Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

12 posts from August 2008

An enlightening way to spend an afternoon in the Mile High city

By Megan Marsh
Bread for the World activist
Colorado Springs

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) held a week-long series for International Leaders during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Co. I love that it was held at the Performing Arts Complex, giving access to thousands of people who would have been unable to attend events at the Pepsi Center due to security. "The International Leaders Forum gives political leaders from around the world a unique opportunity to observe American democracy first-hand while hearing from a wide range of experts from the U.S. and abroad," said former Secretary of State and NDI Chairman Madeline Albright.

I was able to attend Wednesday afternoon's panel discussion Combating Global Poverty, a program organized with the 2008 Rocky Mountain Roundtable, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver in collaboration with ONE Vote '08.

Part of me was a bit overwhelmed at the quality of panelists. I'm becoming a huge Tom Daschle fan, and though I never really thought much about Madeline Albright, she completely won me over. Then of course there was John Danilovich, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Account; Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development; Hernando de Soto, president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy as well as the co-chair of the Commission on Legal Empowerment for the Poor; Obiageli "Oby" Ezekwesili, vice president for the African region of the World Bank; Donald Payne, New Jersey US Representative; Tim Wirth, CEO of the United Nations Foundation; and James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank. Oh yeah, Ben Affleck was there too. The moderator was Gayle Smith, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Megans_photo Mark Nathanson, the chairman for the NDI opened it up with an introduction saying that the issues surrounding global poverty are connected to stability and security in foreign policy and the spread of democracy, a theme that surfaced through much of the discussion. He said global poverty should "engage and enrage all of us - Democrat, Republican, independent," making a case that poverty knows no political affiliation and that there is only one side in the fight to end poverty.

Gayle, our moderator, began the discussion by asking those on the panel what they thought Americans wanted to see in the U.S. response to global poverty. Or, what does the rest of the world want to see out of U.S. policy?

Don Payne said that when he went to Africa, he didn't get many people asking for a hand out, for medical supplies, money or anything like that. Rather, they asked about things like investing in their children, setting up schools, partnering with them to educate their youth. This is a common response we at Compassion International often hear from the poor. When asked where they would like us to invest our time and aid, they say: the children.

Oby responded to the question by saying "indominatable leadership in erradicating poverty", "rallying everyone to say 'we must do this.'" This is something I've discovered with my work with Bread for the World and the ONE Campaign -- that when the U.S. takes the lead in fighting poverty, the rest of the world follows. Oby returned to this point later on saying that if we fail to lead on this, other countries (such as China or India, who have the fastest growing economies) will step in. She asked us if that is really what we want? It means missed opportunites for the U.S.

Senator Daschle piggybacked on Oby's response by saying we need to set the example as leaders, create a fabric of social justice and that once we've done that, it's about individual empowerment through health, education, and economic opportunity.

Nancy gave a brilliant answer saying simply "trade and technology". The developing nations don't necessarily want our aid. They would so much rather have access to our markets. Wouldn't it be wonderful, she said, to take fifteen of the poorest countries and guarantee them access to our markets with no barriers and let them lift themselves out of poverty? With technology, we should honor the USA's tradition of innovation, think about exporting clean, cheap solar and wind energy, create a vaccine to Malaria, and think about creating a pan-African highway and road system so that trade within Africa becomes that much easier.

Ben Affleck spoke about his recent trip to Africa with the ONE campaign and said, "these countries are our friends". We have opportunities to make an impact. He said one of the most important things we can do is pay attention, become invested in the issues. He also spoke about trade saying, we've all heard the proverb about teaching a man to fish, Africans "know how to fish. They need a pond to fish in".

Gayle switched to the other side of the panel, noting that ten years ago we would not be sitting here with all these people having this conversation. There seems to be a momentum in the country for addressing these issues but where should we go with that momentum?

Madeline Albright said we need to focus on deliverables, something that is "do-able". She spoke of legal empowerment for property rights, labor rights, etc.

Hernando de Soto agreed with that and said that in America's history, it is largely undocumented about how the West rose out of poverty. He said it was the destruction of feudalism (the king no longer owning the pond) and widespread legal reform which allowed us to begin to develop to where we are now. We've been largely unsucessful at passing that on to other nations (with the exception of Japan, Korea and a couple other places).

Even though we were at a forum discussing Global Poverty, I felt so encouraged as I left. I felt like the entire two hours were spent talking about the incredible opportunities that exist, and that is what it is all about. Too often we have a picture of Africa in our heads as the "dark continent" full of disease and dispair. Its not true. Africa is a well of opportunites waiting to be tapped, developed and enriched.

There were lots of other great remarks during the panel, and I will be frantically searching for a podcast to download of the entire series.

Peace Corps Facing Funding Cuts

Peace_corpsFor years, the University of New Mexico has housed one of the Peace Corps recruiting offices in our southwestern region.

Even though the UNM office has consistently ranked high in the number of people it has recruited for the Peace Corps, its operations (and those of two other regional offices) will be consolidated into a single office in Texas.

The Albuquerque office will be closed at the end of September as part of a new austerity program implemented by the Peace Corps.  The cutbacks are necessary because of a weak U.S. dollar and rising costs of energy, which have caused a severe budget shortfall, officials told The Washington Post.

Lisa Paton, who has worked at the UNM Peace Corps office for a couple of years, said qualifications to become a volunteer have also been tightened considerably, which will have the effect of cutting the number of new volunteers.

The cutbacks in the Peace Corps are important to us who are involved with Bread for the World.  According to a chart put together by Bread for the World, this is one of the programs that were to receive more resources through the increases in funding for poverty-focused development assistance that we have sought in recent years.   

While the increases in costs are a real concern, Lisa wonders why a program that has created so much goodwill for our country is being cut back.  We should be able to find the money for this program and others that improve the quality and the scope of our poverty-focused development assistance.   And increasing the appropriate line items in the foreign affairs budget would be a great help.

Closing Prayer at DNC

Donald Miller, Christian author and speaker, offered the closing benediction at the Democratic National Convention on Monday evening.  He writes about the experience on his website:

I was honored to deliver the closing prayer at the DNC on Monday night. Evangelical voices have been scarce within this party, perhaps since the Carter administration. But as strides are being made on key issues of sanctity of life and social justice, as well as peaceful solutions to world conflicts, more and more evangelicals are taking a closer look at options certain members of the Democratic Party are beginning to deliver. There is a long way to go, but sending a message to Washington that no single party has the Christian community in their pocket, thus causing each party to carefully consider the issues most important to us, is, in my opinion, a positive evolution. I am glad that, for the most part, the dialogue has been constructive and positive. Will you join me in keeping the conversation thoughtful and not reactionary?

That said, I was honored to speak to, and especially pray with and for, the DNC.

Watch the prayer or read the full text here.

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Social justice activists need to kick into high gear

Fran Quigley is an activist with Bread for the World.  This opinion piece originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star. 

The war in Iraq has raged on, despite public opinion polls showing that nearly 70 percent of Americans think we are making a mistake there. Congress recently passed a five-year farm bill that is in large part a protectionist sop to agricultural corporations at the expense of poor farmers around the world.

The U.S. spends twice as much as other industrialized nations on medical care, yet leaves 47 million people without health insurance. The land of the free is now a notorious torturer, and imprisons hundreds of foreign nationals without charges.
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Those of us who oppose all of the above have held marches, petitioned Congress and written op-ed columns filled with outrage. But we haven't been able to stop any of it.

If the Indianapolis Colts were on this kind of losing streak, you can bet that the players and coaches would take a long, hard look at their game plan. A look at the game plan of 21st century peace and justice activists shows a gaping hole in our strategy: We lack visible and galvanizing displays of our own commitment.

The iconic social justice campaigns of recent history are the labor movement, the struggle against colonialism, the U.S. civil rights movement and the anti-apartheid effort in South Africa. All were characterized by self-sacrifice. Thousands of people, and not just leaders like Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., went to jail, fasted and even endured beatings and death for the cause. By their suffering, they "melted the stoniest of hearts," just as Gandhi predicted.

Our current activism doesn't measure up. There are inspiring exceptions, including here in Indiana. Last year, Indianapolis grandmother Valerie Fillenwarth went to federal prison for three months to protest the U.S. military's training of vicious Latin American guerrillas at the former School of Americas. Ron and Pam Ferguson, co-pastors of Winchester Friends Church, have instituted an organized fast where the cost of the missed meals is donated to hunger-alleviating ministries, and the participants are urged to advocate for compassionate public policies.

But for most of us, the limits of our commitment have been defined by sending an e-mail to our member of Congress, a check to a favorite not-for-profit, or attending an occasional peace rally. For example, the debate over the recent farm bill caused me to write a few letters and make some quick phone calls to our senators. But the sheer convenience of this kind of advocacy blunts its impact: Members of Congress report receiving as many as 2,500 emails and calls each week on a variety of issues.

Not surprisingly, when my armchair activism was matched against the millions of dollars in campaign contributions and lobbyist fees spent by corporations, the moneyed interests won the day. Given the life-and-death consequences to the global poor, those of us opposed to the farm bill's protectionism should have picketed the offices of our members of Congress. We should have boycotted the goods sold by corporations that profited the most from crop subsidies. We should have fasted in solidarity with the poor who are being left hungry by this legislation.

It is as if we activists are faced with the challenge to swim across a vast river of indifference and greed, yet we dare only to gingerly wade in up to our ankles. If we want to stop wars and ensure justice for the least among us, it is time to take the plunge.

Quigley is director of operations for the Indiana-Kenya Partnership.

Back from Zambia


Elaine Van Cleave is a Bread activist from Alabama.  Read previously posted updates from her trip to Zambia.  This is her wrap-up email.

I am back from Zambia.  What a long trip home that was!! We awoke Sunday a.m. and rode in a jeep, a ferry, a bus, and 3 airplanes. You could even say we rode on a train if you count the rail in the Atlanta airport that gets you between terminals.

The experience was incredible.  The extremes we encountered were mind numbing - from the incredible wild life in Botswana's Chobe National Park to a dusty, barefooted orphan in tattered clothing beaming at you and asking you to be his friend. 

One day, I tagged along on a trip to an outreach clinic 65 km into the bush.   The trip was 2 hours each way on the worst sandy, bumpy road I have ever ridden on .  There were 11 of us in a Land Rover provided to Mwandi Mission Hosptial by Catholic Relief Services with money from PEPFAR (US funds for AIDS relief)!  The "clinic" was a two room mud hut (about 8 x 12) with a thatched roof - no electricity or running water. The clinic ended at dusk because the medical personnel could no longer see to examine patients and fill prescriptions.  I mostly observed and got to see how PEPFAR  money is providing medical care and drugs to people in remote rural areas who would die without it.  The nurse practioner from Mwandi who goes on these weekly outreach trips into the bush told me that these clinics would not be possible without money from PEPFAR.

I also learned that Kandiana, the "old folks home" at Mwandi Mission, receives $600 a month from the Zambian government - money that is available because of debt relief. These funds also provide students at Mwandi Mission's school with free examination books. 

One afternoon we also spread the message of ONE at a bible school we conducted for area children.  We presented the message in the context of Jesus as the good shepherd and that we are all a part of His flock, that we are all ONE big family. We sang "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands" and banded all the kids and adults with white ONE bands. Thanks Kim!

It is a trip I have been needing to take for a long time.  I really can't adequately put into words how powerful the experience was. 

If I ever in the past for just one second thought advocacy was useless, I can never have that thought again.

If you want to read the daily blog written by Rev. Susan Clayton who lead our trip, go to www.ipc-usa.org.  There are about 7 brief entries with pictures. I haven't read them all myself and am looking forward to doing just that and to reflecting on our trip.

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Pass a Stimulus Package to Help Working Families

Milk_prices

Photo from billadler via Flickr.

Bread for the World is urging Congress to consider a second stimulus package in light of the rising cost of fuel, food and basic necessities.  Food prices have soared, with the cost of groceries 7.1 percent higher in July 2008 than in July 2007.  These latest statistics are more bad news for working families:

  • Unemployment is now at its highest level since March 2004, and one in five unemployed workers has been looking for a job for more than six months.
  • Hourly earnings have risen only 3.4 percent over the last year, below the pace of inflation, which is at 5.6 percent.
  • Gas prices are at a national average of near $4 a gallon, having increased 37.9 percent since July 2007.
  • Foreclosure filings – default notices, auction sale notices, and bank repossessions – are up 55 percent from July 2007.

You can read Bread for the World’s recent post about a second stimulus package on the Hill blog.

Inflation Climbs to a 17-year High – Washington Post
Living Costs Rise Fast, and Wages Are Trailing – New York Times

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Hiking with Congressman Schiff

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Brittany Miles (CARE field organizer), Congressman Adam Schiff and me.

Last night, Brittany Miles from CARE and I attended a town hall meeting.  Well, it wasn't your typical town hall meeting like the type that happens in a high school gymnasium or a church fellowship hall.  This meeting took place on a mountain.  Our local congressman organized a hike with his constituents in Burbank, CA.  It was a beautiful way to experience nature and meet up with our representative.

Despite running late AND getting lost, we made it up the mountain in record time.  We felt like we were on a scavenger hunt.  Mission: Find the Congressman.  Once we found our way to the group of hikers, it was amazing to see the diversity of constituents who turned out for the hike.  There was a small group of girl scouts who asked GREAT questions like, "How did you decide to run for Congress?"  "What did you do before you were elected?"  They were super cute!  Other constituents used the opportunity to speak with Adam Schiff about their concerns - human rights abuses in China and preserving our open space. 

Along the trail, we met up with Rep. Schiff's executive assistant Jessica Howard.  We asked her about the purpose of the hike.  She said the Congressman was a lead supporter of the Rim of the Valley Corridor Study Act, which the president signed into law in May.  The study could result in the preservation of 500,000 acres of land in the mountain areas of Southern California.

Rep. Schiff asked how things are going at Bread for the World and we had a few moments to speak with him about our work.  The congressman serves on the House Appropriations Committee and helps make funding decisions about accounts that fight global poverty.  In the past we've urged him to support increases in poverty focused development assistance, which includes: the Millennium Challenge Account, Development Assistance, the Peace Corps and other accounts to strengthen public health, nutrition and agriculture in the developing world.  The hike was a pretty cool way to connect with the congressman, talk about our concerns and meet up with his staff.

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Hunger a Weapon of Mass Destruction

James_schackel_photo_8_08_st_mark_sPresident Lula de Silva of Brazil states: "Hunger is actually the worst weapon of mass destruction.  It claims millions of victims each year." 

St. Mark, Salem, Oregon, battles hunger by hosting a Sunday soup kitchen, selling fair trade coffee and chocolate, supporting an AIDS orphanage in Tanzania, and participating in the Salem InterFaith Hospitality Network.  We also plan Thanksgiving and Christmas giving activities.  This Sunday was the congregation's first Offering of Letters.



Here's the report:

Participants 36

Sign ups 24

Letters produced 42

Crew about a dozen

Fellowship and mission:  priceless

________________________________________________________

James Schackel is a member of Saint Mark Lutheran Church in Salem, Oregon and recently organized there first Offering of Letters.  He took the picture in the article and is also welcomed as a first time Blogger for Bread. 

Update on Blogging from Zambia

Africa_2008_0141r

The delegation from Independent Presbyterian Church (Birmingham, Ala.) that is currently in Zambia decided to provide updates about their trip through occasional postings from Associate Pastor Susan Clayton. 

Originally, these updates were to come from a blog set up by Bread for the World activist Elaine VanCleave.

In the latest update from Rev. Clayton, she talks about the challenges facing a couple they know in the community of Mwandi who are missionaries from the Church of Scotland.  The couple, Keith and Ida Wadell, have many infants in their care.

Ida got a note from the hospital about a six-month old baby whose mother had died in childbirth.  The baby was in the hospital for malnutrition because the family taking care of h er did not have enough money for milk.  They are asking Ida to put her on the infant formula program and, of course, she cannot refuse them.  The problem is that she now has 78 infants on the feeding program and is currently out of formula as well as not having enough funds to cover the children that she is already caring for.

Click here to read the rest of this account and other updates.

By the way, Elaine did send us an e-mail note about a great experience she had.

Yesterday, we were leaving the Livingstone airport and as we were driving through the downtown area in a Mwandi Mission van, a young man came up to the van and knocked on the window and asked if there was a Mrs. VanCleave in the van!!!!!  He was Valentine Lee, a Davidson College student I had met at Bread's National Gathering in 2007.  (He is a friend of Ann Watford, a young woman who accompanied me on a visit to Rep. Spencer Bachus' office).  I thought I was on Candid Camera and he was going to say I was really on the Universal Studios backlot and not in Mwandi after all -ala Ricky Gervais commercial! Whoa!!!!  Small world indeed! 

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