couple conduct worldwide relief drive
By George Jaksa, Journal Religion Writer
and Visakha Kawasaki realize that the money they raise is
"only a drop in the bucket" in answer to the religious
needs of Buddhists worldwide but the results of their efforts
still are rewarding.
"In fact, it can be quite heady when we see the results
of donations to various causes," observed Visakha as
she thumbed through photos of a school established near
Calcutta, India, with funds from the Buddhist Relief Mission
that the Kawasakis administer from their home.
The Kawasakis established the fund in 1988 while teaching
English in a private school in Osaka, Japan. They raised
funds while in Japan but also registered the organization
in Michigan in 1992.
They closed the Japan effort when they retired in August
1999, after teaching for 30 years, and turned full attention
to the Flint-based effort upon their return here, where
Visakha was born.
The Kawasakis direct the program but also have a board of
They converted to Buddhism in 1978 while on a worldwide
trip. They became interested in fund-raising for Buddhists
while working in Indochinese refugee camps in Thailand and
the Philippines in the early 1980s.
Kawasaki (right) and Dr. Kyaw Thet Oo pack a Buddhist
image to send to a prison inmate. With them at the Kawasaki
home is Visakha Kawasaki.
school for orphans from Tripura, India, is open in Calcutta
in June by the Young Buddhist Student Literary Mission,
one of the agencies the local relief fund helps.
noticed that there were many Christian groups working in
the camps, but a large number of the refugees were Buddhist,
so we established a fund to help them," Ken said.
mission is the U.S. headquarters for the expanding, fund-raising
donations have ranged from $10,000 to $20;000, but the Kawasakis
look forward to a jump to $50,000 with formal approval Aug.
21 of U.S. charitable tax-deductible status.
have gone to a wide variety of charitable religious works,
ranging from having Buddhist books reprinted for distribution,
underwriting construction of monasteries, orphanages, schools
and working with poverty groups in Asia.
Kawasakis focus on remote areas in their effort.
currently are waiting arrival of 154 pounds of books from
India for distribution as requested. A growing number of
requests are coming from prisons.
"Prisoners want to grow and have so much more interest
in religious alternatives," said Visakha. "They
often are filled with anger and Buddhism helps them get
beyond that. They also have more time for meditation."
also request Buddha images and meditation accouterments.
Just this week, the Kawasakis received a request for a book
from a prisoner in Spokane, Wash.
Kawasakis say that the U.S. prison system is sometimes hostile
to Buddhists, or followers of any faith other than Christianity.
They said Buddhist inmates often must overcome formidable
barriers to obtain Dhamma (religious) books, or to have
an opportunity to practice meditation with qualified teachers
from the outside.
few Christian chaplains have shown themselves to be fairly
tolerant and sometimes even supportive of efforts to allow
Buddhist practices in prisons, according to the Kawasakis.
among prisoners has prompted the Kawasakis to petition the
state Department of Corrections to include a Buddhist monk
on its chaplaincy advisory council. The corrections department
is scheduled to take up the request this month.
Kawasakis have thousands of pictures showing how the money
they have collected has been put to use in Asian countries.
of the groups they helped established are doing so well
they are donating funds for other worldwide mission efforts.
monk U Kawwida, who lives in Toronto, Ontario, fills
his plate during a Burmese New Year celebration at the
Kawasaki home in Flint last April. The Kawasakis gathered
other Burmese friends for the occasion.
us, our work knows no borders, no extremity," Ken said.
verify the legitimacy of requests for help, the Kawasakis are
in close correspondence with applicants and often visit the
area. They are leaving in October for a three-month visit to
Thailand, Bangladesh and India. They were in India, Thailand
and Sri Lanka for 2 ½ months earlier this year.
just visit as often as possible to see how things are going,"
the Kawasakis established a mission branch in Flint before their
return here, Visakha's mother, Sara C. Decker, oversaw it. Decker
retired in 1979 as a librarian at the Clio branch of the Genesee
District Library. She died in January at 87.
Kawasakis' home also is the headquarters for the Burmese Relief
Center_USA. Unlike the Buddhist Relief Mission, it joins efforts
with other religious groups to assist people in refugee camps
from the former Burma, now called Myanmar.
Relief Mission has a 600-person mailing list. The Kawasakis are
sometimes surprised at the breadth of the responses.
"Relief Notes 2000," a 12-page newsletter containing
articles and photos of the past year's activities, carried a notice
of the availability of an 80-minute video, "The Buddha and
Kawasakis have had responses from places as distant as Algeria,
Russia and England.
Kawasakis converted to Buddhism after an around-the-world trip
don't proselytize, we don't go door-to-door, but if people are
interested, we are happy to provide information on what Buddhist
teaching is and invite them to come and see what we are doing,"
someone is interested, all they have to do is ask," she added.
Kawasakis said they know of about 50 people in the Flint area
who follow the Buddhist religion. Some of them meet in the Kawasaki
home from 7-9 p.m. each Saturday for chanting and meditation.
Kawasakis can be reached at (810) 341-6960.
9152 Luea Lane
Swartz Creek, MI 48473, U.S.A.
152/1 Riverdale Road
Anniwatte, Kandy 20000