The Buddhist humanitarian relief organization Join Together Society Korea (JTS Korea), founded by the renowned Korean Seon (Zen) monk Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, working in cooperation with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB) and the Kalyana Mitta Development Foundation (KMF), has donated US$130,000 in COVID-19 medical relief supplies to Myanmar.
“JTS Korea has donated protective materials worth US$130,000 to support health workers and medical professionals working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Myanmar,” the Seoul-based relief organization told Buddhistdoor Global “KMF coordinated the multistep process of receiving the materials at the international seaport and distributing them, and also the vital work of securing the various necessary government permits and authorizations.
“KMF also helped JTS to source COVID-19 antigen testing kits in Yangon, and collaborated with the Myanmar Council of Churches (MCC) and its volunteers to distribute the supplies to the Phaung Gyi COVID-19 Treatment Center (Phaung Gyi MTC) and South Okkalar Specialist Hospital in Yangon. The MCC has been providing volunteer services to COVID-19 treatment centers and hospitals in Myanmar during the pandemic.”
Founded as an expression of the compassion of engaged Buddhism and the belief that helping others is the best way to enrich one’s own life, JTS Korea is an international aid organization established by Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in 1993.* Headquartered in Seoul, JTS operates program offices in South Korea, Germany, and the United States, along with field offices in India and the Philippines, working to eradicate poverty and hunger through humanitarian relief and sustainable development. The organization has also earned Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). JTS Korea is run and manned by unpaid volunteers, which ensures that all donations go toward benefitting marginalized communities.
Ven. Pomnyun Sunim was awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize in October last year in recognition of his humanitarian work, environmental and social activism, and initiatives for global peace.* The honor from the Japan-based Niwano Peace Foundation included a cash award of ¥20 million (US$195,000), which Ven. Pomnyun Sunim donated to JTS Korea, asking that it be used to fund social development and COVID-19 relief efforts in Southeast Asia in collaboration with INEB. Of the amount, US$50,000 has already been allocated for the Female Sangha Initiative For Social Transformation in Southeast Asia—a project coordinated by INEB that is working to address social inequities facing female practitioners in Buddhist communities, and to empower women as leaders and agents of social change.**
INEB has initiated a wide range of projects and social outreach programs across the region. Early last year, in response to the unfolding SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the organization launched the Mindful Action: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund, to bring much-needed relief to vulnerable and underprivileged communities during the global coronavirus crisis.***
“The Mindful Action: COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund is supporting emergency relief efforts in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, and Nepal—countries with the greatest need during this time of crisis,” INEB secretary Somboon Chungprampree told Buddhistdoor Global. “I’d like to thank the wonderful generosity of JTS Korea, who has helped us to provide basic necessities to some of the most marginalized and vulnerable groups in these countries.”
INEB was established in Thailand, in 1989 by the prominent Thai academic, activist, and social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and a group of Buddhist and non-Buddhist thinkers and social activists. The organization was formed with the aim of connecting engaged Buddhists around the world to promote understanding, cooperation, and networking among inter-Buddhist and inter-religious groups, and to address global issues such as human rights, conflict resolution, and environmental concerns.
Somboon noted that since the end of September last year, more than 1,500 people per day in Yangon have been affected by COVID-19.
The relief supplies funded by JTS Korea include 30,000 KF94 face masks, 10,000 protective coveralls, 10,000 face shields, 10,000 protective glasses, 10,000 pairs of shoe covers, and 30,000 pairs of latex gloves. In addition, JTS has funded the purchase of 10,000 test kits.
“The test kits were originally to be sourced in Korea, but medical regulations drawn up by the Myanmar government did not permit the use of these kinds of test kits,” said JTS Korea. “So we worked with KMF to purchase 10,000 test kits in Yangon that were approved by the Myanmar medical authorities.”
KMF is a registered NGO in Myanmar primarily working toward youth empowerment and social change by developing youth leadership programs. KMF focuses on engaged Buddhist approaches to raising awareness, imparting leadership and other skillsets for young people, and providing small grants to set up training and community development initiatives.
“Transporting the supplies by sea from Korea took four weeks before arriving at Yangon’s seaport on 19 December,” JTS Korea explained. “After receiving port clearance, MCC assisted KMF volunteers in delivering the boxes to the Phaung Gyi MTC and South Okkalar Specialist Hospital, together with the Myanmar Red Cross, on 30 and 31 December. Only designated medical personnel were allowed to receive the test kits. More than 110,000 individual items were donated.”
At the time of writing on 22 January, Myanmar, which has a population of a little under 55 million people, had recorded 136,166 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,013 deaths, according to official data, with 119,973 people reported to have recovered.****
“JTS Korea wold like to express its appreciation for the work of KMF and its volunteers, who helped to accomplish this project even after 13 of their volunteers were infected by COVID-19,” JTS Korea told Buddhistdoor Global. “The COVID-19 situation in Yangon was so serious that anyone entering the city was required to undergo two weeks of quarantine, so KMF staff outside of Yangon had to coordinate carefully with volunteers inside the city. Without their dedication under the such hard conditions, this project would have taken many more months to complete. JTS Korea hopes that these essential relief supplies ease the burden of the frontline health and medical workers who are sacrificing themselves for the people of Myanmar.”
A widely respected author, Dharma teacher, and social activist, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects that are active across the world. Among them, in addition to JTS, Jungto Society is a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddhist teachings and expressing equality, simple living, and sustainability, is dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering, including environmental degradation, poverty, and conflict.
* Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (Buddhistdoor Global)
*** International Network of Engaged Buddhists Launches COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund (Buddhistdoor Global)