Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

19 posts categorized "Field Focus"

From Chiapas to the United States and Back

Text by Dulce Gamboa
Photographs by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

It has been almost 10 years since Marvin Garcia returned to Mexico from the United States. Garcia, 52, is originally from Guatemala but is now a naturalized Mexican citizen. He owns and farms a small parcel of land at Santa Fe, a sustainable community developed by Agros International in Comitan, located in Mexico’s Chiapas state.

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Marvin Garcia, 52, worked in the United States without papers several times because of a lack of opportunities and jobs where he lives in Chiapas, Mexico. With the help of Agros, a U.S. nonprofit, Garcia was able to buy land in his hometown when he returned from the United States.

Agros helps poor small-scale farmers buy fertile land with loans that carry a very low interest rate. Borrowers have up to 10 years to repay their loans. Agros also provides technical assistance to help farmers make the land as productive as possible.

Garcia is a resilient man who is partially blind from cataracts. It is too painful for him to open his right eye. Using just one eye is especially hard during harvest season. He said once, “I think that the corn I am scorching is right in front of me, but it’s not.” He was making fun of himself but he was also sad.

He has overcome a lot of obstacles over the years--from fleeing to Mexico as a Guatemalan refugee, to crossing the U.S. border through the deserts of Arizona. And even with one eye, Garcia continues to fight for a better life for his six-member family.

Garcia moved to the United States because of the lack of opportunities and sources of income at home. He wanted to pursue his dream of someday building a house. Between 1998 and 2000, Garcia crossed the U.S.-Mexican border four times. Leaving his family behind was not easy, and he remembers this as a bitter and difficult time.

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Marvin and his son Jesús, 4, eat a breakfast of tortilla and beans before heading to the field for the day. 

Garcia worked in Florida, growing and picking tomatoes. For months, he ate nothing but one apple a day so he could save money. He managed to set aside almost an entire year’s salary ($12,000) to build his house. Garcia estimates that earning that much money in Mexico would have taken him seven to eight years, always assuming good harvests. After enduring separation from his family, Garcia now owns a modest house with a latrine.

For years, Garcia tried to buy land in Chiapas, but the federal government repeatedly denied his application. He finally got involved with Agros in 2007, and a year later he obtained his land at Santa Fe. His life was transformed. As he explains, “It’s not the same to rent or borrow land to grow for selling or self-consumption.”

After two years of becoming part of the Santa Fe community, Garcia is certain that with hard work, he can make his land productive enough to repay his loan from Agros within the allotted 10 years. He feels very proud of being able to purchase the land, where he grows corn and lime.

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Garcia harvests corn, mushrooms, coffee and limes among other products.

Garcia does not have plans to migrate to the United States again, because his future in Mexico is now brighter. He has his land to work. Within a few years, he may be able to save the $1,500 he needs for cataract surgery. He is a role model in his community.

Garcia’s story shows that investing in Mexico’s rural development is critical to easing pressures to migrate to the United States. Santa Fe is a community of men, women, and children. It is not a village of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren because a whole generation is missing—forced to seek work far from home. Santa Fe is a community with a sense of hope and confidence that residents will be able to pay Agros back for the land where they grow tomatoes, corn, onions, papayas, and more. After decades of lack of opportunities to earn a living, the men in this community no longer think about migrating to the United States. They feel confident about being able to feed their families. Thanks to Agros and its funders, Marvin Garcia and his neighbors have the possibility of development in their own hands.  

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Garcia, Jesús and their dog Chiquita walk home from the family cornfield.

World AIDS Day: A Letter from Mozambique

by Rebecca J. Vander Meulen

LICHINGA, MOZAMBIQUE — Today is the day when people around the world recognize our common daily work (which is—in a country where most families include someone living with HIV—our daily life). It is my eighth World AIDS Day in Mozambique, and I sense that in addition to being older and wiser, we're also all getting a bit tired. We see that, as a country, we've made incredible progress (best encapsulated by the emergence of widespread access to testing and later to treatment).

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But our starting point was abysmally low: more than a million people living with HIV, with most not even knowing it. So, despite progress, we still have a really long way to go. The "low-lying fruit" has been picked, and now we're in for a marathon.

Access to testing and treatment is still light-years away from being "universal," but I'd venture a non-statistical guess that most Mozambicans could at least get to a testing site within a day's travel—and could theoretically get treatment just as easily.

Access to treatment, however, assumes the motivation to do an HIV test; money and time for travel; a steady stock of HIV drugs at the level of the health post (which depends on a steady stock of HIV drugs at the district and provincial levels, as well); regular enough immune system monitoring for the person living with HIV to have actually begun treatment (treatment initiation does not normally coincide with a positive test result); thorough enough adherence counseling for the person living with HIV to know and actually believe that taking the ARV medication without fail over a lifetime is critical for drug effectiveness; and enough self-confidence to overcome the shame that still too commonly clings to HIV. Quite a few assumptions.

We celebrate that Amelia, now 12, is healthy enough (after several years on HIV medication) that she's been able to come off additional medications used to prevent opportunistic infections. Her own immune system is doing its job quite well! We celebrate that she's comfortable enough with her HIV status that she comes to have blood work done with a group of friends.

But we mourn that children born to ashamed HIV+ mothers—including one who died in my colleague's arms last month—still do not live to speak their own names.

We celebrate new technology, which allows sophisticated lab analyses to be done using solar power in remote areas.

But we mourn stories that, in some areas, understanding and acceptance of HIV are still so fragile that basic HIV testing kits expire before being used, and that the health posts return their boxes of condoms, unopened and unwanted, to the provincial health department.

We celebrate Raquel, Melinda, Alberta, and India, just a few of many agents of community transformation.

But we mourn the challenges that HIV has brought to each of them. One of them, having cared for several orphaned children for many years, has had to fight against strong protests from her husband to do so. One has lost her husband to death (presumably associated with AIDS), now lives with HIV, and is actively fighting for everyone in her community to get an HIV test. Another has had a marriage destroyed by HIV and related accusations, but now travels from community to community to get mak sure church women know how HIV is transmitted and how it can be prevented.

Many of our 4,000 community volunteers gathered to celebrate and study today. But others—more practically and immediately concerned about having food to eat this year, and compelled by the season's first solid rain last night—opted to spend the day preparing fields for planting.

One of Mozambique's national World AIDS Day mottos this year was "Look to the future. Get a test." We mourn that in many parts of Mozambique, food is still a more tangible preoccupation than HIV.

Thank you for recognizing with us December 1—a New Year's Day of sorts for those of us whose lives are shaped by this little virus.

Things truly are changing. Passo a passo. Step by step.

Rebecca J. Vander Meulen, a former Bread for the World intern, is the HIV and AIDS coordinator for the Anglican Diocese of  Niassa in Lichinga, Mozambique.

This is a time of great liberation

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By Lauren Tonetti, California Organizing Intern and student at Pomona College

A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to listen in on a panel discussion about hunger.  The event took place at First United Methodist Church in Pasadena.  David Beckmann, Bread’s president, started the evening with his thoughts on how God is moving in our time to end hunger.  He was followed by a discussion with prominent faith and justice leaders in the Los Angeles Area.  Panelists included: Vanessa Martinez, CLUE Orange County and Micah Challenge; Sarah Nolan, Abundant Table Farm Project and South Central Farmers’ Cooperative; Rev. Pat O’Reilly from the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Churches and Jeremy Seifert, the producer of the film DIVE!

This was an awesome opportunity to hear a wide range of voices on hunger in America. Despite these varied points of view there are some things that have really stuck with me and I think are important to share. 

1. This is a time of great liberation. As I mentioned before, David Beckman started the panel by impressing upon us that God is working in our time. That we are living in a time where we can witness freedom from hunger and poverty in the world. I find such hope in this. The state of hunger in the world is bleak at times and it seems like there will never be change. But take heart, because God is working. These are issues that He cares deeply about and He is creating a path for liberation. God is working and we just have to join with God to end hunger.

2. We need to reorder relationships. This was a point that came up multiple times throughout the discussion. We live in a world full of chaos and confusion. Relationships to others and to the world are distorted. We see other people not as partners or equals but rather as objects. There is a lack of concern towards others and the earth. Hunger is not just about access to food but access to good food. Our relationship to creation has been distorted by the ways we produce and consume our food. Large corporations abuse the land and their workers and hurt smaller farmers. In order to end hunger we need to start viewing others like they are a part of our own family. We need to start caring for the earth and about the way we produce food. We need to encourage greater access and make sure everyone is getting what they need.

3. There needs to be a revolution of the heart.  This last point I want to highlight touches not only on hunger but on the many issues we face. Ending hunger or poverty or war is going to happen through policy or politics alone. We need to start caring. Our hearts will naturally care only for ourselves. We have very private interests and concerns. In order to break down the problems of the world we need to open our hearts. We need to start caring for everyone and take action even when the outcome won’t always help us. Without this kind of love and dedication to others no amount of petitioning or lobbying is going to help. Having a deep love for others and for God is what change is predicated upon.

Finally, I want to challenge everyone who reads this to think about what their hearts find important and worthy. Is it all about you and your gain?  Is there room for others? If you feel like joining this revolution of the heart I want to encourage you to take action. Turn that love into change. 

Write a letter or call congress. Get educated on the issues. Pray about the change you want to see. I fully believe what David Beckman said when he told us that we are living in a time of great liberation. I have faith that God is working and that if we join together we’ll all see the benefits of freedom. 

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David Beckmann is speaking with Cameron Shaw, Pomona College graduate 2009 and former Bread intern. 

Top Hunger News: SNAP Benefits May Shrink

Domestic

To Get Medicaid and Education Aid to States, An Unprecedented Cut to Food Stamps. Congress poised to cut billions from food stamps, resulting in an unprecedented cut in monthly benefits for the poorest Americans. [The Washington Independent]

The Plight of America's New Poor. The economic recovery in the US has stalled and for the 15 million unemployed Americans, the land of opportunity seems anything but. Almost 50% of the unemployed have not had a job for at least six months, double the level of previous downturns. [BBC]

Fighting Generational Poverty in Richmond's Iron Triangle. A new federal program called Promise Neighborhoods has economically disadvantaged communities all over the Bay Area scrambling to be included. This year, the program is giving out $500,000 awards to organizations in neighborhoods around the country that struggle with low educational achievement, violence and other effects of poverty. [KALWNews.org]

International

Samasource, a Cyber Solution to Global Poverty. Leila Chirayath Janah was well on her way to becoming another cog in the wheels of multinational big business. Then she decided it was wrong to let the world's poor people's massive talent go to waste. [The Daily Maverick]

Niger's Markets are Full Yet Famine Shadows the Dusty Roads. Nearly 12 million people in Niger – about 80% of the population – are now affected by food insecurity, a status that indicates they have as few as 10 days' food supplies remaining with all other income-generating activities exhausted. [The Guardian]

The Brits Have Us Beat on Child Poverty. In the past 10 years, the United States and the United Kingdom have been through a lot of the same economic troubles. But somehow in this past decade, Britain has made major inroads in reducing child poverty while the U.S. has stagnated. [The New America Foundation]

Climate Change/Environment

Is Climate Change Creating More Environmental Refugees than War in Africa? Climate change is rapidly emerging as one of the most serious threats that humanity may ever face. The impact of climate change on livelihoods is creating a new kind of casualty: environmental refugees. Rising sea levels, desertification, weather-induced flooding, and frequent natural disasters have become a major cause of population displacement. [ReliefWeb]

Top Hunger News: Program Helps Women in Mali

International

Women's Program Launched in Volatile Northern Mali. The Manu River Women Peace Network, a West Africa-wide association that works to improve living conditions for women, is launching a program in Mali's extreme north, where conflict, hunger and drought are affecting hundreds of thousands. [VOA News]

Fighting Poverty and Enhancing Rural Development. Ghana’s fight against poverty to make progress towards the Millennium Development Goals has seen various successive policies introduced to accelerate national development, with a special focus on rural development. [The Chronicle]

Throwaway Fashion Culture Means Poverty for Millions. Today the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour is expected to announce that following months of strikes and demonstrations by garment workers, the minimum wage in an industry that employs 2,500,000 is to be virtually doubled. [Herald Scotland]

Give the Poor Money. Conditional-cash transfers are good. They could be even better. [The Economist]

Domestic

Visualizing Hunger and Its Impact: Why We Need a Hunger Data Consortium. We need smarter, more collaborative data collection that bypasses organizational silos. [The Huffington Post]

Farmers' Markets, CSAs Struggle To Get Food Stamp Customers. Innovative city programs have increased the number of low-income shoppers getting access to locally grown produce. But technology and upfront costs remain a barrier for many. [City Limits]

As Economy Sinks, Demand for Social Services Soars. For at least a year, economists have said Nevada’s economy was “bouncing along the bottom” instead of still searching for it. [Las Vegas Sun]

Top Hunger News: Three Determined Women Break Cycle of Poverty

Domestic

African-American Women Struggle to Overcome Wealth Gap. Call it a tale of three women. In the most hard-scrabble parts of South Carolina, Kenya Williams, Natisha Boston, and Germaine Jenkins are all struggling to overcome personal hardship and overwhelming odds. [BBC]

Child Poverty Persistence: Facts and Consequences. Using the PSID, this study finds that 49 percent of children who are poor at birth go on to spend at least half their childhoods living in poverty. In addition, children who are born into poverty and spend multiple years living in poor families have worse adult outcomes than their counterparts in higher-income families. [Urban Institute]

[Blog] As Food Prices Rise, How Will Retailers Respond? The reality is that many food prices, due to late plantings, weather conditions and natural disasters, are on the way up. [Supermarket News]

International

[Blog] Poverty is Destiny. The World Bank estimates that there are more than 1.4 billion people in the world who live below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. It will be interesting to see what happens to children born in poverty: to follow them from womb to tomb, the entire life cycle. [The World Bank Institute]

Rust in the Bread Basket. A crop-killing fungus is spreading out of Africa toward the world’s great wheat-growing areas. [The Economist]

Two Faces of Asia, Ultrarich and Desperately Poor, Hound Economists. Philippine policymakers and other developing-country planners must rewrite their economic plans into what the Asian Development Bank calls “inclusive growth,” or the scaling down of the gap between the rich and the poor. [Business Mirror]

After World Cup Euphoria Fades, South Africa’s Poverty Will Remain. For many citizens, the $5 billion sports extravaganza will generate little more than pride. [The Globe and Mail]

Climate Change/Environment

Conservation Can Be a Weapon Against Poverty. The Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve in Mexico shows how local people can be paid for protecting their environment... [The Guardian]

Hunger Justice Leaders Impact Communities

HJL photo 2 At first glance, you might not think Erin Rath and Chris Ko have a lot in common. Rath is a longtime South Dakota resident who is completing her training as a sign-language interpreter, while Ko lives in Los Angeles and works as a consultant to nonprofit organizations.

But Rath and Ko are members of Bread for the World’s first class of Hunger Justice Leaders (HJL) -- a group of activists in their 20s and early 30s who are committed to making a long-term difference for hungry and poor people.

The two were active on hunger issues before receiving HJL training in 2008. Rath served as the coordinator of her local Bread group in Sioux Falls, SD, and Ko worked for the Los Angeles mayor’s office on asset-building programs for low-income families. They credit HJL training with building their skills and revitalizing their advocacy.

Rath sees her work on hunger as a religious and spiritual obligation. She says that HJL training gave her strategies for building connections with a wide range of people. “If they don’t agree with Bread’s position or they’re not well-informed about the issues,” she says, “I can listen carefully and engage them in conversation and offer my opinion in a non-threatening way.” 

In addition to her work on Bread’s national and international hunger issues, Rath also puts her energy into state issues, such as the repeal of South Dakota’s food tax, which disproportionately affects people struggling to put food on the table. South Dakotans have been working to eliminate the tax for several years.

“This year, for the first time, the bill made it out of committee. It hasn’t passed yet, but just clearing the committee is a very important step,” she says. “From a religious perspective, I know that I have to do my part, and then God is ultimately in control.”

Ko says that he came to the HJL training in search of spiritual revitalization. “I got that, and I also had a great time. I think I’d been getting a bit cynical, and I was pleasantly surprised by how receptive members of Congress were,” he adds.

Since he became a Hunger Justice Leader, Ko has written his first op-eds on hunger and submitted them to newspapers. He is also starting an international community development project to connect Los Angeles with cities in developing countries.

“Our city is really a collection of dozens of neighborhoods, and a lot of them have deep poverty and many of the other problems of cities in developing countries, like lack of transportation,” he says. “So if we can do community development and get it right in L.A., ultimately maybe we can help other cities -- Mumbai, Rio -- address some of these problems.”

Many immigrants who live in L.A. travel back and forth every summer; Ko envisions working with them to help transfer ideas and resources from L.A. to their home communities and vice versa. “I know that when I studied in Ghana, I was struck by how far a dollar will go in some communities. The $20 a month I contribute as an individual is actually helping people,” he says.

Ko and Rath reflect the energy and thoughtfulness of many of Bread’s younger activists. Rath says she is motivated by hearing the stories of experienced advocates. “A lot of them have been active for many years, and they still have compassion and dedication,” she says. She also hopes that her class of Hunger Justice Leaders can collaborate with the 2010 class, which meets for training in Washington, DC, this summer. “We can connect on Facebook and help each other be more effective.”

Ko notes that he visited the Robert Kennedy Memorial while in Washington for HJL training. “I realized that we live in a country that actually builds memorials to our values of justice and compassion. So when I went home, I tried to figure out how to apply this to my life.”

You can learn more about the HJL program from Vanessa Martinez, a Hunger Justice Leader from Santa Ana, CA, on this short video, or apply directly to the program. And if you know someone who would be a perfect Hunger Justice Leader, send them to www.bread.org/bealeader. The deadline is March 12.

Michele Lerner is a writer for Bread for the World.

Wonks and Storytellers in Oregon

Last Friday I trekked down to Salem for a hearing on Oregon Senate bill 1044, which would expand Oregon's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Like 23 other states, Oregon has a state EITC that complements the federal credit. 

Here's how Oregon's EITC works: Oregon matches 6 percent of the federal EITC. So, for example, if your family is eligible for a $1,000 federal credit, Oregon kicks in an extra $60. It's particularly important because in Oregon, the lowest-income fifth of families pays a higher share of income to state and local taxes than the richest fifth. The bill would help more than 200,000 people in Oregon close the gap between impossible choices among food, medicine, utilities, and rent.

Confession: I thought spending a Friday afternoon at a hearing about the tax policy might be boring. I was happily proven wrong.

More than 50 people crowded the hearing room, and more than a dozen people testified -- all in favor of the bill. Most represented organizations such as the Oregon Food Bank, the Oregon Center for Public Policy, and other groups that are part of the Oregonians for Working Families Coalition. Bread is a member of the coalition, along with nearly 100 other organizations.

It's always great to hear testimony from organizations that serve low-income people, but what struck me is how many people had a personal story to tell about how the EITC impacted their lives. 

Andrea Paluso from Family Forward Oregon told the story of her mother, who worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and went to college full-time (and had stomach ulcers to show for it). Andrea testified about how EITC gave her mom the opportunity to "exhale for one second." Father C. Paul Schroeder of Portland's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral testified about how when he was at seminary, the EITC gave him a "real shot in the arm" at a financially challenging point in his life. He also noted how he may have been reticent to apply for other forms of public assistance, but because it was part of a tax form he was going to fill out anyway, it provided a level of dignity that other programs might not.

Former EITC recipient Ian Finch, along with Janet Byrd from Neighborhood Partnerships and Joy Margheim from the Oregon Center on Public Policy, testifies before an Oregon Senate Hearing on expanding Oregon's state EITC (Photo: Matt Newell-Ching, Bread for the World)Perhaps the most powerful testimony of the day belonged to Ian Finch -- a former recipient of EITC. Ian was raised in poverty by his single mother. He became a single father of five children and was determined to break the cycle of poverty. Here's an excerpt from his testimony:    

Because of the EITC I was able to purchase a minivan and car insurance for a year. I was now able to accomplish much more because I had my own vehicle. It was great not to have to wait out in the cold and rain for buses anymore. It also helped my children to be able to do more outside activities. By purchasing the minivan, I was able to free up about three hours of my day because I didn't have to wait for buses and MAX trains.

The EITC has benefited my family in so many ways. I was able to take my family on vacation for the first time in our lives. While we were at Disneyland, my oldest daughter summed it up really well. She said, "Dad, we are finally here! You have worked so hard to make this a dream come true!" That is all I needed to hear to know that all the hard work was worth it.



When he spoke of his daughter's epiphany, you could tell how moved the Senate panel was, and I confess I teared up a little myself. 

Ian happily noted that he now earns too much money to be eligible for EITC, and he is not alone. In fact, more than half of people who claim the EITC do so for only one or two years, and families that received EITC benefits from 1989-2006 generated more than $500 billion in net tax revenue during that period. 

Still, most states do not have an EITC to supplement the federal credit, which underscores the importance of this year's Offering of Letters campaign to help working families bridge the gap between food and other basic necessities by protecting and strengthening the federal EITC and Child Tax credits. Improvements to these credits passed during the Bush (43) and Obama administrations expire at the end of the year. If the improvements expire, it's estimated that 1.5 million people will fall back into poverty. 

Let's git 'er done...

Matt Newell-Ching is Western Regional Organizer for Bread for the World.

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)

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