The CCOP is the first rolling community outreach project initiated at the Uganda Buddhist Centre (UBC) to bring together UBC and the local communities to acknowledge one another and introduce a platform to be able to share experiences and resources about Dhamma, how we experience the world around us, and how we act to these experiences. This consists of meetings and group discussions and moving home to home to bring us together as one family. We are curious to establish a strong relationship with the community and to form a centralized hub for communication in the community. We feel this is another way to bring Dhamma to the hearts and minds of people in the villages.
Our Volunteer team including Srijuth from Australia who initiated this program, Saqil from Nepal, Ven. Sadharakkhita who translates from English to local languages and local volunteers have already had a couple of meetings in Bulega village. In these meetings, they have shared a pleasant mixture of ideas, experiences and have had time to get to know each other in the community they live. It’s very important that we know each other as a bond for peace and security—in this way, we are not afraid of each other, but support each other.
Our volunteers also were interested to find out the perception of UBC within the Bulega village community and address any incorrect perceptions. Despite the UBC being in existence for 11 years, very few of the locals were aware of what goes inside the walls of the UBC.
Srijuth, one of our volunteers brings back with him a wealthy of perceptions and friendship from the villages:
“Many of the villagers see many cars with foreigners, wealthy Ugandans or people with power (ministers and royalty) entering the UBC and believe that they are not worthy of being there. Our response was that the UBC is there to serve the community and we have been doing that since its inception through clean water, women empowerment programs and now even teaching at the local schools. We also highlighted that “We [foreigners] are the visitors and you are the locals … This is your UBC” and invited them to discover what it had to offer them.
The UBC has regular events which cultivate generosity in the community and during these events up to 60 people (~2/3 are children) are fed a wholesome meal. A common theme was emerging amongst many of the women villagers who expressed a sense of being intimidated by residents of the UBC having anger and resentment towards the villagers coming for nothing but a free meal. Whilst we did not express it to them, we recognize that there are a percentage of women who attend the events and don’t go into the temple, it is within this tradition to bring compassion for those who are living in poverty and would welcome a good meal to satisfy their hunger. What we did do was sincerely apologies for their experience of being intimidated and asked for forgiveness. While some were not ready to forgive, others took it to heart, accepted and said they will be back which was very humbling and inspired us to travel deeper into the village.
There was also lack of clarity of when the UBC is open to the public and what the UBC can offer the community. We addressed this in the evening of the first day of CCOP with the senior resident monk who agreed that this is missing and provided 2 x 2hr timeslots each day to serve the community through Dhamma Talks, Counselling and Guided Meditation. We created some small flyers and handed them out to the community the following day so that they knew what was being offered and when.
Finally along with many misconceptions about Buddhism ranging from why the monks wear bedsheets to mediation practice. All of these questions allowed us to better engage with the community, address any concerns and fears and even for us to deepen our own knowledge of the Dhamma. But the question that we found hardest to answer was when a women said that she use to come to mediate at the center, but while she was there she was not there. Her mind was on how she can possibly find the means to feed her children, grandchildren and herself. It was obvious that she was facing chronic poverty and all we could say to her was “Don’t let that stop you practicing at any time during the day. Happiness only exists in the present moment and that was what you were training yourself to attain”
We would like to invite every one of you to join this program to share experiences and resources with our local communities.