The socially engaged Buddhist organization Buddhist Global Relief (BGR) has suspended the majority of its annual walks around the United States this fall due to the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, BGR is launching a network of online events addressing global hunger running from October to November and available to anyone with internet access.
Students of the Buddhist monk and scholar Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi founded BGR in 2008. They were inspired by their teacher’s essay “A Challenge to Buddhists,” which was a call for Buddhists in North America to become more socially engaged and to take an active role in alleviating global social and economic suffering. The organization sponsors projects that provide relief to economically deprived communities around the world.
Each year since 2010, BGR’s main source of funding has been generated by the annual “Walk to Feed the Hungry.” Traditionally, the walks have taken place all around the US, from late September through to November, with satellite walks in other countries, including India, Uganda, and the UK. While the event has become increasingly popular over the years, 2020 has presented a new challenge due to restrictions imposed on group gatherings during the pandemic.
According to BGR’s website, the online events feature noted Buddhist teachers and include live-streamed Dharma gatherings, guided meditations, and talks about global hunger and malnutrition.
BGR’s function coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on 17 October—a day that provides an opportunity for governmental and non-governmental organizations to promote concrete activities geared toward the eradication of poverty.
UN Secretary General António Guterres has urged people to stand in solidarity with the world’s poorest communities, and to recognize that they are experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as a double crisis:
First, they have the highest risk of exposure to the virus and least access to quality healthcare. Second, recent estimates show the pandemic could push up to 115 million people into poverty this year—the first increase in decades. Women are at greatest risk because they are more likely to lose their jobs and less likely to have social protection. In these extraordinary times, we need extraordinary efforts to fight poverty. The pandemic demands strong collective action. Governments must accelerate economic transformation by investing in a green, sustainable recovery. We need a new generation of social protection programs that also cover people working in the informal economy. Joining together in common cause is the only way we will emerge safely from this pandemic. (United Nations)
BGR also highlighted the necessity of creating sustainable economies, as well as protecting women, who are particularly vulnerable to poverty. The BGR website outlines its mission as follows:
Our mission is to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that “hunger is the worst kind of illness” and “the gift of food is the gift of life,” we sponsor projects that promote hunger relief for poor communities around the world. We pursue our mission by:
• Providing direct food aid to people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition;
• Helping to develop better long-term methods of sustainable food production and management appropriate to the cultures and traditions of the beneficiaries;
• Promoting the education of girls and women, so essential in the struggle against poverty and malnutrition;
• Giving women an opportunity to start right livelihood projects to support their families.
We also seek to raise awareness of global hunger and advocate for an international food system that exemplifies social justice and conduces to ecological sustainability. (Buddhist Global Relief)