and continue to develop educational infrastructure. The nunnery is likewise in immediate need of more dormitory rooms, bathrooms, showers, and classrooms. An investment in education is an investment in the community’s future.
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