How to Help People in Bhutan
Bhutan is a tiny, isolated, primarily Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas that has only permitted television since 1998. In a country that measures development by Gross National Happiness in lieu in of Gross Domestic Product, does it make sense to ask how to help people in Bhutan? Given the often discriminatory treatment of journalists, non-Buddhists, the disabled, women and especially Nepali-speakers, the answer is yes—this question should still be asked.

Bhutan has had an extremely rapid transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy with the establishment of political parties in 2007 and held its first election in 2008. The Freedom House upgraded the country’s Freedom Status in 2009 from “not free” to “partly free,” citing the below reasons:

  • Journalists surveyed in 2012 expressed grave concerns about freedom and personal safety.
  • Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work on issues relating to ethnic Nepalese are not allowed to operate in Bhutan.
  • In 2007, Bhutan moved to a rule of law. The civilian police operate within the law and the Judiciary is considered autonomous.
  • The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in answer to corruption within the government, was given more leeway and power. The most recent Prime Minister, Togbay, does not tolerate corruption, and many prior powerful politicians are now being held accountable.

In the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report, the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons determined that the government of Bhutan did not fully meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government did demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. In an example of how to help people in Bhutan, the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) partnered with an international organization to conduct training on anti-trafficking toolkits and also to facilitate reports on Bhutan laws and policies on trafficking. Bhutan, over the last five years, has still remained a source and destination country for both forced labor and sex trafficking.

Bhutan has no formal relations with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and accepts financial assistance from primarily India, leaving Bhutan isolated from much of the world. It has recently shown a willingness to move toward democratic ideals and is also seeking to increase tourism after a long history of shunning foreigners. Learning how to help people in Bhutan means working to ensure adequate funding for the NGOs and other agencies dedicated to assisting the Bhutanese officials. One must work to stay vigilant and continue to support organizations dedicated to combating violations of human rights in Bhutan.

Michael Carmack

Photo: Flickr

Democratization in Burma, now Myanmar, seems to have opened up a can of worms. Freeing political prisoners, allowing freedom of speech, granting access to social media and tolerating freedom of assembly has allowed many Burmese people to express what had long be suppressed, albeit incompetently at times – a deep-seated hatred for the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Rohingya make up five percent of Buddhist-majority Myanmar and have been discriminated against for centuries. They are denied citizenship and many basic rights because they are not seen as Burmese, even though their families were brought over from what was then Bengal many generations ago. But while the military junta was in power, it jailed anyone who incited violence against the Rohingya in the interest of keeping peace.

In 2011, the regime finally started opening up and passed a series of political, economic and social reforms. Among other developments, Myanmar freed opposing politician Aung San Suu Kyi after placing her under house arrest for fifteen years. It also gave general amnesty to hundreds of political prisoners, one of which was a monk named Ashin Wirathu.

Wirathu had been jailed for twenty-five years for inciting anti-Muslim hatred. Now free to resume his activities, Wirathu helped instigate a wave of resentment toward the Rohingya that cumulated in the deadly 2012 Rakhine State riots and the 2013 nationwide anti-Muslim riots. He now heads the fanatic 969 movement, which has a large following among the Buddhist population.

The movement calls on all Buddhists to refuse to do business with the Rohingya and demarcate their homes and businesses using the “969” sticker. They are already pervasive on many shop windows, cars and motorbikes across Myanmar. The economic boycott against Muslims is only one of the four propositions of 969; the others are to restrict marriage between Buddhists and Muslims, forbid religious conversions and prohibit polygamy.

The general intent of these laws, according to Wirathu, is to prevent a much-feared Muslim “population explosion.” He calls Muslims “African carp” that “breed quickly and eat their own kind.” The Rohingya, he claims, are a threat to Buddhism and the Burmese national identity.

The movement has already succeeded in getting a “population control” bill signed into law. The bill gives the government the power to stop mothers from having another child for 36 months. Human rights groups are certain that this law will only victimize Rohingya women.

These racist attitudes are not marginal, according to Richard Horsey, a political analyst from Yangon. In fact, these extremist views are mainstream. Matt Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said that people often get together in community meetings similar to American town hall meetings to discuss how to get rid of the “Bengali problem.” In Karen State, host to Myanmar’s capital Hpa-an, fliers exhort people to stop Muslims from leasing homes and farms, and some threaten Buddhists who act as their middlemen.

Facebook, which had long been suppressed under the junta regime, is now also being used as a means to spread hatred. Users encourage their friends and family members to support the 969 movement. Groups such as the “Kalar Beheading Gang” (“Kalar” is a highly derogatory word given to Muslims) have popped up.

Attacking the Rohingya has therefore become good politics in Myanmar, Jonathan Head, the BBC correspondent for Southeast Asia, asserts, and rhetoric is heating up as elections approach in November. Fear mongering has allowed new and rising politicians to curry favor with the Buddhist majority. Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as the symbol of human rights in the country, and now head of the National League for Democracy Party, has been conspicuously silent.

The Rohingya were also recently stripped of their right to vote. Just before the end of military rule in 2008, the junta had allowed them to vote and even put up candidates for election. But in 2013, when the government said it would maintain the Rohingya’s right to vote in a constitutional referendum, Buddhists staged massive protests. Hoping to appease the population, the government made the Rohingya turn in their identity cards.

Many international organizations have said that the recent events amount to genocide. More than 170,000 Rohingya live in internally displaced persons camps throughout the country after their houses and villages were burned to the ground in riots. They are circled by hostile Buddhist populations that do not allow them to leave the camp. The camps rarely have medical facilities and the Rohingya often have to sell their meager food rations to obtain medicines for their children. Jonathan Head calls the conditions “ghetto-like.” The government has actively refused to count casualty rates.

During a recent international conference in Norway that aimed to address the Rohingya crisis, George Soros, a business magnate turned philanthropist, said that “In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too, was a Rohingya…Much like the Jewish ghettos set up by the Nazis in eastern Europe during World War II, Aung Mingalar has become the involuntary home of thousands of families who once had access to healthcare, education and employment. Now they are forced to remain segregated in a state of abject deprivation. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming.”

More than 150,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar in overstuffed and rickety boats within the last three and a half years of democratic reforms. Smugglers promise to take them to Malaysia or Indonesia, Muslim majority countries. Jonathan Head voiced concern over the appalling conditions of the boats, which he said “were akin to the 18th century slave trade.” People cannot stand or sit properly, and are beaten if they try to stretch their legs. They are given a cup of rice, a single chili and two cups of water a day until the food runs out, as it often does.

Many boats never reach their destination and are instead handed over to traffickers, usually in Thailand, where people are then held ransom for up to $2,000. This often means that relatives in Myanmar have to sell their remaining land and homes to get them out. If they cannot, the traffickers simply leave them to starve. Recently, mass graves were uncovered in Thailand and Malaysia.

Myanmar refuses to admit responsibility for the crisis. Major Zaw Htay, director of the President’s Office, said that the country would “not accept allegations by some that Myanmar is the source of the problem.”

 — Radhika Singh

Sources: Bangkok Post 1, Bangkok Post 2, Foreign Correspondants Club of Thailand, Bangkok Post 3, Al Jazeera, Asia Nikkei, Global Post 1, The Guardian, Global Post 2, BBC
Photo: Flickr

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama made a recent visit to Princeton University to discuss the second half of the school’s informal motto “…in the service of all nations” a motto coined by former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. During the Dalai Lama’s talk, he centered on the idea that there is a universal need for compassion. He believes that at the center of both service and scholarship is compassion. The compass to your life, he urged, can be guided and the answers will always appear clear when “your intentions matter, develop your heart, be honest with yourself, work very hard at these things, and let them direct your efforts.” He stressed these points to Princeton University students and faculty as they were looking for ways to increase their community service in the area. The Dalai Lama believes that any action of compassion has to be preceded with an external action of service for it to be sincere and maintainable.

Compassion, the Dalai Lama pointed out, must be coupled with hard work. During his talk he recognizes that he did not easily become the 14th Dalai Lama easily. As a testament to his self-discipline, he wakes up every morning 3 a.m. and begins his rituals, including three hours of meditation. Although his rituals seem extreme, he pointed out that people should not be commanded to service, forced against their will into spiritual discipline or compassionate acts. True compassion arises from a sincere affection for the other.

Another element that he focused on was the real mover of all things is love. The Dalai Lama often says that American universities are adroit in developing the mind, but not the heart. How often do people do service work intentionally and focused on developing the capacity for love? There must be a correlation, he stressed, drawn between academic excellence and kindheartedness in order for schools to be more compassionate in their actions.

Speaking through his interpreter, the Dalai Lama said: “When we talk about human connection and compassion, the focus is the person, not their culture… the primary emotion at a basic human level is that of love; the secondary level is differences; that’s where complex emotions like jealousy and competitiveness arise.” Anything that you project outward once began and came from inward. In order to give compassion you must cultivate it within yourself. Doing community service is not robot work, it takes real thoughtful actions, care and connections. Just like Newton’s law for every action there is an equal or opposite reaction, the source of compassionate action must be love.

The Dalai Lama encouraged the students at Princeton to make the world a much more peaceful place by aligning their positive energies and having a deep commitment to service.

Charisma Thapa

Sources: Huffington Post, Princeton University
Photo: Flickr

The Tzu Chi Foundation is a globally immersed Chinese Buddhist humanitarian organization that is originated and based in Taiwan. It was founded in 1999 by the Buddhist nun Cheng Yen and is a volunteer organization that provides aid to roughly 70 nations worldwide.

The foundation is present in all of the world’s five major continents and maintains offices in 47 different countries.

The organization’s website clearly delineates its goals and mission. The group’s four expressed goals are referred to as its “Four Major Missions” of charity, medical help and attention, education and humanity. It also focuses on four other venues: bone marrow donation efforts, environmental considerations, community volunteering and international relief.

Their four goals combine with these considerations to form “Tzu Chi’s Eight Footprints.”

Tzu Chi maintains consultative relations with the United Nations Economic and Social Council. Its members are often referred to as “blue angels” due to their signature blue uniforms. The group has built numerous villages, nursing homes, schools and hospitals across the world. It also maintains the Tzu Chi International Medical Association, which includes professional doctors who travel in times of international disaster to provide medical relief to victims.

The group also acted closer to home than many U.S. citizens may know or think. After Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey, Tzu Chi members personally dispersed $10 million total in $300 and $600 Visa credit gift cards to victims in the area.

Its efforts abroad are plentiful and very personalized, illustrating an admirable method of involved humanitarianism. For example, after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, China, Tzu Chi members brought blankets, nourishment and medical aid to the disaster-stricken area. The group also focuses on very impoverished areas in China and elsewhere, distributing rice, oil, blankets, clothes and medical services to those in need.

The organization ignores ethnic, religious, national or racial boundaries or restrictions, but instead spreads Buddhist principles of morality, kindness, humanism and selflessness. Furthermore, they provide both instant and long-term infrastructural solutions to community problems throughout the world.

Tzu Chi is making a difference one blue angel at a time.

Arielle Swett

Sources: Tzu Chi, The Register

Tzu Chi Organization
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation is an international non-profit humanitarian organization with four main tenets: charity, medicine, education, and humanitarian culture. So far, with the help of 10 million volunteers and donors, the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has provided millions of dollars of relief and aid in over 70 countries.

Tzu Chi was among the first organizations to provide relief to families that were victims of the World Trade Center attacks, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti. Tzu Chi is unique in its approach to disaster relief in that it hands sums of cash directly into the hands of survivors. This is part of Tzu Chi’s philosophy: allowing survivors to use charity money on their own terms.

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation started in 1966 when a group of women began to save two cents from grocery money every day to donate to charity. The organization registered as a non-profit 501(c)(3) in California in 1984, and over the years, it has become an international group of over 10 million volunteers.

Literally meaning “compassionate relief,” Tzu Chi has expanded its program beyond just charity by building schools and hospitals around the world. With deep roots in Asia, Tzu Chi has become one of the most influential charity organizations in that region. Tzu Chi volunteers are easily recognized by their blue and white uniforms, and have frequently been called “blue angels.”

A factor that distinguishes Tzu Chi from many other Buddhist organizations is that it is first and foremost not evangelical. Volunteers are made to feel at home and are encouraged to practice whatever religion they affiliate with. All members are encouraged to improve their behavior and mindset, regardless of the underlying Buddhist ethics.

Tzu Chi is strictly non-political and non-governmental, and does not discriminate based on race, religion, nationality, gender, or ethnicity. For this, it has come under some scrutiny in the past, as many Taiwanese were upset with Tzu Chi for offering relief to mainland China. That criticism passed when Tzu Chi became one of the most coordinated organizations to provide relief to Taiwan during the 921 earthquake.

The organization has expanded to involve university students worldwide. The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association is a worldwide network that was officially established in Taiwan in 1992. The volunteers are often given opportunities to attend international NGO conferences. Tzu Shao is also a branch of Tzu Chi that allows youth 18 and under to get involved.

Tzu Chi is progressive in the idea that human growth is rooted in charity and giving, not just internal meditation. Not only does Tzu Chi help survivors of disasters and tragedies, but it also helps its volunteers. Many people are involved with the organization to help their communities and also for their own personal development.

– Lindsey Rubinstein

Sources: Tzu Chi, NY Daily News

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is a holy figure within Tibetan Buddhism and an ardent advocate for Tibetan independence from China. Discussed below are interesting facts about the current Dalai Lama and his life.

Top 5 Facts About the Dalai Lama


  1. The Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso was born Lhamo Dhondup on July 6, 1935 to a peasant family in northeastern Tibet. He was found by Tibetan monks at age two and passed all tests and had the physical traits of the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama. He took the throne at age 4 at an enthronement ceremony in Lhasa, Tibet and became a monk at age 6.
  2. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his work advocating nonviolent means to free Tibet from China. He has lived in India in exile since 1959 when the Chinese Army eliminated an uprising in Tibet.
  3. He has a variety of hobbies. His favorite activities include meditating, gardening, and repairing watches.
  4. He is said to be a manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion who has chosen to reincarnate to serve the people. The current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso is is the 74th manifestation of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Tibetans refer to him as Yeshe Norbu, the Wish-fulfilling Gem, or Kundun, meaning The Presence.
  5. He has continuously emphasized his desire to see Tibet democratized. He has publicly declared that once the Tibetans are capable of achieving independence from the Chinese government, he will not hold political office, choosing instead to remain as a purely religious figure despite his current status as the Tibetan Head of State and Government. He wishes to continue to travel and spread his message of religious and cultural tolerance and peace.

– Caitlin Zusy

Sources: US News, CNN
Photo: Vagabond