Bodh gaya: Bowl of Compassion
When I was planning my final journey to the north, Bodh Gaya was not on my list. I planned to travel straight from Varanasi to Kolkata. Bodh Gaya is where Buddha received his Enlightenment and is therefore a religious pilgrimage site. The small city is full of Buddhist temples with gorgeous architecture and bright colors.
However, I had another purpose for stopping in Bodh Gaya. Through various connections I was introduced to Bowl of Compassion. After learning about their mission I knew that I needed to make a stop! http://www.bowlofcompassion.org/en/home.html
Bowl of Compassion is a non-profit organization that provides schooling and lunch to the impoverished community in the area. The school was started just a few years ago by a German traveller and and Indian local. The school now has 100 children grades 1-5 as well as a waiting list of children. However, the school is at its max right now. The children come to school around 8am where they brush their teeth and comb their hair. After meditation time, they split into classrooms where they are taught basic subjects like math, Hindi, and English. Then before they leave for the day, they are served a hearty lunch.
Before arriving, I didn’t know what kind of work I would be doing or how I would take part. When I did arrive, I met Murari, the founder who grew up in Bodh Gaya. He is a jolly man with a warm smile and outgoing personality. When I asked what he needed done, he responded with the question- what do you like to do? Well, I said I loved to cook and….he stopped be before I could go further. “You cook?” He asked. “Do you know how to cook Indian food?” I explained that I had cooked with my Hindi professor and knew basic Indian cooking. Well, God brought me to Bowl of Compassion. It turns out that the cook was gone for 2 days so Murari needed help in the kitchen!
So for the next 2 days I helped prepare lunch for the children. I worked with the cook’s assistant. I appreciated her expertise as I have not cooked in such large vessels before! The most rewarding aspect was serving the food to the children. The first day I was there was a Monday. I was appalled by how much food these kids could eat. We served them up huge plates of rice with a vegetable curry on top. It was enough food to last me two meals and yet some kids came back for seconds. Then I realized that some of these children probably didn’t have much to eat over the weekend and that this was their main meal of the day. It is such a blessing for them to be able to be a part of this school to feed their minds and stomachs.
I was also able to visit the secondary school down the road that is run by Murari’s brother, Vivek. This places houses the next grades, 6-12. Vivek asked me if I would come in and speak to the 7th class about myself and where I come from. Well in India, no one knows where South Dakota is. So I was able to describe the great land of South Dakota as well as who I am! The students were able to understand most of my English with a bit of translation. I really tried to use simple words to explain. Eventually I asked if the students had questions. There were some very interesting responses: Is America beautiful? What has Obama done for the U.S? What do you think about marriage?
Bodh Gaya is located in the state of Bihar. Bihar is a very traditional and conservative state. I found that their perceptions of America were very stereotypical and limited. They see our country as paradise. I tried to explain that American has different types of regions just like India and that we too have poverty and violence. On the topic of marriage, Bihar is known for ‘child marriage.’ Years ago, children were wed at the young age of 10! Even today it is common for marriage to occur at age 14 or 15. When a girl asked me what I felt about marriage I responded that I hoped to get married someday and that I will chose my husband because I love him. “Love marriage?” She questioned. When I nodded, she looked around to her fellow girls with wonder and giggled. Arranged marriage is the standard in this area and I wondered if some of these girls were already married or arrangements were in place. Being in the classroom opened my eyes to the perceptions of the students. I wish I had more time to interact with them!
There are many NGOs in Bodh Gaya and it has become a bit of a problem. Some NGO’s that claim to be nonprofit are deceptive and use the donations for other uses. But I can attest that Bowl of Compassion is a truly compassionate organization with the right intentions.
Right now they are trying to raise money to put in a new floor for the children to sit on at lunch time.
Similarly, they would like to convert on old building into a creative space in which the children can create art and learn music! If you feel so called, I encourage you to give a donation to Bowl of Compassion. Literally all the funding, from educational resources to food costs, are funded by donations. Every dollar counts 🙂
Anyone can make donations at this link: http://www.bowlofcompassion.org/en/donations.html
And if you ever find yourself in northern India, take some time to stop in Bodh Gaya. You will receive and incredible experience at Bowl of Compassion and have time to see the temples as well 🙂
with Murari and his wife