Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

27 posts from January 2012

Glimmers of Hope at the Iowa Caucus

'Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey - Icons' photo (c) 2011, DonkeyHotey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Last Tuesday evening, January 3, I attended my precinct caucus in Ames, IA.  I had earlier volunteered to attend a Republican caucus site, representing a newly-formed Bread for the World group, located at Bethesda Lutheran Church, Ames, Iowa.  Other members of the eight-person Bread group attended the Democratic caucus in Ames. All of us agreed to present our concerns about forming a "circle of protection" around food programs that meet the essential needs of poor people at home and abroad. 

There were 100 people in attendance at the caucus I attended:  Ward 2, Precinct 3. I was able to present the circle of protection resolutions to the group.  Our group's request pertaining to a circle of protection was approved by a strong margin and will be submitted to the County Republican Convention for approval at the "next level" and possible amendments.

I came away energized by the caucus system and quite aware that though the gap between Democrats and Republicans is wide indeed, on the question of providing support for a circle of protection, there was agreement at the caucus I attended.  Though I do not know to what extent the majority of the people who voted for the hunger resolution would also agree on "specifics" related to a "circle of protection," the desire to end hunger was, in my opinion, the hopeful sign that human beings can rally around.

Rev. Russell Melby is a regional director for Church World Service in Des Moines, IA and has been a member of Bread for the World since 1980.

Iowa City Congregation Studies Hunger from all Angles

'Wheat Field' photo (c) 2010, Lauren Tucker - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ Yesterday, the Congregational United Church of Christ in Iowa City, IA launched a seven-part educational series on hunger that is free and open to their community. While seven sessions seems like a long series, each addresses a different aspect of hunger – from how to access healthy and sustainably produced food to the local face of hunger – and provides attendees with a full picture of the complex and interrelated causes and effects of hunger and food insecurity in our nation and around the world. I spoke with Donna Hirst, the chair of the mission board of the Congregational United Church of Christ, about the series and what she’s seeing on the ground in Iowa City.

Jeannie Choi: What was the inspiration for your church’s seven-part series on hunger issues?

Donna Hirst: The mission board of our church has four responsibilities: finances, advocacy, education, and direct service. In the past we have often done a major speaker series; for example, one year we had five or six speakers on health care reform. 

It was unanimous that this year we do a series on hunger, and it was also the first year that we attempted a seven-part series, which is pretty ambitious for our church group. But I am just delighted that it’s falling together so well. We had our first event Sunday and we saw a film called “Silent Killer: The Unfinished Campaign Against Hunger.” We had about 40 people, which is great considering it’s an interim, and none of the students are in town. (Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa.) I was really pleased with the turnout and we’ve got now six more sessions.

I was most interested in the session with a local farmer. Tell me a little bit about this session.

Dana Foster is a farmer for Scattergood Friends, which provides food for school kids and teaches kids about farming and sustainable farming practices. And so she’s not only a very committed farmer in that sense -- raising food for the school -- but she’s also a farmer teaching about the land and growing.

What signs of hunger or food insecurity do you see in your community?

We have a very large crisis center and food pantry and have served not just the Iowa City area, but Johnson County with organized food distribution programs. It seems like for the last 10 years, every year there’s more and more people in need of food assistance, and they get lots of extra food at Thanksgiving and then they’re out of food by the first of December! And then they get extra food at Christmas, but sustaining that over the course of the year is really challenging, and this is in a community that’s relatively stable economically.

What is your goal with this series? What do you hope participants will take away?

The focus of this seven-part series is education, but by the time we get to the last session on Feb. 19, we will have eight people who are going to talk about their local agencies, what they do to alleviate hunger in the region, and how they utilize volunteers. When the series is over, our congregation is going to have another session where we sign people up to volunteer. Our hope is that people would really want to continue volunteering and that they would work that into their regular schedule.

Why is fighting hunger important for you, personally?

I think that I grow spiritually when I can connect with people of all types, all situations, all ages, and that connectedness fills up my soul. I need these connections to be complete and healthy.

It’s very painful to have an interaction with someone who you can tell is suffering for whatever reason, but some kinds of suffering an individual can’t do too much to alleviate. When somebody you know has just had a divorce, you can be moral support, but you can’t change their situation. But if someone doesn’t have enough food, you can give them food, and I think that’s part of why I really want to be very active in our church mission program. The hunger series is just an excellent example of working toward that.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.



Hunger QOTD: President John F. Kennedy

A view of rice fields owned by local hill tribes in Sapa, Viet Nam. Every year the world produces 356 kg of cereal per person, yet 40 million die of hunger. A more than 30 percent rise in food prices last year has taken a huge toll on the world’s poor people. UN Photo/Kibae Park.

"So long as freedom from hunger is only half achieved, so long as two-thirds of the nations have food deficits, no citizen, no nation can afford to be satisfied. We have the ability, as members of the human race, we have the means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth in our lifetime. We only need the will."

--President John F. Kennedy, World Food Congress, Washington D.C., 1963

Pope Benedict Urges Action on the Horn of Africa

A Somali woman hands her severely malnourished child to a medical officer of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), an active regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations. Somalia is affected by a severe drought that has ravaged large swaths of the Horn of Africa, leaving an estimated 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Photo credit:UN Photo/Stuart Price

The Pope’s Urbi et Orbi (“To the City of Rome and to the World) message is a traditional Catholic Christmas reflection from the Pope to the worldwide Christian community. This reflection not only reminds us of the spiritual and religious meaning of Christmas, but also delivers a powerful social message. Here is a link to that message and a BBC article on the message.

Through this brief message, Pope Benedict reminds us of the mystery of the incarnation as a way that God, through Christ, fully experiences the human condition. Christ experienced our suffering and our injustice from his homeless birth to his capital execution. In this way God shares in our social injustices and reminds us that God's infinite love for all humanity and creation will persevere with us as it has with Christ Jesus. Pope Benedict said:

The answer to our cry which God gave in Jesus infinitely transcends our expectations, achieving a solidarity which cannot be human alone, but divine. Only the God who is love, and the love which is God, could choose to save us in this way.

How will this redemptive love be played out? How will God vindicate the injustices that we experience? Through us as co-workers who share in the divinity of Christ. The mystery of the incarnation is not just about Christ, it’s also about us. Athanasius and St. Augustine reminded the early Christian community about this with the famous dictum, “God became human so that humans might become God.” In accepting God’s love and invitation to share in God's divine dignity, we are called to present that love and dignity to all of God’s people in this world. However, in a special way we are called to present this love and dignity to those who suffer injustice in our world.

Thus, Pope Benedict raises the Christmas mystery of God’s love within the context of our social injustice. He cites the violence in Syria, the Middle East, and North Africa, and the devastating flooding in southeast Asia. In particular, Pope Benedict urges us to respond to the famine in the Horn of Africa:

Together let us ask God’s help for the peoples of the Horn of Africa, who suffer from hunger and food shortages, aggravated at times by a persistent state of insecurity. May the international community not fail to offer assistance to the many displaced persons coming from that region and whose dignity has been sorely tried.

These are issues that we must certainly be attentive to in our prayer life, but we cannot stop there. We as citizens can influence our government to be an agent of peace and justice to our suffering world. As people of faith, we are urged to do so. In this way, we reciprocate that divine solidarity that Christ achieves for us.

This year, Bread for the World will be protecting and defending international food aid program and poverty-focused development assistance programs. These programs are so vital for areas that have been devastated by famine and flood. As you pray for peace and justice during this upcoming year, please visit our website and be part of the campaign. In this way we can adequately respond as agents of God’s love in a world that is in desperate need of it.

John-GonzalezJohn Gonzalez is a regional organizer for Bread for the World.



Good News from Africa

'Africa in hearts' photo (c) 2008, futureatlas.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

What could have possibly caused the notoriously high-brow magazine, The Economist, to admit regret? Africa's economic growth.

In a Dec. 3, 2011, article, “Africa’s Hopeful Economies: The Sun Shines Bright,” The Economist noted that a decade ago, they had regrettably labeled Africa “the hopeless continent.” But today, signs of economic growth had The Economist telling a different story.

While reporting from Africa tends to focus on the dire circumstances of famine, poverty, war, and disease, The Economist is bringing attention to the good news about Africa: business in some parts of the continent is expanding, forming a small, increasingly stable middle class.

Of course, the signs of Africa’s economic growth need to be tempered with caveats that the continent still has a long way to go. But national economies are growing faster than any other region of the world. The article points to Ethiopia as an exemplar.

At least a dozen have expanded by more than 6 percent a year for six or more years. Ethiopia will grow by about 7.5 percent this year, without a drop of oil to export. Once a byword for famine, it is now the world’s tenth-largest producer of livestock. Nor is its wealth monopolized by a well-connected clique. Embezzlement is still common but income distribution has improved in the past decade.

Another hopeful sign is the decrease in Africa’s child mortality rate.

As for Africans below the poverty line – the majority of the continent’s billion people – disease and hunger are still a big problem. Out of 1,000 children 118 will die before their fifth birthday. Two decades ago the figure was 165. Such progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, a series of poverty-reduction milestones set by the United Nations, is slow and uneven. But it is not negligible.

Bread for the World is committed to advocating for policies that will help nations achieve the Millennium Development Goals precisely for the kind of progress that The Economist is reporting out of Africa. Famine, war, drought, and disease continue to plague African nations, but there are glimmers of hope. With a healthier generation of 20- to 30-year-olds, a bona fide economic boom that lifts all boats and draws more people out of poverty might not be far off.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.


Hunger QOTD: Dalai Lama

"Peace, in the sense of absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain or torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience. It does not comfort those who have lost their loved ones in floods caused by senseless deforestation in a neighboring country. Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free."

-The Dalai Lama, The Essential Dalai Lama: His Important Teachings

In Congo, Many Can No Longer Afford to Eat Every Day

The New York Times reported today that many residents of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), have adopted strict food rationing schedules—some family members eat one day, other family members eat the next.

Extreme measures such as this one, called délestage (French for “power cut”), have become necessary in poorer households in the DRC, a nation that, according to the report, is suffering from record-breaking food insecurity:

Ten years ago, even poor Congolese could expect to eat one substantial meal a day — perhaps cassava, a starchy root, with some palm oil, and a little of the imported frozen fish that is a staple here. But in the last three years, even that certainty has dropped away, said Dr. Eric Tollens, an expert on nutrition in Congo at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, where he is an emeritus professor at the Center for Agricultural and Food Economics.

Dr. Tollens blamed the “total neglect of agriculture by the government,” which is fixated on the lucrative extraction of valuable minerals like copper and cobalt. Less than 1 percent of the Congolese national budget, he said, goes to agriculture. Foreign donors finance “all agricultural projects,” he said, and “massive amounts of food” are imported in this rich land, so food is expensive.

In fact, as Bread for the World Institute reported in its 2011 Hunger Report, in the years since 1997, when longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was deposed, the country been suffering through a terrible cycle of violence and food insecurity:

Despite a large peacekeeping presence, sporadic violence continues to threaten the lives of tens of thousands of people in the DRC. Economic growth has been slow but positive since 2002, a welcome sign given the connections between conflict and growth rates. Yet enormous challenges remain. The country has the highest rate of hunger of any country in the world: Seventy percent of the population is undernourished. Violence against women, including rape, is pervasive.

Most disturbing is the effect of délestage on the children of the DRC, particulary because malnourished children under 2 years old suffer irreversible damage to their physical and cognitive development. Ghislaine Berbok, one of the parents interviewed for the Times story, demonstrates grim resolve when asked about how her children are coping with the food restrictions. “Yes, sure they ask for food, but we don’t have any … at night they will be weak … But there is nothing we can do.”

Jeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World.

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