Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

13 posts categorized "Haiti"

An Immigrant's Story: Odilon Celestin

Restaurateur Odilon Celestin at his place of business in Florida. (Andrew Wainer)

The story of Haitian-born Odilon Celestin exemplifies the rags to riches narrative of many immigrants - an outcome that also benefits the communities in which they land. Andrew Wainer, senior immigration policy analyst with the Bread for the World Institute, writes about Celestin in “Harvest Haitian entrepreneurial spirit,” an article published in the Sun Sentinel last month. 

In 2001, Haitian-born Odilon Celestin arrived in Florida on a boat from the Bahamas. As an unauthorized immigrant with contacts, his work options were limited. His first job was harvesting green beans in Homestead. "I came and I didn't know people, I didn't have any friends," Celestin said. "This is how I started my life [in the United States]."

By 2003, he transitioned from agriculture to working in a bakery, eventually launching his own storefront restaurant in the Haitian enclave of North Miami. The banks turned down his loan requests, but he drew from a local nonprofit and his own savings for start-up capital.

Ten years later, Celestin received a $380,000 bank loan to open a second, larger restaurant that occupies 3,000 square feet, has capacity for 80 customers, and will have 11 employees.

For many immigrants, the driving force to succeed is the escape from poverty. Wainer has written extensively about factors that motivate people to leave their countries of origin in search of a better life. The humanitarian crisis on the southern border of the United States is a stark example of what life without hope can lead to - parents sending their children on a dangerous journey to spare them from violence and poverty.

The exodus from poverty is familiar to Christians and many Americans. For 40 years, Moses and his charges wandered the desert fleeing poverty and violence. Some of us can look a few generations back in our own family narratives and find the ancestor who arrived at Ellis Island with no more than a suitcase and a heart full of hope. For some, it is our parents who made the hard decision to leave their families to give us opportunity; for others, the story is in process.

Full of hardship and determination, the migrant’s story often concludes with success, especially when other positive conditions are present. Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship is critical to business sustainability. Research shows that a path to citizenship will expand the U.S. economy by more than 5 percent over 20 years. Celestin’s entrepreneurial drive turned him into a job creator and resulted in an economic stimulus in his community.

In a country still struggling to rise out the Great Recession, harnessing the entrepreneurial drive of Celestin and others like him makes economic sense. Reflecting on our own narratives of exodus may instill in our hearts the Christian compassion that reminds us to hold out our hand in fellowship to others who come with nothing but hope.


Why I Walk to the Polls On Election Day

Woman_walking_in_haitiBy Larry Hollar

On a morning twenty-five years ago, I woke before dawn and, in the faint early light, watched scores of people quietly walking miles along dusty, rural roads to vote.  This was in Hinche, a town in the central highlands of Haiti, and I was an election observer on a team that Bread for the World had co-sponsored to monitor Haiti’s first national election in many years. Despite threats of violence and intimidation, proud people walked resolutely on in the brightening morning.

At the polls, they stood cheerfully in line for long periods, pored through the complex paper ballot, and then, with smiles, proudly displayed their inked fingers showing that they had voted. Suddenly, in mid-morning, word came by radio of violence and killings at the polls in the capital and other cities, and then of the cancellation of the entire election. With sad faces, waiting voters left the lines and quickly disappeared. We tried to offer hope, but fear had changed the atmosphere in an instant.

From that election, there’s a poster in Kreyol in my office that reads: “Pou chak dwa konstitisyon an bay, gen yon devwa. Al vote.” Roughly translated it means: “For each right the constitution gives, you have a duty. Vote!” The Haitian people took that challenge seriously; today too many in our country ignore the duty part.

Since then, I’ve chosen to vote by walking, not driving, to the polls early on Election Day, rain or shine, because of the bravery of the Haitian people I met that day. Thank God our lives are not on the line as we vote today, but the life of our democracy, our nation, and our world is on the line at election time. So in remembrance and gratitude, I invite everyone to join in walking resolutely on once more. "Al vote!"

Larry Hollar is Bread for the World's senior regional organizer for the Eastern Hub.

Photo: A woman walks on a road in Haiti. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Leaders Make Bold Commitments to End Hunger at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Secretary Hillary Clinton was just one of the many speakers at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs on May 18, 2012. See video of all of the speakers. Screenshot from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs livestream.

This morning leaders in development gathered at the 3rd Annual Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security, held in Washington, DC, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. During this event, numerous speakers presented on the issue of global development, nutrition, and agriculture, including President Obama, who delivered the first speech on hunger by a sitting president. The G-8 Summit, which meets this weekend in Camp David, MD, also will focus on global food and nutrition security issues. Below, we have culled some of the best quotes from today's event from a variety of speakers:

"For every dollar you invest in nutrition, the payoff is $138 in better health and better productivity. It's about fiscal management because the consequences of not dealing with nutrition and good food, all of the consequential costs of health insurance and drug needs -- all of those consequential impacts that we have to deal with because we haven't invested in nutrition in the critical first 1,000 days, and that period is the most critical." --Beverley J. Oda, Honorable Minister of International Cooperation in Canada 

"We need to reduce the number of meetings and learn to act accordingly. Preach water and drink water." --Jacqueline Mkindi, executive director of Tanzania Horticulture Association

"As the wealthiest nation on earth, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to lead the fight against hunger and malnutrition and to partner with others.  So we take pride in the fact that because of smart investments in nutrition and agriculture and safety nets, millions of people in Kenya and Ethiopia did not need emergency aid in the recent drought. But when tens of thousands of children die from the agony of starvation, as in Somalia, that sends us a message we still got a lot of work to do.  It's unacceptable.  It's an outrage.  It's an affront to who we are." --President Barack Obama on global agriculture and food security.

"I think what we are seeking to do with our investments in global agriculture is not just to solve the problem of hunger, we also want to solve the problem of extreme poverty, and agriculture in our opinion may be the best intervention point to do that. Development dollars spent on agriculture have the greatest impact on poverty reduction. More than money spent in any other sector. So if we want to make big gains in the fight against poverty, agriculture is the best way to do that. And there is no place that that is more true than in Africa, where there is such great potential for gains in agricultural productivity." --Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on global food safety.

“We need  aid. Of course we still need aid. Of course we do. Does anyone disagree? ... The L'Aquila promises must be kept and must be a baseline going forward. And we've got to keep overall aid budgets on track, which is a really tough sell sometimes. ... Very few countries have been courageous enough to keep their promises on aid. ... If there's one thing I've learned in 25 years doing this stuff, it's that paternalism, the old way we did development, is no match with partnership. It's through partnership we can hasten the day when the developing world will not only feed itself, but feed the rest of us ..." --Bono, founder of ONE and member of the band U2

+Learn more about poverty-focused foreign assistance!


FAQ's About Poverty-Focused Foreign Assistance


120316-questionsGot any questions about poverty-focused foreign assistance? You're not alone. To help answer your most frequently asked questions, we've put together a nice little questions and answers sheet. Here's an excerpt, but visit our Offering of Letters website for the full document.

I keep hearing that poverty-focused foreign assistance programs address the root causes of poverty. What does that mean?

Addressing the root causes of poverty involves more than simply building a road so farmers can transport their goods to market. It involves teaching a community how to build and maintain that road so it can provide transportation for the harvest of future generations. Building sustainable development takes time, but by investing in programs that serve and partner with communities, we begin to win the battle against hunger and poverty. 

Times are tough in the United States. Is now the time to keep investing in poverty-focused foreign assistance?

U.S. investments in developing countries are an important component of our national security and foreign policy. U.S. poverty-focused foreign assistance supports political stability in developing countries and fights the hopelessness that can lead to instability and conflict. 

Research shows that economically stable countries are less likely to pose a threat to their neighbors or to the United States. For example, for every 5 percent drop in income growth in a developing country, the likelihood of violent conflict or war within the next year increases by 10 percent.2 In addition, investments in poverty-focused foreign assistance save us from costly interventions later on.

What’s the difference between international food aid and poverty-focused foreign assistance?

Poverty-focused foreign assistance includes a variety of programs that address hunger and poverty, including international food aid programs. International food aid is often an emergency or humanitarian response, while poverty-focused foreign assistance programs seek to address the long-term causes of hunger and poverty.

+Click here for more questions and answers about poverty-focused foreign assistance.

+Learn more about the mini-campaign on poverty-focused foreign assistance for the 2012 Offering of Letters.

Photo by Flickr user alexanderdrachmann

My First Visit to Lobby Congress for the 1,000 Days Movement

120224-capitol hill
Photo by Flickr user VinothChandar

Earlier this month Bread for the World hosted more than 50 religious leaders from around the country to help strengthen the advocacy voice of the church in the 1,000 Days Movement. Representing a variety of national church partners including Catholic, evangelical, mainline Protestant and traditionally African-American denominations, participants included bishops, leaders from religious women’s organizations, and advocacy and development experts. The participants attended meetings with high-level U.S. government officials including USAID Administrator Raj Shah and Lois Quam, executive director of the Global Health Initiative. The group also met with two members of Congress, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Nita Lowey (D-NY). Claudette Reid, coordinator for women’s ministries, Reformed Church in America, has these reflections on her visit to Rep. Lowey’s office:

This was my first visit to Capitol Hill, so I didn't know what to expect. One thing was for certain: I was a bit apprehensive. I can’t explain why exactly -- perhaps it was because I knew visiting Rep. Nita Lowey was an important visit. We only had a few minutes to persuade one of our key leaders that protecting funding for proper nutrition is the key to saving lives and could also assist her in being an effective steward of her budget.

We arrived at the Capitol a bit early so it gave us time to huddle in the cafeteria and review our talking points, which was extremely helpful, especially since the others decided that I should lead off the discussion. Me? Were they crazy? Did this stellar group of advocates---veteran lobbyists--- temporarily lose their collective minds in asking this neophyte to frame this discussion?

Our short walk from the cafeteria to the congresswoman's office was a blur. All I can recall is being nervous and worried that I was going to make a fool of myself. We arrived at the congresswoman’s office and after the usual pleasantries and introductions, my colleagues all looked at me with the non-verbal command to "go ahead." 

I can't remember everything I said, but I know I began by sharing our collective thanks/gratitude for everything that the congresswoman was already doing on behalf of women and girls and marginalized peoples both locally and globally. Then our group launched into our presentation on the importance of reinforcing our commitment as people of faith to bring awareness and sensitivity to the plight of those who cannot speak for themselves. 

Our presence at this meeting was a continuing response to the exhortation to take care of the "least of these" -- a moral and religious responsibility and privilege -- as we partner with Christ. Staff representative Erin Kolodjeski was quite gracious and engaging. She entertained our comments and questions and emphasized that faith communities like ours are key to the work that they are trying to accomplish. We bring life to the data and statistics they already have in abundance. 

By the time our time had come to a close, I realized that I had just completed my first 'lobbying' experience, and the earth did not fall in, and my nervousness had disappeared. I’m ready for my next round!

Claudette-reidClaudette Reid is coordinator for women’s ministries at the Reformed Church in America.

Hunger Resources: North Korea. Criminalizing Poverty. Latest Census Data.

'Library' photo (c) 2011, Gerald Pereira - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Author Neil Gaiman says, "Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one." That's why we at Bread for the World appreciate our librarian, Chris Matthews, who gives us the right answers to all of our random queries.

Now, in this regularly appearing blog series called "Hunger Resources," Chris Matthews will curate resources for you on hunger, poverty, and justice. Here is this week's list:

  • Special Report: Crisis Grips North Korean Rice Bowl, (Reuters): 
    "In a pediatric hospital in North Korea's most productive farming province, children lay two to a bed. All showed signs of severe malnutrition: skin infections, patchy hair, listless apathy. 'Their mothers have to bring them here on bicycles,' said duty doctor Jang Kum Son in the Yellow Sea port city of Haeju. 'We used to have an ambulance but it's completely broken down. One mother travelled 72 kilometers (45 miles). By the time they get here, it's often too late.'"
  • Partners in Help: Assisting the Poor Over the Long Term, (Foreign Affairs):
    Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard University, gave a commencement speech at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government on aid, his theory of accomplishment, and Haiti after the earthquake.
  • Top 10 Striking Findings From the Latest Data on Poverty, (Center for American Progress):
    "Yesterday the Census Bureau released the latest data on poverty, income, and health insurance in America. The data confirm that millions of Americans continue to cope with the Great Recession’s enduring effects, and they show the strength of our safety net and our need for good jobs now. Here are the top 10 most striking findings from the data.

+Click here for a full list of what we're reading at Bread for the World.

Haitian Women Photograph Their Lives

My professional background is in photojournalism, so I'm a sap for stories in which people learn photography and then document their lives. In this short film from the Dominican Republic, Haitian migrant women talk about how learning and doing photography changed their perceptions of the world. For some women, it also changed the way the world perceived them.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Working Out of Poverty in Haiti

Did you catch Nicholas Kristof’s recent column in The New York Times? He writes about visiting Haiti to talk with women involved in Fonkoze, a Haitian nonprofit foundation that provides microloans and banking services to the very poor.

Kristof and his family met Odecile Jean, a mother of five who, with her husband, previously struggled to feed and educate their family. After 13 months in one of Fonkoze’s programs, Kristof writes, “Ms. Jean beamed as she showed off her brand new cow, discussed her thriving lumber business and boasted that her children were all in school. Her husband, Lionel, hinted of ambitions for them to go to college.”

My colleague Laura and I saw the transformative effects of some of Fonkoze’s programs last October, when we traveled to Haiti for Bread for the World and met many women like Jean. Check out Laura’s photo essay, as well as our article and slideshow on a Fonkoze vitamin distribution clinic in Mirebalais, Haiti.

Microbanks in Haiti

Saturday’s New York Times carried a good story about some of the many challenges microbanks face in Haiti. One of those banks is Fonkoze, the microfinance organization my colleague Laura and I visited last month. Fonkoze serves about 45,000 women in 43 branches all over the country.

Like other banks for the poor, Fonkoze tries to help clients make financial headway in a country with little infrastructure. It’s a difficult feat. As reporter Daniel Costello notes, Haiti’s economy is expected to contract by as much as 9 percent this year. This makes the work of microbanks critical:

"Their importance to hundreds of thousands of Haitian borrowers and savers gives these little institutions an outsize importance, making them ‘simply too big to fail,’ said Greta Greathouse, a consultant with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s microsavings and lending program in Haiti."

To see some of Fonkoze’s inspirational borrowers and savers, check out Laura’s photo essay as well as our article and slideshow on a Fonkoze vitamin distribution clinic in Mirebalais, Haiti.

Planting Roots in Haiti

Heavy deforestation has left Haiti with less than 2 percent tree cover. Without trees, soil erodes, crops wash away and people aren't able to feed themselves. Trees for the Future, a Haitian NGO, is working to change the situation one tree at a time.


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