Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

19 posts from June 2009

Lobby Day and Why Our Voices Matter

There have been many great posts written about the content of the Bread National Gathering and 35th Anniversary Celebration in the last week, so, rather than adding my small voice to the multitude, I would like to speak more about Lobby Day itself and in particular my experiences.

Going in to Lobby Day I had already visited two congressional offices here in California, though they prepared me for the experience it is still a rather intimidating thought to be entering the office of a person who speaks for approximately 20 million people (for each of the two Senators) or approximately 700,000 (in the case of the Congressman). For the Senate meetings I was joined by a contingent of Californians, all of whom were full of purpose and well prepared for the task at hand. In fact the presentation given was so good, and the aides seemingly so receptive, that I must admit I was rather disappointed. My task in the meetings was to handle push back, so I was prepared, with arguments ready, to counter any doubts that the aides might express. Therefore, when both Senate offices offered little push back, but rather agreed wholeheartedly with our goals, I was left without a job! A bittersweet moment for a cocky college kid to be sure, but a fantastic situation for Bread for the World.

The meeting that I had with the aide for Congressman David Dreier was also an excellent one, for she was also extremely receptive and supportive of the goals that we were there to promote. In fact, the meeting almost felt like a living-room chat (though the living room was a rather large and ornate office).

As I left that last meeting, I was struck with an interesting thought: it is so easy to forget that the people in Washington are people like us. We try to either deify or demonize them, all the while forgetting that they are, in reality, just people trying to do what they believe to be the best thing for America and the people they represent. This is important to realize, especially when advocating for a cause like ours at Bread for the World, because it allows us to see the similarities between us all. That they are touched by the suffering of the hungry as we are, they want to see the poor of the world rise up to improve their lives, and they desire to see the world become a better place. Many times it is not a lack of good-will which creates inaction, but rather an uncertainty of the direction towards which to take action. It is our job, the job of the constituents to give them the will and the incentive to create policies which will change the world.

Kaj Pedersen is a student at Claremont McKenna College.  He is serving as a summer intern with Bread for the World's California Regional Office.

Summer is here: It is Mission Trip Season!

If you or someone you know is planning on taking a mission trip this summer, check out Bread for the World’s new resource Getting Ready to Come Back.

Getting Ready to Come Back Mission trips can be life-changing experiences. Research shows, however, that they often are not. One reason is that groups spend many hours preparing for their trip—but little time preparing for what happens when they return.

Getting Ready to Come Back helps Christians returning from mission trips become effective advocates to end hunger and poverty. Tools throughout the resource help teams prepare for their trip, reflect on their experiences, and take action once back home—all with the goal of making a long-term impact by helping address the causes of hunger and poverty. The guide also includes Bible studies, suggested discussion topics, and prayers for each part of the journey.

Order yours today or download it for free. The printed version is spiral bound and conveniently-sized to be carried in a back pack. ($10 each, or $25 for five copies.)

Getting Ready to Come Back was produced by Bread for the World and supported by the following sponsoring partners: American Baptist Churches USA International Ministries; Christian Reformed Church of North America Office of Social Justice; Church of the Brethren, Global Mission Partnerships; Church World Service; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; Week of Compassion (Disciples of Christ); Evangelical Covenant Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America World Hunger Program; Franciscan Action Network; Presbyterian Hunger Program; Reformed Church in America; United Church of Christ; and United Methodist Committee on Relief.

How does your advocacy impact people in the field?

Do you ever wonder if your advocacy makes a different in the lives of poor and hungry people?  Do you think to yourself, "Did that hand written letter really have an impact on my elected official?" Are there stories that I can tell to illustrate the value of advocacy?

Bread for the World recently launched a new series on our web site called "Field Focus."  Each month, we bring you stories from the United States and abroad that illustrate the impact of your advocacy.  These are great stories to share with your church, campus group and friends.

Our most recent Field Focus is featured below:

Trust, Trade, and Lessen Food shortages

By Michele Learner

Ethiopian Commodity ExchangeAt the heart of Ethiopia’s bustling capital city, Addis Ababa, there is a development initiative that, at first glance does not look like one. It is definitely not a health clinic or a borehole for clean water. It’s the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX).

In Ethiopia as elsewhere in the developing world, most poor people work as farmers. They cannot grow all the food they need, so they are also purchasers of food. Thus, poor families need a way both to buy and sell food at a fair price.

This is where the ECX comes in. “Markets matter a lot, even at this low level of income,” said ECX chief executive Eleni Gabre-Madhin.

Many parts of Ethiopia are green and fertile, and farmers produce an abundance of food. Yet nearly every year, people in other regions of the country need food aid from the United States and other donors.

The reason? Ethiopia does not have a national trading network or an efficient national food storage and transportation system that gets food from where it is grown to where it is needed.

Trade depends on trust. “Most farmers trade within about eight miles from their farms, and only with people they know,” Gabre-Madhin said. More than two-thirds of farmers report facing defaults on these trades.

“In the past, truck drivers took payment in envelopes filled with cash. It was never certain if or how much of the money would make it back into the hands of the seller,” she said.

Trust is in short supply. As a result, only about one-fourth of Ethiopia’s grain ever comes to the market. ECX is working to build trust by guaranteeing payments, setting quality standards, and supplying up-to-date market information and storage facilities for crops.

Farmers can now sell their crops directly to ECX and are paid within 24 hours of delivery.

ECX, which celebrated its first anniversary in April 2009, is the first commodity exchange of its kind in Africa. It was started with the help of the U.S. Agency for International Development and other donors.

It serves the 10 million small farmers who produce 95 percent of Ethiopia’s crops. ECX handles six commodities: coffee, sesame, haricot beans, teff, wheat, and maize.

Ethiopian Girl Selling Grain“Besides the trading floor in Addis Ababa, ECX also has six warehouses and 20 electronic tickers in major market towns” said Eric Munoz, a policy analyst for Bread for the World Institute who visited the exchange. “The ECX is a sophisticated response to rural poverty. It plays an important role in filling part of these needs.”

"When farmers can sell their crops on the open market and get a fair price, they will have much more incentive to be productive. Thus, Ethiopia will be much less prone to food crises,’ said Gabre-Madhin. “ECX allows farmers and traders to link to the global economy, propelling Ethiopian agriculture forward to a whole new level." (Field Focus)

Bread's Lobby Day

The ONE Campaign Blog has a great post from Jennifer Coulter Stapleton from Bread's communication department about our lobby day. You can read the original post here or below:

Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA-28), lead sponsor (along with Rep. Mark Kirk, R-IL-10, not pictured) of HR 2139 addresses Bread for the World members at a morning briefing.

“Law doesn’t happen by accident.” These were the words of Diana Ohlbaum, Senior Staff of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs as she addressed participants at Bread for the World’s Gathering 2009. To make laws fair and compassionate for hungry people, we have to make our voices heard in congress.

So, Bread for the World members from across the country spoke out powerfully on Capitol Hill Tuesday as a part of our annual Lobby Day. Bread members from 38 states held meetings with more than 181 Congressional offices.

Our message: it is time to reform U.S. foreign assistance to make it more effective in reducing hunger and poverty. Specifically, we asked our house members to co-sponsor HR 2139, the “Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009.”

Even if you weren’t able to make it to DC to advocate with us, you can be a part of the action too by calling your House member and urging their co-sponsorship. You can use Bread’s special number to be connected directly to the Capitol switchboard at (800)826-3688.

Bread also honored five Members of Congress for their consistent leadership on issues that affect hungry and poor people. Lobby Day Awards went to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC-6), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY-18), and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA-10).

But remember, fair laws don’t happen by accident. Speak out today to make foreign aid more effective.

-Jennifer Coulter Stapleton, Bread for the World Communications

Photo by Bread for the World/Rick Reinhard

Foreign Assistance Reform: Opportunities and Obstacles

Tony Hall introduced our final discussion of the day.  Andrew Natsios, former administrator for USAID and Diana Ohlbaum, senior staff, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives lead a conversation about why this is an opportune time for foreign aid reform.  Diana provided some background about foreign aid reform and how we got to this point. 

The basic legislation that oversees all our foreign aid (including development and military aid) was initially passed in 1961.  It has changed with amendments, but these changes do not reflect an overall goal and priority for this funding.  The authorizing committees set the directives and priorities for the funding.  The appropriations committee is supposed to fund those directive, but the process has almost completely broken down.  In theory, there should be a foreign aid reform every 2 or three years, but the last foreign aid authorizing bill was passed in 1985.

Why is this so complicated and difficult? Diana posed two theories:

  • In Congress, foreign aid is perceived as being deeply unpopular with the American public.  There is a sense that elected officials don't want to vote for it twice a year. 
  • Abortion is still a major obstacle to passing foreign assistance reform.

Unfortunately, many people on the Hill are cautious of attempts to try foreign aid reform again.  The last time foreign aid reform was attempted in 1993 the process basically broke down. Despite these challenges, Congressman Howard Berman believes foreign aid is too important to ignore. Diana closed by encouraging Bread for the World to continue their advocacy and work for the complete rewriting of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

Presidential Efforts to Reduce Hunger

Tony Hall introduced our next speaker, Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, USDA.  She started her comments by complimenting Bread's work on the 2007 farm bill and the legacy of our organization.  Dr. Merrigan reminded us of President Obama's words at the Inauguration:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

Dr. Merrigan walked us through the various ways the administration is responding to hunger here and abroad. She outlined the importance of key programs like food aid, school lunch and effective foreign assistance programs like local and regional purchase of food in famine situations. 

President Obama has requested that Congress double agricultural development funding for FY 2010.  Dr. Merrigan referred to this funding as a "long-term solution" to hunger.  Kathleen stated, "We need distribution networks, improve irrigation, provide access to rural credit.  We need to summon the political will to end hunger in our world.  This is a goal that is rapidly slipping from our grasp.  We will call on your partnership and your commitment in this worthy goal."   

Dr. Merrigan closed her comments by reiterating the importance of Bread for the World's work.  She ended by saying, "For 35 years, Bread for the World has used its profound gifts of advocacy for profound good.  I look forward to working with you.  Thank you for all you do."

Photography for Change

In this afternoon workshop, freelance photographers Margaret W. Nea (her photograph is currently featured as the cover of the 2009 Hunger Report), Rick Reinhard, and Jim Stipe shared their photographs with the workshop participants -- and speaking about how photography is a tremendous educational tool.

Margaret spoke about her trips to the Sudan and connected a story with her vivid photography.  Rick shared his pictures, taken over 10 years, at the United States-Mexico border and spoke about how his pictures have been used to illustrate stories about individuals crossing the borders.

Former regional organizer, Jim Stipe, now a freelance photographer shared the Haitian Proverb, "What the eye does not see - does not change the heart."  Jim talked about how photography can be the catalyst for action.  He spoke about his work with UNICEF and addressing the use of children as camel jockeys in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  His pictures illustrated the plight of these children, who have been exploited by child traffickers.

Each of the stories illustrated by these photographers have a common thread of families
affected by desperate poverty.  

Poverty caused by war. 
Immigration motivated by the hopes for success in a new land.
Families willing to give their children up for the hope of them having better lives.

The photograhers then took questions from workshop participants and discussed how they can use their own pictures from their ministries, travels, or interests to enhance their own stories about thier passion for hunger and poverty.

Some participants shared that in their faith community, talented youth photographers are used on mission and service trips and those pictures are featured in the faith community's Stations of the Cross.

Hillary Doran, Bread's Graphic Designer, informed the workshop participants that you can send your pictures to Bread for the World -- especially for Bread for the World events -- to further enhance the way that you participate in telling Bread for the World's story.

Another participant talked about how his faith community would take pictures and pair them with a poem or essays to communicate a story about poor and hungry people.

Do you have folders and folders of pictures waiting to be shared?  Who would benefit most from seeing them?


Follow the Gathering on Twitter: Tweet #breadgather

You can read live updates on Twitter from the Gathering. A sampling from Twitter below.

Reaching the Tipping Point: Organizing Strategies that Make a Difference

IMG_1857 David Gist, the California Regional Organizer and Matt Newell-Ching, the Western Regional Organizer facilitated a workshop about organizing strategies that make a difference.  They started the workshop with a great scene from Three Amigos.  They showed the scene when the community decides to take on El Guapo.  They ask each other, "What can we do well?"  The community responds, "We can sew!"  The organizing lesson from the movie was: What do you do better than anyone else?  What is your El Guapo?

Starting FreshIMG_matt
Matt said one of the first lessons of community organizing is learning to tell your story.  We need to be comfortable with telling your story.  All of our speakers this weekend are excellent story tellers.  "Our hearts and minds are moved by storytelling," said Matt Newell-Ching.  When you identify with someone's story, it evokes a powerful emotional response and it connects you with people. 

The group spent a few minutes sharing in groups of two their stories.  How did you become involved with justice for people who are poor and hungry?  Tell your story.  If you have a story to share with us, please comment below!

Matt asked, "How did you get to advocacy?  What is the common thread?" People responded by saying they didn't see charity working, so they wanted to be an advocate.  Another shared about the influence of their family.  Matt shared that he met people who got "screwed" by the system.  By meeting this people, he became an advocate. 

The principles from this part of the session were:

1) Share stories

2) Be authentic

3) Build a sense of ownership

4) Develop a basis for relational organizing and relational advocacy

All significant social justice movements for change emerged out of people's living rooms and church basements.  When people share their stories, lives are changed. 

Addressing malnutrition in Nicaragua

Our second panel speaker was Dr. Francisco Gutierrez from Accion Medica Cristana, Nicaragua.  Dr. Gutierrez provided an overview of the country demographics and current challenges.  45% of Nicaraguans live on less than $1 a day.  The country has a history of war, natural disasters and currently experiences high levels of unemployment and food insecurity.  The poverty in Nicaragua stems from challenges to address injustice and a history of conflict in the region. 

Dr. Gutierrez displayed two maps showing the 117 provinces in Nicaragua.  The maps displayed food insecurity and chronic malnutrition in the country.  25% of children are at extreme health risk due to malnutrition.  Accion Medica Cristana seeks to respond to this and many other health concerns.

AMC is ecumenical, working with health professionals, experts and marginalized communities.  They started working in the country in 1984.  AMC's approach thinks critically about nutrition, public health and access to health care.  They believe in a holistic approach that looks at the physical, mental, spiritual aspects of human development.  They work with a vision of community participation, so people can participate as agents of change.  They target high risk, vulnerable communities where they identify the risks and create a plan for development. 

In response to malnutrition, AMC organizes mothers to help them respond to their children's malnutrition.  He displayed a cycle of development slide that showed the entire process of addressing malnutrition.  They educate people on how to farm the land.

AMC's work was featured in Bread's 2009 Offering of Letters video and handbook.  Be sure to watch the video here.  You can also read blog posts about Bread's visit to Nicaragua here.

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