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"Helping Hand" of the Month
Buddhism for Development, Cambodia
Put Down The Gun, Take up the Dharma!
Buddhism for Development (BFD) has a far-reaching vision for Cambodia: An educated, democratic society free from poverty and preventable illnesses, law abiding and respectful of human rights and the environment. A moral society with respect for Buddhism and Cambodian culture.
This vision and the hopes of organizations like BFD are underscored by the painful memories of Cambodia's violent past. A bare 30 years ago, the Khmer Rouge regime put to death hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children through execution, starvation, torture and forced labor. Monks were defrocked or executed, temples were razed and Buddhism was outlawed. In three-and-a-half years, out of a population of eight million people, almost two million people died.
And still the nightmare was not over. The Khmer Rouge were finally defeated in 1979 by an invading Vietnamese army. But when they withdrew, burning rice field in their wake, widespread famine struck the countryside. Starving refugees fled across the border into Thailand, where dozens of crude camps sprang up.
Heng Monychenda spent a decade in such a refugee camp, after having served as slave labour under the Khmer Rouge in one of their Youth Mobile Teams. While at the camp he studied under a Venerable Monk, and got ordained. In 1990 he moved to his hometown of Battambang and set up the NGO Buddhism for Development to work for the uplift of rural people. In the mid 1990s, he went to the United States and earned a Masters degree in Public Administration from Harvard. But he returned to Battambang to continue running BFD. "This is the place where I must continue my work" he says.
Established with the aim of helping the people of Cambodia resettle into a peaceful society after nearly 30 years of conflict, BFD today runs programmes on health, education, conservation, social and economic development (see their website http://www.bfdkhmer.org for more details). It has eight branches in various provinces of Cambodia. It focuses on practical measures to improve the lives of rural people: better education, cleaner water, affordable seeds. Under Heng Monychenda's guidance, BFD has helped temples begin community reforestation projects, lent its old tractor to farmers, started two kindergartens for children, established Cooperatives, and given loans to poor farmers for income generating activities.
This year BFD celebrated its 15th anniversary in promoting socially-engaged Buddhism in Cambodia. It has been difficult to walk the middle path, and remain disengaged from the maze of Cambodian current affairs. Although a measure of stability has returned to Cambodia in recent years, attempts to establish a tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge officials have not been very successful. Cambodians today are still coming to terms with the deadly legacy of their past. The Khmer Rouge destroyed the trust of the people. What is critical now, says Heng Monychenda, is that people have confidence in themselves to do good and improve their lives.
Start today, become a Helping Hand Yourself!
Click here to see how
you can help support BFD. You can adopt a
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Home page: http://www.bfdkhmer.org
HelloLife.org thanks Monks Heng Monychenda and Bun Salout for telling us about their work