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Engaged Buddhism: Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and JTS Volunteers Bring Education to Underprivileged Communities in the Philippines

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

The revered Korean Dharma master and Buddhist activist Venerable Pomnyun Sunim (법륜스님) accompanied a team of volunteers from the Buddhist humanitarian relief organization JTS Korea to the Philippines from 15–19 December to officially open new schools established by JTS over the past year in Mindanao, and to bring much-need school supplies to children there.

Joined by local activists, Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and the JTS volunteers, led by JTS Korea secretary-general Park Young Sook and the representative of JTS Korea, Park Ji-na, attended formal completion and opening ceremonies for four new schools in the presence of local officials from Mindanao, the second-largest island in the Philippines.

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

The first completion ceremony of the visit—for San Miguel National High School in the village of Talagak—marked a new chapter in JTS’s remarkable ongoing work in Mindanao:

“For the past 20 years, JTS has been building elementary schools in Mindanao to eradicate illiteracy and provide basic education in underprivileged areas,” JTS Philippines chief executive Lee Won Joo explained at the opening ceremony. “However, this project is a special case as it is a high school. There are many children who have been unable to continue their education because they lacked access to a high school. There was also the problem of young girls becoming pregnant at a young age as a result of the lack of education opportunities, and marrying early. As such, JTS decided to build a high school. Thanks to our cooperative relationship with the county office and the Philippine Army Corps of Engineers, JTS provided construction materials, the Army Corps of Engineers took responsibility for the actual construction, and the county office supported basic expenses, including food. After 20 years of humanitarian work, this is the 60th school built by JTS in Mindanao, Philippines.”

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim established the humanitarian relief organization Join Together Society (JTS) as an expression of the compassion of engaged Buddhism, and based on the principle that helping others is the best way to enrich one’s own life. Charged with bringing hope, empowerment, and self-reliance to underprivileged communities in developing countries, JTS is run and manned by unpaid volunteers, who ensure that all donations benefit marginalized communities. JTS carries out relief work in countries suffering from humanitarian disasters, and has engaged in humanitarian projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. The relief organization has also earned Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

JTS Philippines, established in 2002, operates 51 project areas in 19 cities and municipalities in six provinces. It is engaged in a variety of humanitarian initiatives, including building schools, providing school supplies for disadvantaged students (such as uniforms, stationery, bags, and umbrellas), teacher-training programs, and community leadership training.

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

“I sincerely congratulate you on the completion ceremony of San Miguel National High School today,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim observed during the ceremony. “. . . This school was built not by the efforts of one or two people or one or two groups, but by the efforts of many people, that is, when we join together. We would like to once again give our thanks and applause to all the people and organizations who participated in this endeavor.

“However, education does not mean that there are only classrooms in schools. For education to take place, students must be present, teachers must be present, and parents must support the students. So first, the students should come to school and study hard. Do you want to study that way?”

“YES!” the children responded loudly.

“Parents should send their children to school every day instead of pushing them to stay at home to do farm work. And we must provide continuous support so that our students can study. Do you promise?”

“YES!” the parents returned.

“The most important thing in education is teachers. The education office should send good teachers and teachers should teach children well. Will the office send good teachers?”

“YES!”

“The school was built safely, we have good teachers, there are children to attend the school, and parents are prepared to support the students. All the conditions for a good education are in place. If you students do well in your studies, JTS will continue to support you in the future.”

The villagers cheered loudly.

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

The State Superintendent of Education thanked Ven. Pomnyun Sunim and the JTS volunteers for their work, noting: “This school is not merely a physical building. Education is the dream of our parents, the dream of our community, and the dream of our country. One day, these children sitting before us will become adults, leaders, and servants of their communities.

“This school is living proof that our students can learn the values of generosity, kindness, cooperation, and gratitude. Education will help our children choose the right path and discern bad temptations when they become adults. Bukidnon Province now needs about 3,500 more classrooms. There are still many children who cannot study because there are no classrooms. This community can be said to be extremely fortunate. Thank you again to JTS. Thank you very much.” 

Image courtesy of JTS Korea
Image courtesy of JTS Korea

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim the team of JTS volunteers continued onward the following day, opening an expansion of an elementary school in Catablaran; then on to celebrate the completion of Cabanglasan Central Elementary School, a specially designed school for children with disabilities; and Damilag Special Elementary School for disabled students.

“All children born into this world have the right to receive an education. Regardless of whether they have disabilities or not, children must receive a timely education,” Ven. Pomnyun Sunim emphasized. “Therefore, JTS has been supporting school construction and providing school supplies to ensure educational opportunities for children living in remote mountainous areas. However, there are also many children living in urban areas who do not have access to education due to physical disabilities. . . .

Having a disability does not mean that one is inferior; it just makes life a little more inconvenient. It takes a long time for educational outcomes to be revealed for children with disabilities. So we have to wait a little bit. You need to teach them in more detail than you usually would with other children, and the number of students per classroom should be as small as possible. Above all, unlike general teachers, teachers who teach children with disabilities must have received a specialized education, and special educational materials must be prepared. This cannot be done by one or two people or parents alone, nor can teachers do it alone. We all need to join forces and make it happen together.”

Ven. Pomnyun Sunim is a widely revered Korean Dharma teacher, author, and social activist. He has founded numerous organizations, initiatives, and projects across the world, among them: JTS Korea, an international humanitarian relief organization working to eradicate poverty and hunger; Jungto Society, a volunteer-based community founded on the Buddha’s teachings and dedicated to addressing modern social issues that lead to suffering; Ecobuddha, an organization focused on environmental ethics and sustainable living based on the teachings of the Buddha; and Good Friends, which promotes reconciliation and cooperation between the North and South Korea, and provides humanitarian aid to North Koreans. Ven. Pomnyun Sunim also works closely with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB).

In October 2020, the Niwano Peace Foundation in Japan presented the 37th Niwano Peace Prize to Ven. Pomnyun Sunim in recognition of his international humanitarian work, intensive environmental and social activism, and his tireless efforts to build trust and goodwill between communities of different faiths and cultures, toward the goal of world peace.*

Buddhist Monk Ven. Pomnyun Sunim Awarded the 37th Niwano Peace Prize (BDG)

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Jungto Society
JTS Korea
JTS America

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