I think I might have just scored a victory.
Here’s what happened: On the night of October 1, 2012, a group of Islamic fundamentalists and others gathered in Ramu. Over the next several hours, they torched thirteen Buddhist and Hindu temples, plus two dozen homes of Buddhist families. No one died, but the buildings were completely lost.
The public outcry over the incident was huge and heartening. Many people spoke up. Donations for rebuilding came from private Bangladeshis, international Buddhist groups, and, most importantly, the national government. (When I visited Ramu the first time, in December 2012, I brought some money from my own temple in Chicago.) Within a year, all the temples and homes had been rebuilt.
There was, however, one remaining problem. Lamar Para, a tiny temple outside of town, was neglected. This was understandable. It had not been harmed in the arson incident. But the temple, which had been built in 1800, had become one of very few remaining examples of classic Burmese architecture, and it was beginning to fall apart. It had received minimal repairs since the late 1940s.
The first time I visited, the abbot, U Nyanuttara Thero, complained. “When you plant a tree, you have to water it!” he grumped in Bengali. My friend, a lifelong Ramu resident, suggested I write an op-ed to the newspaper about the problem.
Eventually, after visiting again in October, I did. My op-ed suggested that the government could do a good deed by fixing this temple. I mentioned many of the problems took no special knowledge to solve, like a cracked concrete floor. Bdnews24 published the article in November.
This past week, I visited Ramu again. As before, Lamar Para is a quiet, blooming green place with a timeless feeling. But the place is clearly changed, too. At the entrance, there is a load of brick and a load of sand. On the path to the main buildings, the sound of sawing became loud. In the main hall, workmen were pouring a new concrete floor. Others were fixing an old door. The largest seated Buddha statue in Bangladesh sat in the same place it always had, looking impassively down at them all.
I talked to a monk named Bijoy, who mentioned that there were also updates to the electrical system. I asked Bijoy who was funding the project. He said the government and mentioned private contributors.
He did not bring up any op-ed, and I didn’t either. In a Buddhist temple, it felt wrong to mention it. So I can’t say for sure that the article made the difference.
Who cares? All I know is, the changes I wanted to happen are happening. That is all I want.