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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Moving Sounds annual report

Being a world-wide community, the FWBO is full of diverse people and projects, all more – or less – closely affiliated with “The FWBO”, and, as a result, all more or less well-known among the wider FWBO sangha.

Moving Sounds is an example - they’re a small but innovative ‘Community Interest Company’ run by Keith, Ed, Caspar, and Jo, four mitras from the UK’s Buddhafield and Brighton sanghas. They specialise in music and drama workshops for schools, everything they do carrying a skilfully-delivered social message but also being a lot of fun - a certain Head of Geography is on record as saying "The only way the students could have enjoyed it more is if they had been stuffing their faces with chocolate at the same time!"

Their recently published annual report is full of gems such as the RECYCLED ORCHESTRA, which combines the experience of playing recycled percussion as a group with performance, video, discussion and group activities about waste and climate-change; the ECO SHOW, which presents broader ecological issues in a fun and entertaining way using theatre, clowning, plenty of music and different characters to explore topics including energy use, global foot printing, oil consumption, and alternative energy sources. They’ve just commissioned a local artist to make a pair of giant feet (for the USA, we wonder why!) and performed music and storytelling workshops about ‘How to Make the Best World Imaginable’ at the World Environment Day

Alongside that, they have a strong link to Africa – Ed and Caspar recently returning from an extended trip there with ‘THE GREAT EMBAIRE’ in their hand luggage. The Embaire is the biggest xylophone in the world, originating in Uganda and played by 10 people simultaneously for several hours – usually accompanied by plenty of dancing and celebration.

In Africa they made a promotional DVD for XPERA UGANDA - Africa’s first opera company. The idea is that this will enable XPERA to apply for funding to run community opera projects in Uganda, there will then be many possible links to Moving Sounds' own community opera projects in the UK through the UK's Knowledge Transfer funding programmes.

As part of their trip Ed and Caspar made many links with people and organisations in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Zanzibar, Malawi and Mozambique – all of which could potentially become projects that integrate creative workshops with cultural sharing, documentation and training trainers for capacity building. Moving Sounds plan to focus on funding for these projects in 2008. They're a great example of how Buddhist principles can make a real difference in the world without ever calling themselves 'Buddhist'. We wish them well…

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

FWBO Johannesburg launches website

The FWBO and TBMSG have some 80 Buddhist centres world-wide, on four continents – but very little presence in Africa. However, a little-known fact is that for some three years now the FWBO has had a centre in Johannesburg - a large and peaceful house situated in the suburb of Emmarentia. It is called Shantikula, which translates as 'Peaceful Tribe', and is run by a small but dedicated team: Ratnajyoti, Vajradhara and Wayne.

They are celebrating the new year with the launch of a website, the first time they have had one – and even if you don't plan to be in Johannesburg any time soon you can now find out about their meditation and dharma classes, their courses for stress, anxiety and depression, their macrobiotic cooking, and even the organic vegetable garden! Find it at – and go visit if you’re ever passing!

We’re hoping more photos will appear on their site over time – among other things they have a very special Buddha rupa, carved specially for them following the traditional conventions of African carving – this makes it possibly unique in the Buddhist world.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Intrepid women #2 - AIDS work in Uganda

Loren Treisman is a mitra from the Cambridge and Buddhafield centres. She’s been in Africa for the past eight months working first on AIDS-related projects in Uganda with an NBO called Tasaaga, latterly in Malawi in an orphanage. This is a report from her. She says -

“So I thought I would start with a brief low down on the general situation out here and then go on to the specifics.

AIDS is affecting EVERYONE. It's not as simple as treating patients. Every family I have met has either lost a member or is caring for orphans which few can afford, communities are losing health workers, teachers, basically all skilled workers to this devastating disease. It's an endless cycle where poverty increases the risks of becoming infected with HIV and being infected leads to greater poverty. I've been reading so much literature out here and I could tell you so much more, it's verging on impossible to describe quite what it is like out here where few people have access to basic needs such as clean drinking water, education and health care and where ignorance is killing people.

At the start of this year, I was working on Jana island, which is 1 of the Ssese islands on Uganda’s Lake Victoria (which is so large it looks like an ocean). The only access to the island is on a rickety boat which only goes once every 2 days (and that's in theory, in practice it goes less often). There's no electricity, no water other than the lake (or bottles which noone but me can afford), no permanent structures (mud huts only), no secondary school, no nurses or Drs, I could go on but I am sure you get the picture. There are approximately 1500 people on the island, excluding children and the HIV infection rate is estimated to be around 29%, though it is impossible to know as few people have managed to get tested. Women have a really hard time and since I have been here in Uganda (about 2 months) I have only managed to make one female friend but many males.

Following interviewing, I realised that the most vital necessities on the island were education and income generation. I devised an education program and gave daily seminars ranging from lectures to informal gatherings in the various villages on topics including nutrition, family planning, child abuse and labour. The receptivity was incredible and I was astonished at how much people listened. I have had villagers flocking to me for free condoms and femidoms which oddly enough they really like out here, telling me how much energy they’ve got having drunk more water, telling each other off if they saw child violence, it brings tears to my eyes to see the difference.

4 people died on the island while fishing (the only way to make a living in Jana), all in their 20's, which really got to me due to being unable to swim so I arranged swimming lessons in the lake. It was fairly tough teaching adults but some of them were getting there and I have encouraged them to train others.

My main work on the island involved setting up income generating schemes. I don't believe in hand outs, and people expect them here from people in the west so I thought the best solution was to start some project which helped the villagers help themselves. After many meetings, establishing viability of different projects, the fertility of soil, the skills available, etc, 2 projects were decided on-pineapple growing and pig rearing. By the time I left, with the help of many inspiring villagers land was cleared for 300 pineapples and there are 400 more to go and the pig house had started to be built and piglets secured from the mainland. A committee was established comprised of trustworthy community members who will decided how to distribute the money, based on those who work hardest and those who are unable to work due to old age or bad health The aim is for the profits to largely contribute towards supporting orphans, school fees and health care as well as to expand the projects to generate more income. People are so incredibly grateful.

Since then it's been Malawi and the city of Blantyre where I've worked in a very cool orphanage, the contagious smiles of African kids never cease to make my heart go gooey inside, I can't wait to teach some of them in August! My meditation has gone to new levels which is most exciting too. So much inspiration out here! Miss you all more than you know, it gets painful sometimes but I can't help following my dreams, Africa rocks my world!

SADHU Loren...!

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

New FWBO centre in Johannesburg

Ratnajyoti from Johannesburg writes -

We have named the new FWBO centre in Johannesburg 'Shantikula' (the peaceful tribe). The building and alteration work for phase 1, which lasted about 7 months, is nearly completed. Phase 2, which will include the alteration of the kitchen and the lounge, will come at a later stage. It is still rather dusty and a bit chaotic, but activities have started here in the past couple of weeks. In fact, we meditated for the first time in the new shrine room, when we celebrated the '108 year puja' for Bhante around his birthday. Meanwhile the Sangha night, the drop-in meditation class, the lunch-time meditation and the Dharma study group are all up and running. I continue to offer individual or group 'Introduction to Buddhism’ and/or meditation courses. Vajradhara will be back in a weeks time and will lead another 'Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Course'. He will also introduce 2 weekend retreats at the centre in October and November to take advantage of the extended facilities at 'Shantikula', as well as a couple of working day retreats. We will have the official opening of the 'Shantikula' on 28 October, which will be followed by a practice day to ritually dedicate the space to the pursuit of truth.

At the moment a large Buddha rupa, seated in meditation posture, 1.7m high and in African style is, currently taking shape in the new shrine room. He is being sculpted in clay in a single piece by Isabella Viglietti, who is working with great dedication and inspiration. Before being fired in a kiln off-site, the Buddha will need to dry for 6 weeks or longer. He will weigh about 250 kg and we will need a few strong people to carry him outside and onto a trailer. These people need to sit with him on the journey to the kiln. Isabella wanted to work on-site, and it is actually very is inspiring to see the Buddha taking shape in the shrine room, growing daily and then being covered in plastic to keep the clay moist while we are meditating in front of a temporary shrine.

A couple of weeks ago I was invited by the 'Emoyeni Retreat Centre' to lead an introduction to a ‘Buddhism and meditation' weekend retreat. 'Emoyeni' is a Buddhist retreat centre that is about 1½ hours away from Johannesburg, out in the countryside. It was established by two men, at least one of whom lived at a Buddhist retreat centre in Ixopo (Natal, near Durban) for a few number of years. Meanwhile all kinds of retreats are offered at 'Emoyeni', including quite a few Stephen Batchalor retreats, also Yoga retreats, Tai Chi retreats, bird-watching retreats and so on. So I accepted the invitation and led the retreat. 11 people attended, 2 men and 9 women plus Mervyn who runs Emoyeni and a woman who lives there as well. Some of the people are now interested to come to our centre, as they live in Johannesburg and they are looking for a place to go and meditate here.

A significant outreach programme is Wayne Sampson's prison work. He goes regularly to the 'Johannesburg Central Prison' to lead meditation or a Dharma discussion group there. One of the men he is visiting regularly and who takes part has asked for ordination.

Our second possible outreach programme is taking shape: A couple of weeks ago we were invited by the local government, the 'Department of Human Development' in partnership with the 'Friends for Life' (an NGO dealing with people infected with HIV/AIDS) as well as some churches, to a presentation of a 'HIV/AIDS orphan project' that is currently running in Alexandra, one of the biggest townships in Johannesburg..Wayne and I went to the meeting, Vajradhara was in Europe but as he always wanted to get engaged in HIV/AIDS work here in South Africa he wrote a proposal of what we could offer. He sent it to me over email and I presented it at the meeting.The proposal included the 'Mindfulness-Based stress reduction course' that he would like to lead for HIV/AIDS infected people in general, or/and older orphans who are HIV+, as well as for care givers, whether or not they are infected themselves. As I would certainly support him in this work we could go out into the township and run the course in a community centre there. Beside offering the course Vajradhara included in his proposal some specific thoughts on HIV/AIDS work, in particular how to respond to and alleviate stigma and discrimination and the benefits of bringing an existential approach to AIDS/HIV. Some of the questions other people raised in their own presentations were: 'What is being done for the care- givers, who often suffer from stress and anxiety and challenges in their work ? Challenges that include HIV infected children, malnutrition, sexual exploitation of orphans, domestic violence, lack of education, orphans not coping with their HIV status and so on and what help is offered for those orphans?

When it was my turn to present the proposal I referred to these points, and it led to quite a bit of interest. Even though the main interest of the organizers was in looking for sponsors for material help in form of food- or clothes parcels or taking over school fees for orphans, it was agreed that the psychological and spiritual approach was equally important. They want to come back to us soon, they said. It was interesting to hear that there are 206 girls and 163 boys, who are orphans in that township (Alexandra) alone. We were pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

Note: this report was published in the November 2006 edition of Shabda. Reprinted with permission.

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