Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

6 posts from December 2008

Voices of the poor

Sisters book So often when we go out and advocate for policy change to help the lives of those who suffer from the anguish of desperate poverty we do so with statistics.  “USDA reported that 36.2 people are living in food insecure households, that is almost one in eight Americans.”  But what is often missing are the voices and faces of those whose lives reflect the everyday reality of not having shelter over their heads in inclement weather or enough food to fill their stomachs on any given day or the dignity to know that their lives matter.

I have always found it is that personal connection of showing another person respect and dignity that I most often meet my Creator and connect to my faith in a tangible way.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of thee least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).

Yesterday, our amazing volunteer Oregon State Coordinator, Mike Hiland, set up a meeting with Sisters of the Road inviting myself and fellow organizer in the Western Region, Matt Newell-Ching.  We had the privilege and opportunity to live out our faith by sharing a simple meal with people of very low income or that lived on the street.  Sisters of the Road is all about dignity and inclusion.  Meals at reduced prices are shared at communal tables with an emphasis on hospitality.  Although, Sister’s is not a Christian organization, one could truly feel the truth in the example of what Christ showed us through his gospel in that room.  How often do you sit and break bread with a stranger and leave friends.  I left feeling we had experienced a living Eucharist.

We also left with a book that Executive Director Monica Beemer gave us called “Voices from the Street.”   The book is not a narration of what life on the street is by some academic or a set of analyzed statistics, but is told in the voices of those who experience on a daily basis what poverty does to lives through a series of intimate interviews.  It is a story of humanity, intelligence, dignity and in many ways hope.  In looking through the book, one line of an interview really caught my attention and summed up for me what the body of Christ is all about.  It is in the section on solutions to homelessness where the impoverished are brought to the table an asked what they need.  This interviewee Bryan was talking about the need to live in community.

Sisters:  What is the importance of having neighbors?

Bryan:  A sense of community.  People live together; that is one of the things that we have done since the beginning of time.  We need to feel like we are part of something.  We need to feel like we are associated with each other and that those associations are not necessarily meaningless.”

It is a book I highly recommend.  Mike has written a wonderful blog post on the Oregon Bread site about how to connect to the website to link the interviews and where you can purchase the book.

Parade Magazine and Foreign Aid

We often find good resources for our anti-hunger advocacy work in the Sunday newspaper.  Often those resources come in the form of an Op-Ed column in the opinion page or a feature on page 6 or 7 or 8 of the front section.  This Sunday I found that great resource in a chart published by Parade magazine. 

Since many of the Sunday newspapers around the country carry Parade (buried in the mass of glossy advertisements), you might have already seen the chart.   It's in the section called Intelligence Report on page 8, with a big headline above the chart entitled Who Gets U.S. Foreign Aid

As many of us already know, our 2009 Offering of Letters is going to push for a reform of foreign aid. Our effort is going to place an emphasis on making U.S. foreign aid more effective and getting assistance to those who need it the most. 

We don't know yet what approach our Bread government relations and organizing staff is going to ask us to take when contacting our members of Congress. But it's very useful to know a bit of background on what policies our country has followed in regards to foreign until now.  This is where the chart is very instructive.  It lists the top six recipients of foreign aid (Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya and South Africa) and the purpose for which the aid is used.  In the case of the first four countries, the words "weapons" and "security" are prominent.  In the next two, Kenya and South Africa, the key word is HIV/AIDS.  If you view the online version of the chart (by clicking on the title), you can get links from the U.S. State Department to information on the next four countries: Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria and Sudan. 

I found this chart very interesting.  I already knew the basic trends, but I didn't have many of these figures handy.  I know that it's going to be very useful background in my Bread for the World advocacy work in 2009.

Day Ten: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”

It’s our final day in Nicaragua and I’m trying my best to process all that we’ve seen and heard. 

Much like our trip around this beautiful country, my thoughts have come full circle.  It all comes back to the first lines of this file “What Bread for the World Hopes to Achieve In its 2009 Offering of Letters” document.

“The world has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  But the way our country delivers aid to the world’s poorest nations is still being driven by the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act.  In 2009, Bread for the World members will urge Congress to rework U.S. foreign assistance to make it a more effective in reducing poverty.”
But what does that mean?  Is our goal for all developing nations to be like America in every way or to do what’s best for them- to achieve success as they define it?  We’re a nation that leaves 45 million people uninsured, so we have to be very careful on how we advise others to run their country.     
I love the United States, but when 1 in 10 Americans are on food stamps, we’ve got some work to do at home as well.

At the same time I can’t help but think about what Belinda Forbes from Accion Medica Christiana said about cholera in the eastern coast of the country.  During a cholera epidemic, aid workers tried to get people to wash their hands after using the bathroom to fight the spread of the disease. The locals were convinced that their sickness had nothing to do with microscopic bacteria, but rather it was over-shrimping that was making the sea gods angry, thus causing everyone to get sick.   But navigating cultural differences is a blog post in itself.

Edward Abbey once said “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”  Development has to lead to somewhere better.    

One thing I liked so much about AMC’s work in Matagalpa was that people came to them.  After seeing how well pilot projects were working, locals formulated proposals and brought them to the Nicaraguan NGO, rather than some European or American aid organization imposes an ill-fitting agenda.  Church World Service funds helped start their work, but now they are truly country owned and country driven.   

In a similar way MCA in Nicaragua (Cuenta Reto Del Milenio) has partners, not beneficiaries.  Even this classification of aid recipients highlights how they work for and with Nicaraguans who seek to do for themselves- setting up a system that will be there long after the program has ended. 

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

Day Nine: Vaya con Dios, Nicaragua

Chinandega is Nicaragua’s hottest town, and I’m not talking about the nightlife. It’s only the beginning of the dry season, and it was 98 degrees yesterday. Yikes.

This was our second day with Cuenta Reto Del Milenio, which is the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s project in Nicaragua. Establishing the MCC was Bread’s Offering of Letters in 2003. So it’s extra special to see development that we Bread members have been directly involved in putting into place. 

Nubia and Volcano rs And we finally got the chance to meet Nubia Baca. People at the MCC in Washington have been telling us about Nubia since we began planning this trip, for good reason. She’s a force of nature, just like San Cristobal, Nicaragua’s highest volcano that looms over her finca (farm) and its 60 head of dairy cattle. Some of the women we’ve met in Nicaragua have been quiet and reticent. Not Nubia. Marcos, our translator, could barely keep up with her; he looked worn out by the end of the day. (Or maybe that was the result of spending the whole week with us…) From alfalfa fields to cheese-making…Nubia’s is quite the story. And you can read about her in the upcoming 2009 Offering of Letters handbook! It will be available in late January – check out Bread’s Web site to keep posted about it.Nubia and cows rs

That’s my job now, to go back home, take everything we’ve seen, and craft it all into stories you can read in Bread’s publications and online. I always wish I had more time on these trips. People have been unfailingly open and welcoming to us. But it’s hard to drop in for just a little while (and with a film crew in tow) and try to get a handle on how people live. It’s a glimpse at best, but it’s one I’m honored to have. And I want other people to know more about Nubia, and the Consejo de Mujeres (Council of Women), and Pedro, who at age 34 just completed first grade and who is already planning for his young daughters to attend college someday. So, stay tuned…
Note taking rs

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

Day Eight: “It’s kind of like a buffet”

After our first full day with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (Millennium Challenge Account in Nicaragua) I am beat.  It’s all I can do to eat my piece of flan in the hotel bar while I type this blog.  Yes, I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s gotta do it.  We’ve had our share of long days and tomorrow the crew heads out at 4:30AM once again.  Not to mention, Montezuma took a trip down south to exact his revenge on more than a couple of our team members…

The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) team in Leon and Chinandega is a force to be reckoned with.  Having written over 1000 contracts for $80 million in just a couple of years you can see why they have been so effective.

Plantains ms
As we head to Annabelle’s plantain farm in our four-truck convoy it does feel a bit overwhelming.  Our entourage is a majority Nicaraguan staff, but it still feels a little weird, like we’re a gang of Gringos riding in to town to make sure our tax dollars are being well spent instead of what we’re actually here to do which is highlight their holistic and country owned approach to development that has made these projects so successful. 

Podcast interview
One of the most interesting things about their projects is how they focus on gender equality.  Their genders specialist, Sylvia Torres, told us that they’re approaching 30% participation by women- which, I’m told, ‘considering the machismo culture of Latin America, is quite an accomplishment.’

Tomorrow we meet a rancher named Nubia Bacha- a widow who almost had to sell her land before MCA (know in Spanish as Cuenta Reto Del Milenio) gave her the technical assistance to save it.  Now she not only has 80 head of dairy cows but also started a woman’s cheese making collective.  She’s what you call a spitfire.

If anything, MCA wants to show us too many projects. It’s a bit overwhelming; there are so many things to see.  But if we want to do this right (for the video anyway) we need to stick to the plan and limit the number of subjects we t
ry and do justice. 
Less is more.
Half way through the day, our photographer said, “it’s kind of like a buffet.…”  Which is true- you can’t eat everything, you just have to make it through as much as you can. 

It’s reminds me of a story my dad told me about “someone” being pulled over by a state trooper for speeding.  They asked:

Driver:                  “why did you stop me when all these other people were speeding                                 too?”

State Trooper:        “You ever go fishing?”

Driver:                  “Yes.”

State Trooper:       “Do you ever catch all the fish…”

Good point.  And for us, it’s not about capturing all of the stories, but rather finding the right stories to paint a picture of what smarter development looks like on the ground.  And I think we’ve done that here.

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

World AIDS Day

N708422559_4971 Today, December 1, 2008, marks the 20th Anniversary of World Aids Day.  From a red glowing space needle in Seattle, Washington, to a prayer walk in Mbarara, Uganda, millions of people will spend the day bringing awareness to and taking action on an epidemic that does not discriminate by age, gender, class nor does it have borders.

Since the 1980’s, the global community has done much to combat HIV/AIDS, but the number of those infected continues to rise with over 33 million people today living with the disease.  Many of those who live with the HIV virus live in the developing world with inadequate access to medical care and life saving treatments, as well as lack of comprehensive education on how to prevent the spread of AIDS.

The U.S. has been a leader in the global fight against AIDS and in 2003 launched the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).   In July of this year Congress reauthorized PEPFAR, with overwhelming support from the American people who wrote letters and made phone calls to their Congressional members.

But still we need to do more!  Hunger and AIDS in the developing world go hand and hand.  Those who suffer from AIDS in the developing world need more than just medicine.  They need nutritious food as well.  AIDS affects more than those who live with the disease but leaves in its wake, millions of orphaned children.    This is why when the world’s countries adopted 8 goals that address the root causes of  poverty, HIV/AIDS made the list as number six (The Millennium Development Goals).  AIDS, poverty and hunger are all intertwined.  We must take a holistic approach at the global problems of today for long term and effective solutions tomorrow.

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