B UDDHIST monks are turning to preaching of a different sort - about health, sanitation
and other issues - as they take the lead in rural development.
From planting trees, starting rice banks and giving health advice, dozens of monks
at Anlongvil commune in Battambang are using their influence among the locals to
help them improve their lives. Similar efforts are being made by monks and nuns at
40 pagodas around Cambodia, part of the Buddhism for Development program.
Originally launched by the Venerable Heng Monychenda at the Site 2 refugee camp on
the Thai border in 1990, the program has been based at Anlongvil commune for two
Sponsored by German NGO Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF), the project offers training
to monks in community development.
Instead of just staying in their pagoda, Anlongvil monks are urged to wander from
village to village, finding the problems of the local people and - and solutions
KAF director Peter Schier said the project aimed to take advantage of monks' high
standing in their communities, while at the same time preserving and strengthening
the culture, morals and ethics of Cambodians.
While local officials might not be well-respected by villagers, "monks are the
foundation of this society. Why shouldn't we encourage them to do more for development?"
While most monks mainly stayed in their pagodas, practicing their religion, building
temples and so on, Schier believed they should spend their spare time helping locals.
Since May 1994, KAF's support for Anlongvil commune has included establishing and
equipping a community development center and library, training monks and laypeople
in community development and establishing rice banks for poor farmers. Other activities
include setting up tree nurseries and compost-making schemes, as well as providing
youth education in Buddhist morals and ethics.
Monk Tem Katta, who had received several weeks training from KAF, said even the simple
projects could produce positive effects. For instance, signs had been erected warning
people not to wash themselves or their animals in ponds used for drinking water,
to prevent the spread of disease.
"The people now better understand about how to get access to safe water, have
proper toilets and prevent infectious diseases, which they did not care much about
before," said Katta.
Other schemes such as rice and credit banks aimed to help poor people who suffered
crop damage through flood or drought.
"This is the point - that the people will help themselves instead of waiting
for donors to come and help them."
Anlongvil was the site of KAF's second national seminar on Buddhism for Development
last month, which brought together 380 monks and nuns from around Cambodia. It also
marked the opening of its training center and library. The seminar was told that
KAF had opened some 50 rice banks in communes in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey,
helping 2,700 families, and 14 savings and credit banks.
Some 60 monks from 40 pagodas around Cambodia were involved in community development
Schier said it was important to teach Cambodians how to improve their lives, not
just depend on charity. "If we just give them rice, everyday they will come
and ask for more rice."