I was delighted to read the advice of His Holiness the Dalia Lama to the FPMT in the July/August Mandala: “I also think that if you, as a Buddhist organization, were eventually able to do more in the area of social service, in the fields of education, health and counseling for the resolution of family and community problems, it would be of great benefit. It would not be one as a Buddhist or Dharma activity, but simply to serve and benefit humanity.”
This is right up my street, and it is a great pleasure to be able to report to you on the activities of FPMT Australia Ltd., for whom I hold the portfolio of Director-Overseas Aid. We always had little community projects but they tended to be exclusively Dharma oriented, and I felt uncomfortable when my Catholic family would say: “But what do you do for people – how does all this navel-gazing help now? There are real problems out there that are not going to be solved by you sitting on a cushion for hours. The Christians have always helped the community, why don’t you?”
I couldn’t bear that they could think that Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa’s organization was so self-centered, and it was with this in mind that we started up a Charity Bal in Melbourne, which ran five years. Let me tell you friends, five years of Charity Balls is a killer – I never wanted to go to a party again. But we achieved our goal, which was to publically fund raise for community projects. Over those years these included a water project at Sera Je School, funding for the Sewa Semiti Leprosy Project in Delhi (which eventually failed through lack of management) and local funding for Aboriginal heath and homeless youth projects.
These activities together with the incorporation of FPMT Australia Ltd. cleared the way for us to be granted NGO (non-governmental organization) status with the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs’ Overseas Aid arm, Aus-Aid. They would now match funds raised with a dollar for a dollar.
For the last eleven years FPMT Australia Ltd. Has acted as an umbrella group for smaller active fund raising groups in Australia: they hold the dinners, raffles and so on, the Tibetan Department of Health in Dharamsala gives us a list of projects that need funding, they select which one appeals to them, I write the submission and present it to Aus-Aid, the checks come in and are sent off, the project is realized, the Department of Health sends me a report, which I present to Aus-Aid for acquittal – and that’s how it’s done.
Our work so far has all been through the Tibetan Department of Heath. We have built a health clinic in Mainpat Settlement in Madhya Pradesh, installed seven water bores and pumps in the same settlement, built toilets and septic tanks at the Jampaling Tibetan Settlement outside Pokhara, Nepal, and are currently preparing a submission for the first ever Eye Camp in Ladakh, using the famous Australian Fred Hollows Eye Team in Nepal.
The whole thing has been extremely successful and has saved and improved many hundreds of lives. My part of the work is not so difficult – one simply has to learn the bureaucratic language necessary to present submissions and to stay on the job, making sure all the paperwork is ready on time and in good order. The actual fund raising of course requires much more energy.
It has been an incredible privilege to work on these projects on behalf of FPMT Australia, and I am sure this sort of thing could be copied in other countries. Nearly every Western country has an overseas aid budget for NGOs, the most generous being Holland and Canada.
I would be very happy to hear of any other such projects happening in the name of FPMT around the world as there are sure to be opportunities for collaboration. It is always a great pleasure to be able to tell members of the public that we do this work, and their reaction is – “Well, so you should!” I couldn’t agree more.