Being Family

When Marjo and I offered your dana to Daw Yuzana for the Metta Ywa Nunnery and School in early December, she gave me the wonderful gift of a bolt of cotton fabric that had come from Bodh Gaya. So I asked the nuns at Sasanasukhacari Laputta Nunnery to sew it for me, as they always say that they want to offer robes – and I know them to be very skilled at crafting the sometimes fiddly blouses that we have to wear as part of the nun’s robes.

After less than a fortnight, today Daw Uttama came to my room with three beautiful sets of robes that Daw Uttara had made. She told me that since I had no iron, to please feel free to give them the robes to press when I wash them, and they would be very happy to do that. Embarrassed — ‘Ana deh’ we say in Burmese — I laughed and objected, “But the Laputta nuns are not my servants.”

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She laughed and patiently explained to me that they are not my servants, that is true, but we are all family. So please do not be embarrassed! Now that her parents have both died, she said the meaning of family has changed and her heart is much wider than before. And from that place of wideness, she feels all of us are family – so just as she cares directly for her the children in her nunnery, we care for her – and she wanted to reciprocate.

I will probably not take her up on that kind offer (though for the sake of neatness I likely should). But her mentioning family opened the door for questions that I had about the lay children at the Laputta Nunnery. So we sat on my floor and talked, with a Burmese-English / English-Burmese dictionary going back and forth between us: so who are these children, and what are their stories?

One girl (upper left photo in the group above, first from right), studying for her 10th Standard Examination, came from Laputta (in the Irrawaddy Delta) and has lived there as a nun since “Nargis time’ when she was a child. Two years ago she decided to disrobe but still stays there as a laywoman, as part of the community, in order that she can study. I asked Daw Uttama, ” So, is she now also a helper [as well as studying]?” But no. There is no need for her to work any more than before or even to be a nun; the point is just to support her however is needed until she’s done with her studies.  We might be surprised at the generosity of that support, but this kind of generosity — with no strings attached — is not unusual here. In fact it is totally unremarkable. That’s what family does.

The two younger lay kids, a boy in 3rd Standard and a girl in Kindergarten, are family: they are Daw Uttama’s nephew and niece, the children of her younger brother. And his family’s story of challenge is both sad and incredibly common in Burma. The family – like so many in our neighborhood – is desperately poor. He and his wife live down the road in a pop-up shantytown that began to appear several years ago under a big power line on the edge of town and has only gotten more crowded. He works in construction, and in fact has helped a lot with the nunnery. But about five years ago he developed liver trouble (likely hepatitis from bad water) and since then has not been able to work regularly. His wife has neither skills nor education, but in order to support the family, she had to start selling things in the market from a bamboo tray she carries on her head.

While doing it’s impossible to take care of the kids, especially not their infant daughter. So Maung Aung Boun Pyit and Ma Kwin Yati Laing came to the nuns, for shelter, an education, and loving support as long as they need it. She has been here since she was months old and is the darling of the nunnery, everyone’s little sister. And he is everyone’s brother.

Lay kids living in a nunnery are often blood family, but this not always the case. At other nunneries, we have met those who had been abandoned or orphaned – brought there by villagers. Or sometimes the kids are found by nuns themselves when they are out and about on their alms rounds. Being abandoned or alone at home with mortally ill parents are dire and unimaginable scenarios for us. But sadly, here they are not unheard of — signs of just how on the brink of desperation people can be, and why the nunneries are such essential safety nets. Young lives literally depend on them.

And now more than ever, all the nunneries need our support. Inflation is rampant. Daw Uttama told me that now they have to spend 65,000 Kyat (about 50 USD) each month just for electricity. They conserve as much as they can, but the price is just going up and up. Digging through my old notes, I read that just 2 years ago a month’s electricity was only 15,000 Kyat, and that was a ‘high’ bill. Recently there has been huge increase — and describing the impact of that, Daw Uttama smiled and said, “Oh it is such a headache! Each month we have to find so much to pay them.”

But the bills do get paid. And all the girls — and boys — are safe.                                               It is no small thing, family.

Chanmyavati (12)

 

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Vision and Vitality

Hospitals. We tend to take them for granted. In most places, if we have a health crisis at home or at work, a hospital is within easy reach by car or ambulance. And many of us who live in or near a city of any size in the West will have several good hospitals to choose from if we need help in a hurry.

But imagine this: you are living in rural Burma, with the nearest hospital 3 hours away by motorcycle taxi, and then a crowded bus. Imagine you’re working in your field and get bitten by a viper. Or maybe your father has a heart attack. Or perhaps you are a young mother-to-be and things are going dangerously wrong as you deliver your baby. Death is alarmingly close at hand.

But at least for Thaleba (Sayadaw U Indaka’s village in Upper Myanmar) and several nearby villages, very soon there will be vital care much closer at hand. In December last year, Sayadaw announced to us that he wanted to build a hospital on land that had been donated by the family of one of the nuns at Chanmyay Myaing Monastery. So after we offered a generous donation to start with, he got to work immediately.

And what work! In 12 short months, the hospital has gone from stakes in bare dusty ground to a growing structure that is nearing completion.

It is a huge project, made possible not only by our donations but also donations from many Burmese people and Sayadaw’s devotees abroad. We are proud and happy to have been part of this amazing process from its inception – and we are amazed at the speed at which it is coming to completion. Sayadaw has told us that he intends to finish at the end of the year, and we are sure he will. When the hospital is fully operational with staffing pledged by the government, there will delivery rooms, an operating theatre, several wards…and much more peace of mind for everyone living nearby.

In November, Mimmi and Ayya Virañani accompanied a number of Sayadaw’s Malaysian devotees to Thaleba for a visit to see the hospital. Seeing the amazing progress he has made, we very much look forward to our annual visit in February – knowing that by then there will be a hospital here, rather than a construction site! We will be sure to show you what we see!

 

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Adding Kindness to the World

Marjo is on her way home, after a whirlwind few days of visits and donations. The visits we make this time of year are as much a joy as the donations, as we take the time to reconnect, see what’s happening for the nuns, and simply to catch up. For them, this  time after the rains retreat is when building projects begin, and also when those who are studying (for advanced Dhamma degrees or for the 10th Standard) are working hard to prepare for the upcoming exams that happen in December, January, and March.

In the last few days we have offered to several nunneries and monastic schools – and have received so much gratitude. Several of the nuns told us emphatically that there is no way they could have accomplished what they have without your ongoing generosity. In 2008, many of these nuns lived in tiny bamboo houses, but now they have safe and durable brick dwellings. Where there were no schools, now hundreds of kids are getting an education. It is a beautiful thing to be part of.

In times like this when it seems that hatred is becoming ‘normal,’ we treasure the chance to act for the benefit of others, adding to the kindness in the world. Thank your for joining us!

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2019-2020 Donations are Underway

We – Ayya Virañani and Marjo, who are now in Yangon –  are thrilled to begin distributing your donations from this year. It brings us great joy to be the conduits and messengers of your metta, knowing that whatever you have offered will be of great benefit for many beings.

This year we intend to be more active here. So  as we distribute your donations we will from time to time be posting stories that touch us, so that you can see what we are doing as we are doing it!

And just a reminder – Ariya, Carol, and Greg will be coming to continue our work on your behalf in December and January. So if you feel moved to offer a donation in before the end of the year, they are still able to receive your Metta In Action – you can contact them through our email address.

Boundless thanks for your kindness and well-wishing from the many people your donations support!

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2018-2019 Updates are Up!

We are gathering ‘on the ground’ here in Myanmar later this month, to begin offering your 2019-2020 donations to nuns, children, schools, and healthcare. Ayya Virañani is already in Yangon, and the rest of us will be arriving through November and December.

As this is happening, we are also posting the updates from last year for your enjoyment and inspiration. You can download these from the Updates page to print or read offline.

We are so touched and uplifted by the many nuns, Sayadaws, and teachers we support, seeing how their astonishing effectiveness makes life better for all the people their lives touch.

 

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New Updates Are Posted

Although the our posts on this blog are sporadic, our activity ‘on the ground’ in Myanmar hasn’t slowed down at all! We’re now gearing up to offer your donations from 2017, and most of the updates from last year’s distribution are now posted for you to read. We are so very grateful for your ongoing support – as are countless people here.

We have been doing this work for almost 10 years now. And in the midst of it, we just do what we do, step by step, without taking much notice of the cumulative effect of everything  we’ve done over the years. But that’s becoming more and more obvious, and our dana activities have gradually evolved into a steady field of support for many hundreds of people.

Happy reading , and wishing you all the very best of New Years!

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2015 Updates and New Photos

We are in the process of adding new images from this year to our photo gallery and have recently uploaded stories and news about our 2014-15 donations to the webpage. So we invite you to participate in our offerings:  simply click on the photo gallery or update buttons, and enjoy the journey to Burma!

 

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2015 Flooding in Burma Exacerbates Ongoing Need

This year’s heavy monsoon rains and resulting floods received much media attention–for a while. Although the eye of the world has now moved on to other stories, of course the suffering in Burma that resulted from the deluge did not miraculously dry up when the floodwaters receded. In many ways the floods have made the challenges average people face even more difficult. So as we prepare for our next round of offerings in December and January, we are exploring many ways that we can help. We welcome your participation and invite you to contact us at <mettainaction@gmail.com>.

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The 2014 Updates are here…and 2015 updates are in progress

As usual this time of the year, we are all busy with our ‘other’ work–work other than Metta In Action, that is. But much of what we do now is no less important than the work we do in Burma. It is a time to connect with people who are interested in Metta In Action and want to know more–and to give the many many people who have offered donations news about where their kindness went.
So each year we send out updates to our donors…and post them here for everyone to read. All of the previous updates are there, and we have just posted the first of four updates from our 2014-15 cycle of donations, about our offerings to a remote village in Upper Myanmar. We hope you enjoy the virtual journey to Burma!

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A second 2014 update

We are happy to post for your enjoyment the second update about our activities in Burma over this last year. Although it is a time of great change and opportunity for many in this beautiful country, need levels for those at the bottom of the economic heap only seem to be getting more intense. Read in our newest update how Metta In Action’s work this year has provided education and new hope to thousands of young people in Yangon and further afield.

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