Buddhist monks establish aid network

by Brett Popplewell, Toronto Star, May 19, 2008

Toronto concert to raise funds for cyclone victims which will be sent directly to Burmese monasteries

Toronto, Canada -- As Burma's military junta continues to prevent international aid that would help the estimated 1.5 million people affected by Cyclone Nargis, an international network of Burmese monks has come up with an alternative solution for would-be donors and relief workers.

With the military rulers doing little to help the starving, homeless and injured survivors of the cyclone that ravaged the Burmese coast on May 2-3, Burma's ever-present Buddhist monks the same monks who last fall revolted against their militant rulers are coming down from their monasteries and aiding those most in need.

"They are bringing shelter, foods, water and basic supplies for survival," said Zaw Kyaw, the Burmese-born Toronto-based head of the Burma Buddhist Association of Ontario.

Kyaw said the monks inside Burma, also known as Myanmar, are relying on an international network of Burmese Buddhists in order to fund the purchase of supplies for those in need.

"It's very difficult to get aid there," he said. "It's an insane situation but the people who are doing the most to look after the survivors are the monks."

Kyaw's group is just one of many associations around the world collecting funds that are sent directly to Burmese monasteries.

The Burma Buddhist Association of Ontario has already raised $65,000 from sympathetic Canadians.

All money raised is then wired through the International Burmese Monks Organization to monks in Burma's neighbouring countries. From there, funds are carried into Burma by handpicked sympathetic civilians who deliver the money to the Burmese monasteries.

"We don't take any money away from what's raised. None of the monks do.

"They don't take any salary," Kyaw said.

"They have no personal belongings."

Individual monks use the funds to gather relief supplies.

At no point are any of the funds raised transferred through the military junta.

"It's kind of like a fire brigade of monks," said Jeremy Ledbetter who is organizing a benefit concert at Toronto's Lula Lounge tomorrow night.

All proceeds from that concert will go directly to Kyaw's group.