Friday, May 21, 2010

The Buddhist Relief Mission

During the years in the ‘80s that Ken and Visakha Kawasaki were working as ESL professionals in the Indochinese refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines, they observed that most of the NGOs providing relief services to the refugees were Christian based. Although some were less blatant than others in their proselytization, none offered support to the Buddhist monasteries, despite the fact that those monasteries were central to the lives of many refugees, especially for the lowland Lao, the Khmer, and the Vietnamese. After the Kawasakis left their jobs with the refugee programs and returned to Japan to teach, they spent their summer vacations in Thailand and revisited the refugee camps. Friends often asked them to carry donations to the monks and the monasteries. That was the beginning of Buddhist Relief Mission.Although the Kawasakis were living in Japan, many of their donors were in the United States, so, in 1988, BRM was registered as a non-profit organization in the State of Michigan. In 1989, BRM learned from refugees in Thailand that there were virtually no Buddhist texts printed in Lao. One day, while visiting the library of World Fellowship of Buddhists in Bangkok, the Kawasakis found an old copy of The Dhammapada in Lao. The following year, they had collected enough donations to reprint almost 5000 copies of this book for free distribution not only to refugee communities and monasteries around the world, but also inside Laos. This was followed in subsequent years by reprints of The Dhammapada in Khmer, Mon, and Vietnamese. After sending several thousand copies into Cambodia in 1992, BRM learned that this was the first distribution of any Buddhist text in that country after the Khmer Rouge devastation. The Indochinese camps are long gone, and BRM activities have broadened, but the Kawasakis are still concentrating their attention on isolated Buddhist communities, including refugees, particularly Burmese, following the violent upheavals in that country since 1988. BRM projects have included scholarships for monks studying in Burma, India and Sri Lanka; Sangha hospitals; and Buddhist orphanages and schools in Burma, Bangladesh, and India. For many years, BRM has supported Buddhist individuals and groups in prisons in the United States. During their residence in Michigan, the Kawasakis served as chaplain’s assistants for the local jail and as Buddhist consultants for the Michigan Department of Corrections.In 2005, the Kawasakis moved to Sri Lanka, where they continue as directors of BRM. Since 2006, they have conducted an annual intensive English course, mainly for university-student monks, in India for three years and in Sri Lanka for the past two. One of the most important characteristics of BRM is that it is very small. Neither the Kawasakis nor any of the volunteers for the various projects receive any remuneration, although, because BRM has been granted 50l (c) 3 status by the United States government, donations and volunteer expenses can be exempted from income for tax purposes.
All of the activities of Buddhist Relief Mission are described with photos on their website, . Also available on the website are all of BRM unique creations, including an audio CD set, Pali Chanting–International; a multi-media CD and DVD, Strive On With Diligence; and the board game, Buddhist Knowledge Quest, which was featured in Dhamma Musings on August 25, 2009 < http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/2009/08/new-dhamma-game.html .
You can contact Buddhist Relief Mission via the website or at buddhist@brelief.org .

4 comments:

Chris Kang said...

Thank you for this inspiring piece, Bhante.

japanlifeandreligion.com said...

Wow, very cool. I once had the opportunity to help a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar with some books on Yogacara Buddhist thought and such, and I never realized what a big a handful of books were. For me, it was a small contribution, but I suppose there's little that can beat the gift of knowledge and education for many people in the world.

Alessandro S. said...

I'm very happy to have read this piece: Ken and Visakha Kawasaki do deserve credit for the excellent work they've been doing, together with many volunteers, to honour the Buddha, to keep the flame of the Dhamma alive and to provide the Sangha with the requisites it needs and deserves. I will do what I can to let more people know about the Buddhist Relief Mission, because I know it does not get the coverage and publicity many other missions that operate with a very different agenda and financial backing do, yet it's works are laudable and pure-minded indeed.
Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.

RMV's Colleague said...

Very informative. Thanks to the Kawaska for the good mission they have done.