In addition to its religious activities, Shinnyo-en supports philanthropic activities as part of its humanitarian mission to promote ethical social change and foster a universal sense of responsibility. According to Her Holiness Shinso Ito, "True generosity lies in helping others to be independent, not simply giving a donation. It means to cooperate with, and respect, people and their traditions."
The following are some of Shinnyo-en's contributions:
Service to family, friends, neighbors, strangers, and the community is one of the main practices of Shinnyo Buddhism. As one form of this practice, Shinnyo-en members have been organizing regular community service activities, such as early-morning cleaning at train stations, parks, and other public places, for the last 40 years.
SeRV (Shinnyo-en Relief Volunteers)
SeRV is a volunteer relief network originally established in response to the devastating Great Hanshin earthquake that struck Japan in 1995. In the quake's aftermath, 11,330 volunteers worked for seven months to bring relief to the area. In 1997, 1,610 people worked for three months to help clean up an oil spill from the Russian tanker Nakhodka in the Sea of Japan. In 2001 SeRV dispatched volunteers to Taiwan following a massive typhoon that made landfall on the island, and in 2004 it dispatched volunteers to Sri Lanka and Thailand in the wake of the Indian Ocean quake and the resulting tsunami devastation. Since its inception, SeRV has dispatched volunteer aid workers on 65 occasions.
A Shinnyo-en disaster-relief volunteer group established at the time of the Great Hanshin earthquake that visits the homes of disaster victims in Japan, particularly senior citizens, to provide psychological support.
Cambodia Backpack Missions
From 1997 to 2001, Shinnyo-en members made cloth backpacks, filled them with stationery purchased in Cambodia, illustrated books, and other items, and distributed them to 15,000 elementary and junior high school children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. In November 2000, Her Holiness Shinso Ito visited Cambodia in person to hand out the backpacks.
Book Donations in India
Shinnyo-en annually donates books on Japan and Japanese culture to the University of Delhi and Jawaharlal Nehru University in India. In 2010 it also donated books to a newly-opened children's library in Kushinagara, which is run by the India Maitri Society.
In 1988, Shinnyo-en opened a nursery school in Sri Lanka that teaches using the Montessori method. The school is dedicated to providing free pre-school education to underprivileged children in the local community. Shinnyo-en covers all of the school's operating costs while also providing uniforms, school supplies, tuition, and snacks for the children. To date, the school has educated over 5,000 three- and four-year-olds at no cost to their families.
World Terakoya (Temple School) Movement
Since 2003, Shinnyo-en has been active in the UNESCO World Terakoya Movement through the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan. The movement provides women and children worldwide with literacy and numeracy programs. In 2010, Shinnyo-en representatives visited two community learning centers (CLCs) that had been built in Nepal with its donations, and further contributed stationery and other school supplies to the students. In addition to academic study, these CLCs provide vocational training in fishing and beekeeping.
International Scholarship Programs
From 2002 onward, Shinnyo-en has provided scholarships to underprivileged students around the world. More than 1,000 children from Thailand, India, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Cambodia, and Brazil have received these scholarships. In Thailand and Sri Lanka, support has also been extended for the construction of new schools.
International Aid Organizations
Shinnyo-en helps support refugees, victims of conflict, and people in disaster zones around the world by annually donating to the following international aid organizations:
UNICEF (the United Nations Children's Fund)
Since 2005, Shinnyo-en has directly supported a women's and children's health initiative focused on clean water, sanitation, and basic health care in the Bamiyan province of central Afghanistan. Shinnyo-en's support has also helped UNICEF train medical staff, carry out vaccinations, and improve water supplies, sanitation, and toilet facilities for over 600,000 children and their families.
UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency)
Since 2001, Shinnyo-en has directly supported the agency's primary education program for Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. The program provides elementary school education to children at 42 schools in 7 refugee camps in eastern Nepal.
WHO (World Health Organization)
Since 1998, Shinnyo-en has provided annual donations towards a global polio eradication program through the WHO.
In 2010, Shinnyo-en also made donations through the Red Cross and World Food Programs for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, and through the Red Cross, the Chilean embassy in Japan, and AMDA International for the victims of the earthquake in Chile.
Children in Crisis
In 2007, Shinnyo-en worked in partnership with the UK aid organization Children in Crisis to support the construction of elementary schools in Liberia, where little educational infrastructure remains after 14 years of civil war. Shinnyo-en's contribution supported construction costs as well as the purchase of desks, chairs, blackboards, and other materials.
Memisa (Medical Mission Action)
Beginning in 2008, Shinnyo-en has worked with the Belgian aid organization Memisa to provide annual support for programs to reintegrate former child soldiers and victims of the civil war in Uganda. The programs include regular visits from social workers, community awareness efforts, food donations, medical assistance, child protection services, and educational sponsorship for children with special needs.
Removal of Unexploded Ordnance
Shinnyo-en supports the removal of unexploded landmines and other ammunition in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Laos by donating landmine warning signs, medical supplies, and equipment for detecting and removing the mines through local NGOs.
K'MoPA (Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts)
Shinnyo-en supports K'Mopa's aim of helping promising young photographers by purchasing their work. The museum accepts annual submissions for its "Young Portfolios" program, and all photographers, professional or amateur, are invited to be considered for induction into the museum's permanent collection. In 2004, the Museum was awarded a prize by the Photographic Society of Japan in recognition of its cultural promotion efforts.
Restoring Ancient Musical Instruments
In an effort to preserve the cultural legacy of ancient Asia, Shinnyo-en has undertaken to restore ancient Japanese musical instruments from the Shosoin repository at Todaiji temple in Nara. Shinnyo-en has held concerts featuring these instruments, most notably "A Millennium of Resonance" (2000-2002), "The Eurasian Resonance" (Ai Chikyu-haku Expo Dome in 2005), and "Synchrophony" (2008).
Preserving and Restoring the Angkor Wat ruins
For 14 years Shinnyo-en has supported a project to restore and preserve the ruins of Angkor Wat, a World Heritage site in northwest Cambodia. The project aims to train specialized stonemasons and officials to restore ruins that are disappearing after years of war and turmoil. The objective is for the restoration project to be carried out by, and for, the Cambodian people.