The Dalai Lama, recipient of the 2012 Templeton Prize, announced May 14 at the awards ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, that he would give $1.5 million of his prize money to Save the Children, India to mitigate malnourishment there.
“I have been a guest of the Indian government, perhaps the longest guest of the Indian government, who occasionally creates some trouble,” joked the affable Tibetan spiritual leader, to a gathering of more than 2,000 people in the hall of the baroque cathedral.
“But overall, I have always considered myself a messenger of sacred Indian thought,” said the revered religious leader, clad in saffron and cranberry robes, with a simple rubber visor on his head. “My message is non-violence and this is India’s message too.”
“I have all the facilities provided by the Indian government. I have no family, just a single stomach here,” he said earlier in the day at a press conference, stressing that he does not need the money provided by the Templeton Prize, the largest monetary award in the world given annually to an individual.
The award is valued at approximately $1.7 million and was established by Sir John Templeton in 1972 to recognize “entrepreneurs of the spirit.”
Mother Teresa was the first recipient of the Templeton Prize in 1973; Sir Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan was the third recipient in 1975, recognized for his role in ameliorating the India-Pakistan conflict. Baba Amte was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1990 for his work with lepers, and religious leader Pandurang Shastri Athavale received the prize in 1997.
The 76-year-old Dalai Lama, who has lived in Dharamsala, India, since1959, said he elected to give the bulk of the money to Save the Children, India because the worldwide organization came to help Tibetan refugees who fled to India in the early 1960s. The NGO worked with refugees from Tibet for 30 years, reaching almost 50,000 people.
Since then, the Dalai Lama said he has learned that the organization, which works in 119 countries, is on the forefront of fighting malnutrition.
“Our real hope is on the shoulders of younger children. The older generation, our brains are fixed,” said the 14th Dalai Lama. “The younger generation, if we feed them and properly educate them, they will change the world and create a more compassionate world.”
Shireen Vakil Miller, director of Advocacy and Policy at Save the Children, India, said that almost half of India’s children are under-nourished, and seven million are severely malnourished — near death.
“We have targeted the first two years of a child’s life. After that, it’s too late to help them,” Miller told India-West by telephone from New Delhi.
In India, the organization works on educating mothers in both urban and rural areas to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their babies’ lives, then provide “complementary feedings” of nutritious foods.
Two million children in India die each year from malnutrition, and one out of every four infant deaths worldwide is Indian. Most child malnourishment deaths in India are in five states: Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, and Orissa, according to statistics provided by Save the Children, India.
Miller said Save the Children reaches 300,000 children in 12 states, and targets its efforts on tribal children and urban slum children, populations that are often overlooked by local government. The organization also works with the Indian government to define guidelines for proper child nutrition, and to ensure that help is given to the neediest populations.
“It is a huge honor for us to have the Dalai Lama recognize our work. We must have stayed in his mind,” said Miller, who herself worked with Tibetan refugees for many years. “This is a moment of great pride.”
Tuberculosis was a big issue for refugees, who primarily fled to Dharamsala, in Himachal Pradesh, where the Dalai Lama lives. Save The Children also worked with many Tibetan babies who were orphaned by the parents fleeing the 1959 uprising against China, which began its occupation of the Himalayan country in 1951.
Cicely Williams, a spokeswoman for Save the Children, Canada, told India-West that she had visited India a few years ago, and was taken to a maternal health fair, sponsored by the organization.
“They were teaching mothers how to prepare nutritious food that was well-balanced — mostly lentils and vegetables — things that were affordable and also culturally appropriate.”
Save the Children has chapters in 29 countries which are independently operated, but all are financially transparent to the parent organization, said Williams, adding that 100 percent of the Dalai Lama’s donation will go towards child malnutrition programs in India.
The Dalai Lama will donate an additional $200,000 of his prize money to the Boulder, Colo.,-based Mind and Life Institute, which aims to understand the benefits of contemplative practices, such as meditation, in the role of mitigating human suffering. The Buddhist leader said he will also donate $75,000 towards the education of young Tibetan monks.
“My own pocket is still empty, and it may complain to me, but that’s okay,” he joked, to laughs and applause from his audience at St. Peter’s.
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