I travelled to Delhi in South Asia just before the Pandemic to open the office of The J. Luce Foundation India. This is in Bodhgaya, Bihar on the border with Nepal. Eight years prior, I had met our team there on a Buddhist pilgrimage with Japanese friends to attend the Kalachakra and met His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
by Jim Luce
Editor’s Note: From Roosevelt Island, Jim Luce leads three international agencies aimed at helping orphaned children and developing tomorrow’s global leaders. This his account of recent activities.
Bihar is the poorest and wildest state in India. This is where Lord Buddha sat under a bodhi tree to gain enlightenment and is the seat of Indian Buddhism. Buddhists today mostly only visit and the majority there remain Hindu. Most Moslems fled to Pakistan during the Partition when Gandhi went on a hunger strike in 1948.
On India’s Independence Day this January we began construction of our Saraswati Centre opposite the first tree Buddha sat under, named after the Buddhist and Hindu ‘God of Arts,’ Saraswati (known as “Benzaiten” in Japan). This is located on the outskirts of Bodhgaya, on an island. The internationally recognized shrine to Buddha is located by the second tree he sat under, in downtown Bodhgaya.
The Dalai Lama himself lives in Dharamshala, India, quite a way from Bihar, high on a mountain on the Pakistani border. He escaped Tibet in 1959 and traveled over the mountains to Tawang, now in lndia, and then onto Dharamshala. The town of Tawang, 8,000 feet high in the Himalayas, is accessible only by helicopter or a two-day trek in 4 x 4’s over seven majestic mountains.
At the request of the Dalai Lama, we built a grand three-story Tibetan-style academic building for Manjushree Orphanage in Tawang (photo below). It is in a war zone where one needs a special visa to visit. This orphanage is home to 240 formerly destitute Tibetan children, the majority of whom go proudly on to university in India. Our partner Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura heads this development effort in the U.S. and provides each graduate headed to college with an iPad.
Saraswati Centre is being built in a farming community of Dalit formerly known as “Untouchable” in the Caste system, with Brahmin at the top. Gandhi called this group “Harijan,” meaning ‘Children of God,’ but this term is now considered outdated, similarly to “negro.” The Caste system was outlawed in 1949.
Our Centre will comprise an elementary school for 120 students, an orphanage for 18 children, a health clinic with three consulting rooms, and a combination leadership center and dormitory/ youth hostel. The school and leadership centre will be branded “J. Luce Foundation,” the orphan- age will be named “Gaia Holistic Home” to be operated by Orphans International Worldwide, and the health clinic will be associated with Lions Clubs International, led by the New York Global Leaders Lions Club. All will open this year.
The J. Luce Free School, a primary school, will open with a red ribbon cutting ceremony on April 29 with Jim and Bix Luce and Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura in attendance. The ceremony will be led by a Hindu priest.
Our cooperation with Chinese professionals through our foundation and Lions International continues. We are extremely honored to have the “MIT of China” – Tsinghua University Department of Architecture design the compound for us.
After India, we will focus on creating a new compound in Sulawesi, Indonesia. The original home in Sulawesi, opened in 2001, graduated its eight children with the majority going on to university.
Orphans International Worldwide was founded in 1999 in honor of my mother, Frances Dudley Alleman- Luce, a child psychologist. The J. Luce Foundation was founded in 2009 in honor of my father, Dr. Stanford L. Luce a college professor. The New York Global Leaders Lions Club was founded in 2015. This project will be run by my son Mathew Tendean Luce who was originally adopted there.
In addition, we are working with partners in Tanzania to assist Maasai children in the future, in Bangladesh to assist Muslim orphans, in Panama to help destitute Catholic children including refugee children tragically abandoned by their parents trekking to the U.S.-Mexican border.
Most importantly, we have been asked to create a center on the Romanian-Ukrainian border to assist war orphans in their passage to Europe. Helping Ukrainian children will test our capacity, commitment and connections, but I am confident we will be able to make a difference as we always done.
Historically, Orphans International provided housing and programming for children who survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami in both Sri Lanka and Aceh, Indonesia. The children in Sri Lanka were Buddhist and the children in Aceh, Indonesia Muslim.
Orphans International built another home in Indonesia, in what used to be called the Celebes Islands and today known as Sulawesi. This is where my adopted son Mathew is from; Matt today is 28 years old. The children in Sulawesi were Protestant. In addition, we ran a program for orphan children in Bali who were Hindu. Our Tsunami work was supported by Giorgio Armani and H.S.H. Prince Albert of Monaco.
Orphans Internagtional also ran homes for children after the earthquake in Haiti who were primarily Catholic and Voodoo. In the Dominican Republic we ran an educational program for disadvantaged children, and another program for aids orphans in Tanzania, both Muslim and Christian.
The J. Luce Foundation today mentors youth in Beijing, China, and Kingston, Jamaica. We were establishing a leadership center at the Caribbean Maritime University, where I was an adjunct professor, but this was brought to a halt by the Pandemic coupled with political reshuffling.
Orphans International as received recognition and appreciation from the U.S. Congress (Maloney and Rangel), as well as the governments of Haiti, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
Our partner Dr. Kazuko Hillyer Tatsumura founded Gaia Holistic Foundation after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. She has pledged to fund nine orphan projects, both housing and education:
1) Manjushree Vidyapith in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, India for Tibetan children; as well as
2) Saraswati Centre in Bodhgaya, Bihar, India for Dalit (“Untouchable”) Hindu children;
3) Presbyterian children in Minahasa, North Sulawesi, Indonesia;
4) Catholic children living in Panama; and possibly
5) Indonesia; Hindu children in Bali, Indonesia;
6) Maasai children around the Great Lakes of Tanzania;
7) Lakota children of the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota;
8) Shinto children abandoned in Japan; and
9) Eastern Orthodox children from Ukraine living on the border inside Romania.
I am honored to serve with Dr. Kazuko as vice president of the Gaia Holistic Foundation for the last several years. She and I have traveled to Cuba, Haiti, India, and Indonesia together and she is also a member of Lions Club International.
All the projects of the J. Luce Foundation and Orphans International are advanced with assistance of more than sixty Luce Young Global Leaders and current interns, as well as numerous Global Advisors.
Finally, today I am a candidate in line to become District Governor of Lions Clubs in New York City, District 20-R2. Please contact me to get involved!
The Saraswati Tree under which Lord Buddha sat is located directly adjacent to our Saraswati Centre in Bihar, India:
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