Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

19 posts from June 2009

Global Development Assistance: What can we accomplish when we get it right?

Our second plenary discussion focused on foreign aid effectiveness.  The panel participants included H.E. Cyrille S. Oguin, the Ambassador of Benin, Cheryl Morden of International Fund for Agricultural Development and Dr. Francisco Gutierrez of Accion Medica Cristiana, Nicaragua.

Ambassador Oguin of Benin started our conversation by discussing the impact of the Millennium Challenge Account funding in his country.  He stated, "Foreign aid is crucially needed, but it really works.  It brings wonderful results."

Benin became eligible for MCC funding in 2004. Over the course of two years, Benin went through a long consultative process to create a development plan. The compact was signed in February 2006 for $307 million.  The compact addresses the problems of the development chain in a coherent way.  The Ambassador offered an example of land tenure issues.  The program offers titles for owners to show that they own the land.  It empowers people to claim their land and show proof of their ownership.  The program is estimated to touch 5 million people in their country.  If the program succeeds, it will lift 250,000 people out of poverty.  

The compact involves civil society, the media, local government, universities - everyone is involved with this project.  Over one hundred NGOs were involved with creating the compact and they are still engaged with implementing the funding.  It allowed Benin to take the lead and set the agenda for the implementation. 

MCA-Benin was formed as the management agency in Benin to oversee the project funding.  It has a board of 11 people and program management staff.  The program includes reporting and feedback to ensure its effectiveness.  As a sign of their own commitment to the MCA programs, Benin committed $10 million of their own funding to the program.  

The United States is one of the largest bilateral donors to Benin.  Ambassador Oguin said, "The MCC is a good model when it comes to ownership."  The Ambassador is not claiming the program is perfect - there is always room for improvement.  He feels there are  ways to increase coherency and coordination among other development programs.

"We need the church to stand up." - Dr. Samuel Rodriguez

Dr. Samuel Rodriguez preached a powerful message at our opening worship.  Dr. Rodriguez is the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.  He poetically spoke about God's annoiting on us to preach the good news - "The good news will come when all Christians make eradicating poverty a central part of their faith." 

We need a prophetic and incarnational firewall that will stand against poverty.  We need a fresh move of God's Holy Spirit.  We need to eradicate hunger by the power of God. 


We are agents. Let's not waste this crisis.

Lisa Sharon Harper, Executive Director of NY Faith and Justice and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat, offered our evening plenary talk about responding to the crisis of our time.  She asked us to frame the crisis of hunger in the concept of shalom as explored in Scripture - Genesis 1 and 2.  

Lisa walked us through the Scripture by talking about how God responded to creation when God created the world.  Lisa made a compelling link between shalom, food, and God's desire for love among all creation.  She said, "It's our responsibility to make sure these relationships are all in working order.  God gave us agency here on earth.  Agency is characterized by love and servanthood of the other."  It is our responsibility to respond when people are hungry, suffering, dying, struggling in war without peace.

Lisa went on to speak about God's only commandment in the Garden.  "God only gave one command in Genesis 2 and it's connected to food.  You can eat from any tree in the garden, but don't eat from the tree in the middle - you will die....The evil is the experience of not trusting God's word.  Not chosing God's way."

We can't waste this crisis of hunger in our time, because God is calling us to act.  God is calling us to reflect God's desire for shalom in the world.  We are agents of shalom.  Praise be to God. 

Thank you Lisa for your witness and powerful words.

The Rising of Bread for the World - Panel Discussion

Micheal Gerson, David Beckmann and Art Simon spoke on a panel about the beginnings and challenges of Bread for the World.  Michael started the discussion by asking Art, Bread's founder, about how Bread emerged from his direct service church ministry in New York City.  Art commented, "My father used to say that it's better to build a fence at the end of the road rather than send an ambulance.  Bread for the World emerged as a way of building a fence." Art recently published a book called "The Rising of Bread for the World," which recounts 35 years of history of Bread for the World.  You can purchase your copy on our website.

When asked what he's learned about working to end hunger over the past 35 years, Art said, "We've got an opportunity with the new administration and the new Congress.  Don't kid yourself.  It's not going to be easy.  We're only going to make things happen unless we get out there and show our elected officials that we want them to take action.  No matter how promising an administration may be - we cannot take that for granted.  We've got to get out there and seize this opportunity."

Michael raised the challenge of the current economic crisis and the temptation to look inward.  David Beckmann made an argument for the importance of increased foreign assistance funding in the midst of an economic crisis.

Art closed the panel discussion with a powerful call to advoacy:

Our own integrity as Christians is at stake.  If our faith in Jesus is real, Jesus calls us to take action.  Action can come in many different ways and forms.  A  key part of it is what Bread for the World is urging people to do - the advocacy side of things.  If we really want hunger to end, it's not enough that we just upgrade our direct assistance.  We have to get the nation as a whole to take action. If we believe in a God who has created us for the purpose of serving others, who has redeemed us in Christ, we are to reflect that love to others with our whole being.  Bread for the World can play a significant role in that.

David Beckmann's Remarks

David Beckmann now takes the stage to welcome all of the participants of the Gathering. (That includes you, blog readers!  Welcome!)  Rev. Beckmann provides us with some context about the hunger and undernourishment rates around the world in and our country. We rejoice, in the midst of these things, because God is with us.  We know that God is good and we rejoice in the radical promise of the day where there is "hunger no more."

He notes that in this decade -- the United States has more than doubled the money it spends on fighting disease and poverty around the world.  He notes that this simply could not have happened without Bread for the World's activisits.  This work is making a real difference in families all around the world.

President Beckmann notes that domestically, Bread for the World has focused on ensuring that poor and hungry people recieve food provision assistance.  Compared to 2000, 16 million more people are receiving support from nutrition programs because of the work that Bread for the World and activists who are advocating for policies for poor and hungry people.

He tells us the story of his adopted son's birth mother -- who informed him that when she was a graduate student and became pregnant, her family all but disowned her and she was left without support.  She turned to the WIC program - a nutrition program benefitting women, infants, and children.  This program nourished her unborn child and she was extremely thankful for the support provided to her in such a difficult time.  Rev. Beckmann notes that we should think of stories that are behind the faces of those benefitting from these nutrition programs.  Who in your community is receiving support from these nutrition programs?  Do you know their stories?

Moving on to our current campaign, Rev. Beckamnn speaks of Bread for the World's activity on the Initiating Foreign Assistance Act of 2009 -- H.R. 2139.  President Beckmann reflects on the last six weeks of activity surrounding this important bill.  Bread activists are making a difference and are working to secure cosponsors for this bill.  On Tuesday, we will go to speak to our representatives in person and ask them to cosponsor HR 2139 -- what creative thing will you do on Tuesday to communicate with your representative about reforming foreign aid?  (You don't have to be too creative -- a phone call is helpful!)

President Beckmann is calling us to leadership on these issues.  How will you lead your own faith community, family, or neighborhood to respond to the need to reform foreign aid?

Opening Session: Welcome to Rejoice. Hope. & Act.

Welcome!  This is Meredith Williams, TX-AR-OK Organizer, blogging LIVE the opening session of Bread for the World's National Gathering.

"The seed that falls on good ground will yeild a fruitful harvest."  Three Bread for the World members reflect on the theme and share it with the group.

REJOICE!  Carlos Navarro -- a fantastic activist and former board member from our region's neighboring state of New Mexico -- opens the session with reflections on the theme "rejoice." Carlos rejoices with the community he has discovered through his work with Bread for theCarlos has been a Bread for the World member since 1983. 

HOPE!  Derick Dailey, a college student in Missouri (and originally from the Central Southern regional state of Arkansas), reflects on HOPE.  Upon reflecting about hope with a friend, they discussed how hope is the opening of the end of a long, dark tunnel.  It is what continues to inspire us to act on behalf of poor and hungry people.  

ACT!  "Go and do likewise!" Rebecca Vander Meulen, of the Anglican Diocese of Niassa, Mozambique exclaims that each of Bread for the World's members are "going and doing likewise" by working to fight poverty in their community and abroad.  

Now we move on to David Beckmann's remarks...

Stay Tuned! LIVE BLOGGING from Gathering 2009!

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Hello Central Southern Activists! In a year when it is quite expensive to travel -- we thought it would be a good idea to bring the 2009 Gathering and Lobby Day to you at home with a LIVE BLOG!

Some of you might be new to the Bread Blog, and some of you might be new to blogs in general!  If so -- here is a great video that helps you understand a bit more about blogs. On the other hand, if you're a frequent blog reader/writer -- go ahead and subscribe to our feed.

From this SUNDAY, June 14th to TUESDAY, June 16th -- I will be bringing the National Gathering, Bread's 35th Anniversary Celebration, and Lobby Day right to you (via this blog which you can find at www.breadblog.org/central-southern) for a Texas-Arkansas-Oklahoma perspective on the celebration.

As frequently as possible, I'll keep you updated with the events of the day.

If you haven't done so already, go ahead and sign up to receive a daily recap from me - your regional organizer - Meredith Story Williams.

Join us!

LIVE blogging begins Sunday at 4pm EST.

Foreign Aid Reform: Making Real Changes for Those Who Need it Most


After watching the debate that I outlined in my previous post, I spent some time reflecting about its implications to the work Bread is doing. I found that both sides brought up important points in defense of foreign aid reform (many of which Bread already uses). On one side of the issue is the sheer, abject poverty that exists in the developing world. There is no question in my mind that, in order to give those who are in that kind of poverty a chance to improve their lives and the state of their country, aid needs to be given; moreover, it needs to occur on a government level, since only governments can mobilize the kinds of funds necessary to significantly improve lives.

However, the methods through which aid is allocated need to become more efficient and effective. An improvement in this area requires two paths: a uniform direction and strategy for our government’s foreign assistance, in order to ensure that the aid gets to where it is going more efficiently and a change in the perception of Africa and its needs. The first point I believe can be addressed with legislative action and a change in our government’s foreign aid assistance, but the second requires an immense input by the general population and a change in people’s mindsets. We need a realization that Africa cannot rely on aid alone for ever. Job training and agricultural development need to take center stage in order to create real change in people’s lives as opposed to a constant stream of money and goods. Finally, and most importantly, the populations of all the developing nations need to stop simply feeling sorry for Africa. Instead of treating Africa like a street child simply begging for scraps, the world powers need to take movements towards legitimate equal partnerships with African nations. Only through mobilizing the people into changing the national image of Africa as a beggar, to Africa as a young, but potentially brilliant, entrepreneur in need of an opportunity, can real changes be made. 

It is in this area that a organization such as Bread for the World can make all the difference. It has the resources to educate the general population, the structure to connect the people to those who make the decisions, and the calling to accomplish it all.

I find that these sentiments are very well supported by Paul Collier’s closing remarks in the Munk Debate, which I paraphrase: In order to create change the governments need to get serious. Look at the Marshall Plan, in that situation the government got serious and change was made. However democratic governments act at the will of the people, so the people get the type of aid that they deserve. If they want politicians kissing babies and showing how sorry they feel for the people of Africa, that is what they are going to get. In order to make real change, people need to get informed, and motivate their governments to do what needs to be done and bring legitimate change to the developing world.

Learn how you can get involved with foreign aid reform by visiting Bread's action center.

The Munk Debate on Foreign Aid


Monday night, Munk Debates held an incredibly interesting debate on the effectiveness of foreign aid, in response to the growing allegations from many scholars that aid in fact amplifies the problems of the developing world. The debate took place between four leading voices in the discussions on poverty reduction and foreign aid: Dambisa Moyo, Hernando de Soto, Stephen Lewis, and Paul Collier. While the debate was formally set up to be Moyo and de Soto against Lewis and Collier, in reality it emerged to be an ideological debate between Moyo and Lewis, with Collier bridging a sort of middle ground, and de Soto on everyone’s side but advocating a different approach to the argument.

The debate was well run and civil (for the most part), which allowed each of the participants to develop their argument and respond effectively to their opponents. Lewis outlined the amazing victories of aid, such as decreasing child mortality and the HIV/AIDS death rate, building schools, decreasing hunger, reducing malaria, vaccinating children, and providing education. He also preemptively addressed Moyo's argument by pointing out that in the last 10 years aid has become more focused and active among the people rather than just being handed out to the government, increasing its effectiveness and advancing towards the goal of decreasing poverty. Hernando de Soto’s remarks gratefully thanked all of those who advocate for aid and selflessly give so much to developing nations, but stated that that is not enough. Capital needs to be raised by introducing property rights and protecting business deals, as well as helping the poor.

Collier entered the debate stating simply that aid is a useful tool, but not the only one. Aid should be used in conjunction with improvements in other areas (security, trade, and governance) in order to bring the “Bottom Billion” up to converge with the rest of society. Furthermore, aid needs to be targeted and conditioned to the accountability of the governance of a particular nation. Finally, Dambisa Moyo outlined her argument on the evils of aid, stating that Africa is poorer now than it was 40 years ago despite $1 trillion of aid. Moreover, aid has decreased growth, fueled corruption, encouraged inflation and debt, killed entrepreneurship, and destroyed the export market. She ended by stating that her argument was not for immediate, direct removal of aid, but rather a weaning off of it, for no other nation in the world has ever risen out of poverty with an indeterminate amount of aid.

This debate was particularly interesting because both sides were arguing very similar ideals, just in different ways. While it is most likely true that Moyo would not oppose to complete removal of aid, she does argue for a weaning and a transition, something Lewis agrees with simply on a different time scale. Furthermore, they all agreed that the situation in Africa is not sustainable, aid cannot be indeterminate and it must be done in addition to other techniques. Aid should also be targeted towards increasing sustainability through encouraging entrepreneurship and infrastructural development. Finally, the African leaders must take ownership of their own development, accountability for their actions, and leadership in their affairs in order for their nations to emerge from poverty.

- Kaj Pedersen is an intern with the Pasadena Office of Bread for the World.  He is a student at Claremont McKenna College.

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