Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

9 posts from November 2008

Day Seven: What bad tires and being flex-EEE-blay will get you

One of the things that make for stronger development is good infrastructure in a country. In many places, that begins with roads that can actually be driven on. I suppose you can call the roads we’ve traveled in rural Nicaragua passable, but only because we’ve had 4-wheel drive vehicles and determined drivers. And even then, we’ve had to have two tires repaired from punctures.

This “insufficient infrastructure” is a nuisance when we’re trying to keep to a tight schedule. For someone like a pregnant women in labor with complications, it’s life-threatening. It’s a sobering thought that keeps me from complaining about delays.

Flexible. Flex-EEE-blay. Marcos, our translator extraordinaire, told me our first day that it’s a Nicaraguan adage to live by. It’s a good one to take home with us as well.

And when you’re flexible and waiting for a tire to be fixed at a Texaco station in Matagalpa, you never know who you may run into. Doug Orbaker, a Presbyterian missionary working with CEPAD, who we met with earlier, pulled up to the gas station. He took a wild guess that we were the Bread contingent he’d heard about. 

He was hosting a mission group from Michigan. So, in one of those crazy moments of serendipity, I got to meet Hester Newton and Libby Kara of First Presbyterian Church in Muskegon, MI, a church that’s been involved with Bread for the World for 25 years. In fact, they told me that the church is celebrating this partnership with a special service this month. I’m always inspired by Bread members I meet. To make that connection in the mountains of Nicaragua is crazy and unexpected and wonderful.

Now it’s on to Leon and Chinandega to check out how the Millennium Challenge Corporation works in Nicaragua. Guess what one of their main projects is up there?

Yep, roads.


Kimberly Burge is senior writer/editor at Bread for the World.

Day Six: "Jo Tengo Hombre" (I have men)

These two days with Accion Medica Cristiana have been amazing. 

Balancing our need for video, photos, podcast audio and interviews for Offering of Letters handbook has been quite a challenge.  Some of our project visits require three of these things all at once.  The clicking and flash of the camera can’t happen when there’s a video camera rolling, the translation needed for a podcast radio interview is very different than that for a traditional print piece, and none of us can ever be in the background of anyone else’s shots- all of this combined with the fact that we’re an entourage of up to 10 people
Dr reyna interview w me

In terms of video, narrowing your focus to one singular sympathetic character is of utmost importance if you hope to move an audience towards action.  But if you’re 15, like Ester, and you’ve never owned a television, being in front of a camera can been overwhelming, so we’ve been scheduling our visits so folks can take us in small doses. 

When traveling in Nicaragua, I’m told it’s custom that you pay for the meals and travel of your translator, driver, your crew obviously, as well as local NGO hosts.  This coordination and the fact that I’ve been handling all of the cash, had one of our crew jokingly referring to me as “Hefe” (boss) today.  Kimberly’s hotel in Costa Rica forgot to give her back her credit card so I’ve been covering her as well, which is why she teases me by calling me dad.

I can’t wait to see what Kimberly makes out of all of these great interviews she’s been getting.  And as the only woman on the team with seven men I can only imagine how tough it has been. 

Ester in school We left Stew and his video crew up on the mountain last night.  They woke up at 4:30am with the family and got some amazing shots of them making breakfast and doing chores before documenting Ester’s trip to school.  It was at her AMC funded school that we reassembled the team and got some photos of her in class as well as some shots of the community health clinic next door. 

Green beans After lunch we met back up with Kimberly and spent some time with a family that had completed an urban gardening program.  With AMC training and support, a mother and daughter living next door to each other, transformed the land around their house- growing bananas, plantains, beans and some amazing fruit I’ve never seen before- not to mention putting in a grey water system that uses filtered laundry water for use in irrigation.     
Stew and company were quite a hit up on the mountain last night.  After an impromptu soccer match and shadow puppet show for the kids-using battery powered camera lights a screen they set up cots and hammocks with mosquito netting to make sure they were in the right place to start rolling cameras at first light.  Very impressive.  While making friends up on the mountain, Stew handed out powerbars to local guys while uttering his now famous phrase, “Jo tengo hombre,” which means, “I have men,” instead of “Jo tengo hambre,” which means “I have hunger.”  He got a few strange looks.  It was cold up on the mountain last night, but we have no doubt that he was able to keep warm, because after all, he has “Hombre…”  

Brian P. Duss is the multimedia associate at Bread for the World. 

Day Five: Ants in Pants and Pelibuey in Arms

So a vague itch turned into a strange burn and then a rapid panic. The next thing I knew, I was dancing around inside a latrine shaking off red ants that had somehow scurried up my pants legs. Mosquitoes I prepared for. Ants? Not so much.

Ant-free, I rejoined the team as they prepared to meet a family who will be featured in our Offering of Letters video. German (pronounced “Herman”) and his wife, Fidelina, showed usGerman and Fidelina rs around their farm. They’re one of the families working with Acción Médica Cristiana, our hosts here in La Dalia, to learn new agricultural techniques and, ultimately, to purchase this land from A.M.C.

Besides a variety of fruits and vegetables and a small parcel of coffee (which won’t be harvested for two years), they also grow many herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes. Fidelina gave me ginger root straight from the ground to chew to fight my lingering cough. Other families from the surrounding community come to her for similar remedies. Not a bad idea when the closest farmacia is more than 15 miles down a mountainside.

We met their oldest daughter, 15-year-old Esther, as she walked home from school. Esther is beautiful and poised, and seemed completely unflustered when a bunch of gringos greeted her with the request that she pose for a photograph holding a baby pelibuey. This is my new favorite animal. (Red ants are out of the running...) A pelibuey is a cross between a sheep and a goat. Someone called it a naked sheep, and that’s about right.

There was an 8-day-old kid pelibuey at the farm, and Richard, our photographer, asked Esther to cradle it for some shots. First someone had to wrangle the thing. The mother was not happy that we took her baby away, and she voiced her displeasure the whole time. Richard described the sound a pelibuey makes: it’s like an old man throwing up. You’ll be able to hear the sound in a future Bread for the World podcast thanks to our intrepid multimedia associate, who will interview anyone or anything.
Brian & pelibuey rs
Fifteen minutes of an angry mama pelibuey making that noise. Horrible.

But Esther posed patiently, Richard got his shots, the baby ran back to its mama, and the kid-napping was over.

Esther rs

Kimberly Burge is Bread for the World's senior writer/editor.

Have Faith (like a child). End Hunger.

Bread kids

By Cindy of The APB (Anti-Poverty Blog)

Two things mainly define me these days: I’m an anti-poverty activist and a mom of two preschool kids.  I’m sometimes asked how I do serious work while raising small children full-time.  While it definitely makes things tricky, kids provide motivation for being visible in faith and activism.  We talk about sharing and caring, but preschoolers learn best by observing. So, my tiny charges accompany me to my U.S. Representative’s office, march in CROP walks, and know the food pantry director by name.  I let them see what I do and seek out charity events where they can participate, too.  I don’t expect them to become lobbyists.  Yet I try to nurture generous hearts and hope they won’t take so long to realize that their voices can change the world. 

Still, moments are rare and precious when I see the message getting through.  They appear unexpectedly like the night I was upset about extreme dawdling at bedtime.  Just as I was about to yell, they marched up with proud smiles and presented me with a sign they’d made all by themselves with their own special spelling: “BRED FORE THE WRLD HELP PORE.”  With teary eyes, I thanked them and I thanked God for giving me little helpers to do His work.

Day Four: “Retarded Nations”

So my checked bag decided to spend an extra night in our connection city of Miami, but it finally arrived in Latin America!  Can you really blame it?  Miami is beautiful, even if only viewed through an airport window.     

This morning we met up with the rest of the crew for the week.  Louis our mini-bus driver, Richard the still photographer, Marcos our translator and the three members of our American video team.  They rented an SUV at the airport for remote filming and ended up wandering around for hours.  Magellan only made it around the world because he never came through Nicaragua.  Like the rest of the country, our hotel doesn’t actually have an address but rather an approximate description of its location.  The hotel’s Web site lists the address as “30 meters south of La Marseillaise Restaurante.” Some directions are even based on landmarks that don’t exist, “three blocks north of where the water tower used to be…”

Our first task of the day was meeting up with our guide from Accion Medica Christiana, a local partner organization of Church World Service. After a background briefing from Belinda Forbes (and project manager Dr. Reyna) at AMC headquarters in the capitol, we were off. 

Our trip got off to a rough start.  While stopping to pick up water and supplies at a gas station, we discovered a slow leak in one of the rental car’s tires and in the chaos of changing it, someone made off with our translator's travel bag.  I’ve gotta say though, since we had multiple bags containing tens of thousands of dollars' worth of video and audio gear, they probably picked the best bag.  Since American Airlines lost my bag for a few days, I had already replaced some essential undergarments and just passed them on to our translator, Marcos. 

We’re finally out in Matagalpa and I’m falling asleep while writing this blog post- with a dinner in my belly so fresh that I can imagine the chickens running around free just earlier today. 

I cannot spend enough time talking about how terrible the roads are here.  No wonder everyone is always running late…  Glad we chose to highlight road construction and infrastructure development as part of the video.    

I’m also fascinated by the differences between our more “time oriented” culture in the U.S. and the more laid back “event oriented” culture of our neighbors to the south.  It’s all relative though. When I was seven and my parents were working at a refugee camp in the Philippines, my dad used to joke with me that I ran on “third world time.”  Back then that term wasn’t offensive - now we say “developing countries.”  Once upon a time, developing countries used to be referred to as “retarded nations,” meaning literally, “slow to develop.”  But develop into what?  In the U.S. we may all have two cars and high-speed wireless cable internet, but we don’t have very good health care and women can’t afford to stay home with their kids for very long.  Compared to Europe, we’re the ones who are “retarded.”  With their healthcare, family leave and extended vacations- maybe they need to be doing development work in DC…
I’m missing the U.S., but I am pleasantly exhausted, remembering how much I liked being an expat NGO worker overseas.  We might not be making cash hand over fist, but we have no problem sleeping at night, and speaking of which… zzzzz…

Brian P. Duss is the multimedia associate at Bread for the World. 

Day Three: Casa de los Artes

New Friend at La Chureca rs I’m having trouble getting the stench of garbage out of my lungs and the sights of La Chureca out of my mind. It’s hard not to have your heart broken by places like that, and maybe mine should break a little bit.     

But when despair hovered too close, I felt small arms thrown around my waist in joy. The children were wonderful. They greeted us not as strangers but as new friends. It was so clear that the children at the Los Quinchos center felt safe within its walls, even surrounded by 100 acres of garbage. Imagine how they could thrive if they didn't live in a landfill.

We saw for ourselves at the Los Quinchos project in San Marcos. It’s the next stage of the program, taking children from Managua away for the weekend to the farm and cultural center run by the organization in the hills 45 minutes outside the city. Here in the fresh mountain air, I could breathe, and the children can, too.

We stopped first at the music lessons. Six boys were learning to play marimba, a Nicaraguan xylophone. They performed a polka for us! Cesar was especially intense and Cesar playing marimba rs looked the part of folk musician with his straw hat pulled down over the hood of his sweatshirt.

I love that, at Los Quinchos, music and art are central to the work they do with children. It’s so easy to focus on the material needs of these kids; those are enormous. But so is their need to be kids. Art and beauty should be a right, not a privilege, a sentiment fully embraced here.

At the Casa de los Artes, three 16-year-old boys are working quietly on their drawing skills in the small library. In Managua, these boys were street kids, addicted to sniffing glue (which at least took away their hunger pangs). They’ve worked with Los Quinchos for several years now, one of them since he was six. In the back courtyard, there’s a mural in progress on one wall: a gorgeous depiction of Frida Kahlo. Here I talk to Francisco, who’s been involved at Los Quinchos since he was 11; he’s now probably in his late 20s. He wants to practice his English, which is better than my Spanish is ever likely to be. He tells me he loves to paint, and hopes to do it in many places. That’s why he’s working on his English.

Painting Frida rs It’s amazing the connections you can make with people over a few understood words. To reach the farm where the boys live, we drove over dirt roads with potholes the size of small craters. Looking out the window at the lush jungle setting and nearly whacking my head at one bump, I called our driver, Rolando, Indiana Jones. He grinned.

We ended our day at San Marcos’s newest hot spot – Los Quinchos Pizza Parlor. Zelinda Roccia, founder of Los Quinchos, is from Italy, and she’s brought friends and volunteers over to train some older girls and boys in pizza-making. The kids learn a trade, Los Quinchos makes a bit of money, and the town gets a new restaurant. If you ever get to visit, I recommend the pepperoni, with a Coca-Cola Light.

Kimberly Burge is Bread for the World's senior writer/editor.

Day Two: Sex for Garbage

You never know quite what to expect when heading to the second-poorest country in the hemisphere -- Nicaragua is a close second to Haiti.  It’s frustrating to see that a country with such natural beauty and so many natural resources has so many problems.

I flew in yesterday afternoon and I feel like it’s been nonstop ever since.  When I say “I,” I mean me and my carry-on bag, minus one piece of checked luggage.  After receiving assurance from a Senor Brooks that my bag would eventually turn up, I took my newly purchased DVD burner, freshly exchanged cordobas, and only set of undergarments and haggled for the best price on a ride to Hotel Los Robles. 

I've traveled to five continents and it never ceases to amaze me how far you can get with smiling and pointing. Since I'm 6’6” I always do my best to sit in the front seats of the developing world’s taxis. I can’t help but talk to strangers now that I’ve long outgrown the fear of being lured into the backseats of vans driven by caped evildoers. 

“Pan para el mundo esta un organasation para los personas con no comida.”  I felt like a three-year-old boy trying to explain to my taxi driver, Juan, that “bread for the world is an organization for the peoples with no food.”  And just as I gave up on translating the word hunger with furious hand motions, his car radio mocked me when the 80's classic “Hungry Eyes” came on.

We came a few days ahead of the film crew for Kimberly to work on newsletter pieces while I try to shoot photos, record audio for podcasts, and hopefully do some last-minute logistics for our Offering of Letters video shoot next week. 
Day2 cepad damaris
This morning’s meeting with CEPAD (Consejo De Iglesias Evangelicas Pro-Alianza Denominacional) Executive Director Damaris Albuquerque was fascinating.  I’m so glad we recorded it for an upcoming podcast.  After Kimberly and I each had a chance to interview her, she took us around the corner to the community radio station where we picked up some local music and recorded station IDs for later broadcast.  Kimberly wisely suggested that I not use my Sábado Gigante radio guy voice for my radio spot…

Day2 cepad radio 

Have you ever heard of people trading sex for garbage?  In the La Chureca landfill just outside of Managua, children scavenge 100 acres of garbage for anything that can be sold for pennies.  Sometimes girls have sex with the truck drivers who dump refuse at the landfill in exchange for bottles or aluminum cans -- instead of the 20 cents they might otherwise get.  What can you even do with information like that?  Seriously.  Well, a good first step would be to write your senators and representative in Congress and let them know that you want them to make foreign assistance a priority. 

Lilian from Pronica showed us around Los Quinchos, an Italian-sponsored group that works with the children who live in the Managua landfill.   

Day2 la chureca girl

Day2 la chureca kids  

Children from Los Quichos.

Day2 la chureca truck 

Residents of La Chureca scramble for garbage as a dump truck delivers to the landfill.

For more photos from La Chureca, check out these Web sites: www.lucatronci.com, www.gerdakochanska.com.

Brian P. Duss is the multimedia associate at Bread for the World. 

Day One: Bienvenidos a Managua

Nicaragua map2 And there, sadly, is where my español ends. I’m traveling through Nicaragua with my colleague, Brian Duss, in preparation for Bread's Offering of Letters 2009. We’re gathering stories and video footage of people who are being helped by development assistance from the United States. Bread members will spend the next year working to reform development assistance, making it better and more efficient.

I spend most of my days working in Bread’s DC office, writing from a cubicle that overlooks the Irish Times pub (and, currently, a noisy construction site). In my 11 years at Bread, I’ve had the privilege of taking a couple of trips like this, to write about people and development programs in the field. And the cliché is true: Travel changes you. My eyes are never more open than when I touch down in a place I’ve never been before. A place like Nicaragua.

In the taxi from the airport, my eyes are open and stinging as smoke from garbage fires and cooking fires drifts across the city and through the open car window. At stoplights, men and boys sell bottles of agua, mobile phones, watches. Women peddle fruit and empanadas (tasty turnovers). Many of the houses have corrugated tin roofs held down by strategically placed rocks. At noon, I see some children in school uniforms walking alongside the road. Girls arm in arm, giggling. I see many more children not dressed for school, some not dressed in much at all.

How to begin to take it all in? We start by having dinner with Sharon Hostetler, who’s based in Managua with Witness for Peace. WFP has worked in Central and South America since 1983. Sharon is originally from Ohio, but has lived in Nicaragua since 1982. She helps give us an overview of the country, or as much as you can get over dinner, which of course isn’t enough. I ask her what development assistance from the U.S. can do for Nicaragua.

“There’s been a tension between what’s development within a country and what’s development in U.S. government eyes. Sometimes U.S. interests are okay, and sometimes they’re at cross purposes with Nicaragua’s needs. Nicaraguans love their country. They need peace, prosperity, and development. But it has to be development that works for them.”   

That’s hopeful to hear on our first day. One of the principles of foreign aid reform that Bread supports is that countries like Nicaragua must identify their own development needs and goals. I know it’s early in the trip, but I feel like we’re on the right track.

Kimberly Burge is Bread for the World's senior writer/editor.

The Disapppearing Wages

Wage-theftIn the midst of our U.S. (and global) economic crisis, much of the recent discussion in the media has focused on job losses and saving jobs and not as much on whether those who are employed are getting a fair wage.  And in those instances where wages are mentioned, the discussion turns to asking workers to accept a pay cut in order to save jobs or save a company.  While saving and creating jobs should certainly remain a priority for our country's leaders, the issue of just wages and a fair minimum wage should not be ignored. 

And there are many good people who are not letting us forget about this issue of fair wages, including Kim Bobo, director of the Interfaith Worker Justice network.  Kim, who served as Bread for the World's director of organizing from 1976 to 1986, recently published her new book Wage Theft In America: Why Millions in America Are Not Getting Paid - And What We Can Do About It.

Here's is paragraph from the promo of the book:

In what has been described as "the crime wave that no one talks about," wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year.  Between two and three million workers are paid less than the minimum wage.  More than three million are misclassified by their employees as independent contractors when they are really employees, allowing employers to shirk their share of payroll taxes and to illegally deny workers overtime pay. Even the Economic Policy Foundation, a business-funded think tank, estimated that companies annually steal 19 billion dollars in unpaid overtime.

Read the rest of the description of the book

If you want to learn more about this book, Kim has scheduled a book tour in the following cities:

Nov. 19-20 New York, NY
Nov. 21-23 Columbus, GA (SOA Vigil)
Nov. 25 Washington, DC
Dec. 1-3 New York, NY / Montclair, NJ
Jan. 21, 2009 Twin Cities, MN
Jan 28-29 Boston, MA
Jan 30-31 Phoenix, AZ
Feb 6 New York, NY

Click here for exact locations

Order a copy

Kim also authored another great book Lives Matter: A Handbook on Christian Organizing, which is based partly on her experiences at Bread for the World

And if you want to know about the great things she has accomplished since her days at Bread for the World, here is her bio on Wikipedia.

(And she is on Facebook, in case you want to befriend her).

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