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Buddhists urged to help local people

Buddhists urged to help local people

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

years.

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

to them.

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

programs.

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."

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