Vipassana Hawai’i’s MettaDana Project collects charitable donations that are distributed through Kyaswa Monastery in the Sagaing Hills area of Upper Burma (Myanmar), as well as to partner organizations working along the Thai-Burma border and in known conflict areas within Burma. This cooperative initiative provides health, educational and related activities for local Burmese communities in need.
In addition to our long history of support for the people of Burma, the recent crisis with the Rohingya people in Arakan State has led us to explore ways of supporting the desperate immediate needs of this community as well as build long-term solutions to the obstacles of a peaceful multicultural and equitable society.
In addition to our normal fund distribution, in 2018 we raised an additional $18,000 specifically for aid to the Rohingya people—mostly through Michele McDonald’s online course on R.A.I.N. via Tricycle Magazine from which all her portion of the proceeds went to support this work.
Upon arrival, we immediately met with our dear colleague U Htoo Chit of the Foundation for Education and Development. U Htoo Chit is a lifetime Burmese activist and longtime exile, who was helping us look into ways that we could support the Rohingya people directly in Arakan State. Unfortunately, conditions in Arakan State were too dangerous at the time and we could not find a way to create or support projects there without putting many peoples’ lives at risk.
Fortunately, U Htoo Chit is connected with a growing body of people from a variety of religious backgrounds dedicated to engaging in the work of diversity and interfaith dialog across Burma, calling themselves The Lawkatharya Foundation. This group of people, many of whom are from the Generation 88 generation of activists, are also risking their lives and reputations to develop programming and educational opportunities for people to engage each other across lines of significant difference in order to create a more just and understanding society. We traveled to meet some of the leaders of these programs and deeply respect their courage and trust their dedication, vision, and understanding of what can be accomplished in such difficult times.
Because of the experimental nature of the programs we decided to limit last year’s donation to a smaller amount and release the remaining amount this year if the work proved fruitful. So far, our $11,000 in donations has gone to support:
1) Multicultural training, workshops, and public forums on community levels
2) Lawkatharya Foundation basic organizing expenses
3) Study trip for progressive monks to visit some similar projects in Thailand and Cambodia and to engage with migrant workers there about these issues
4) The Seh Tow Ro Youth Education, Peace and Development Centre in Kayah State, another location of longstanding ethnic violence in Myanmar.
In addition, we have made a $2000 donation to BRAC for their work in the Cox Bazaar refugee camp in Bangladesh, where most of the new Rohingya refugees have found themselves. BRAC has a long record of vital work around the world, and in Bangladesh in particular, and we are enthusiastic about being able to offer this support which we will continue in this coming year.
We will be returning this January to check in on the progress of these projects, build relationships, and distribute additional funds.
Please consider supporting the initiative today.
The MettaDana Project began in 1995 by Steven Smith, in collaboration with Sayadaw U Lakkhana, Abbot of Kyaswa Monastery. The initial goal was to give back to the culture that had given all of us such a wealth of wisdom via the teachings of the Buddha. Over time that giving back has included building hospitals and schools in Wachet Village. It has also included humanitarian relief after the devastating effects of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 and support for Burmese refugees in Thailand.
MettaDana primarily operates from Kyaswa Monastery, founded in the 14th century and located in a remote northern area of the Sagaing Hills. The monastery is built on several levels cut into limestone hills rising from the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The highest levels overlook the river east to Mandalay and the Shan Plateau beyond. In addition to practicing and transmitting the Buddha’s teachings, monasteries in Burma have a long tradition of helping surrounding communities with some of the basic needs of life. The lay community both supports and is supported by the monastery in an interdependent and mutually beneficial relationship founded on “metta”- loving kindness, and “dana”- generosity. Kyaswa Monastery is firmly within this noble tradition.
Nearby lies the ancient village of Wachet, which in the 14th century was designated by the king as the food preparation center for the growing numbers of monks and nuns seeking solitude and inspiration in the Sagaing Hills. In fact, the village name derives from the Burmese words for “food preparation.” Now the village has 500 houses and 3000 people, and the monastery is actively involved in improving health and educational conditions.
Sayadaw U Lakkhana is a renowned meditation teacher and founder of the Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital adjacent to the monastery. MDP’s efforts in the Sagaing Hills — the Wachet Village School, the Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital, and support of the Thit Seint, Susitarama, and Shwebo Nunneries — would not be possible without Sayadaw’s participation and guidance.
- Grants for educational studies MettaDana helps cover costs for tuition, school uniforms, and supplies in addition to a stipend for the teachers. Grants have been given to about 300 Wachet primary school students annually since 1997. Without this support, most children barely finished the third grade of their education. To date, we have supported all the school children of Wachet through the eighth grade. Sayadaw U Lakkhana aspires to the dream of purchasing the parcel of land directly behind the existing school property, with the idea of building a high school there.
- New Wachet Primary School
The previous school building flooded during the rainy seasons and sometimes could not be used for months. MettaDana helped fund the building of a new school in 2003 that had solid classroom buildings on high ground. It also has a new reservoir to serve the students and neighborhood, as well as a basic athletic field and gardens. Since then, we have added additional classroom space each year. In 2012 we happily completed the 8th-grade section of the building.
- Living Supplements for Student Nuns
Since 1997 MettaDana has provided modest annual living supplements for about 100 nuns ranging in age from 5 or 6 to 90 in support of their Pali studies. These nuns live in three nunneries, Thit Seint, Susitarama, and Shwebo Nunneries, near Kyaswa Monastery and Wachet Village.
- Wachet Jivitadana Sangha Hospital
Mettadana was instrumental in providing funding as well as coordinating expertise in constructing and adding to the hospital. MettaDana continues to provide support for ongoing services to the communities in the surrounding areas. The hospital itself is a charitable institution: care for monks and nuns is provided freely by volunteer doctors, but staff support, medicines, and supplies depend on donations. In the past, we have provided living supplements to more than 40 staff members at the hospital. We also supported the education of a number of nurse-assistants and now fund the further training of several of them to become registered nurses. MettaDana has funded technical staff training in radiology and laboratory skills, and clerical staff training in computer, English-language, and accounting skills. We also arranged for an extensive public health training program dealing with HIV-AIDS, conducted by the Burnet Institute of Australia.
- Acupuncture Program
MettaDana volunteers have provided acupuncture training to a group of Myanmar traditional medicine practitioners annually since 1998. Using both hands-on time and lecture the team gives training and acupuncture treatment in Wachet. MettaDana funds are used for transportation and miscellaneous supplies, as well as translation of technical literature to compile a Burmese acupuncture handbook. Many of the original students have gone on to have their own growing clinics in other areas and towns. Annually, the acupuncture team treats 2000-3000 patients at the hospital and on outreach excursions. This recent video shows the nature of the wonderful work happening with the project.
- Support Through Partnerships
- Mettadana arranged for medicines from the Mandalay Anti-TB zone and, as of 2005, from Population Services International. In the past, we conducted training seminars in TB-related public health procedures for hospital staff and initiated more rigorous TB-related treatment and record-keeping. Mettadana also initiated a blood donation program for support of surgical patients.
On December 26, 2004, a massive tsunami swept large coastal swaths of the Indian Ocean from an earthquake in Sumatra, including the Andaman coast along southern Thailand. Steven Smith was on his way to Golden Buddha Island where he had been teaching vipassana and metta retreats at the time and had the good fortune to meet Htoo Chit, Executive Director of the Foundation for Education and Development. Htoo Chit is a seasoned organizer for refugees and he had come south from a Burmese refugee camp where he lived along the Thai/Burma border. He quickly set up an aid organization to meet the immediate needs of 30,000 Burmese migrant workers, providing water, food, clothes, and shelter. Soon after, he set up a learning center for children in the coastal village of Kuraburi. Here began the MettaDana Project’s relationship with Htoo Chit’s organization — and a long friendship. Htoo Chit’s work, and our partnership with him has continued with tsunami victims and the children’s learning centers. It also has evolved to include aid for migrant Burmese refugees fleeing not only the cyclone aftermath but also the Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks.
- 2004 Tsunami Relief
MettaDana is still engaged in helping Burmese migrant workers who are living in tsunami-affected areas of southern Thailand. Working with the Foundation for Education and Development we have ongoing contributions to educational centers for children of migrant workers set up in the coastal area of Takua Pa District, Pang Nga Province.
- 2008 Cyclone Nargis Relief
MettaDana was able to collectively raise over $20,000 for the survivors living in the flooded Irrawaddy Delta. Resources directly reached displaced children, farmers, and families across the region via support networks run by local nunneries and monasteries. These Sangha groups were able to actively provided food, water, shelter, and medicine as well as feeding victims spiritually in the Irrawaddy Delta region where damage from the cyclone was the greatest.