Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

17 posts categorized "Horn of Africa"

Congress Should Strengthen U.S. Role as World Leader in Providing Food Aid to Famine Victims

[This article originally appeared in The Hill.]

Last month, news reports indicated that the food crisis in West Africa’s Sahel region was worsening — at about the same time the United Nations declared the famine over in the Horn of Africa.

The countries in the Sahel, which is just below the Sahara and extends from the Atlantic Coast to the Red Sea, are among the world’s poorest. According to the U.N., nearly 23 million people in Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon — including 1 million children — could face food shortages this spring. This isn’t a new phenomenon. For years the region has been challenged by droughts, poor harvests, climate change and the impact of overpopulation.

While we can’t control Mother Nature, we can help the people of this region and others who rely on U.S. food assistance by urging Congress to protect food aid funding and to pass a farm bill that improves the nutritional quality of food aid and reduces costs and inefficiencies. Members of Congress will debate and authorize a new farm bill this year.

Congress should consider a bolder approach to how U.S. food and farm policies can meet our global and domestic challenges. Bread for the World Institute’s 2012 Hunger Report recommends that food aid programs should follow the lead of Feed the Future — a new U.S. Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative — by focusing more on improving nutrition for the most vulnerable people, especially pregnant and lactating women and children under the age of 2. This will help achieve the strongest possible nutrition and development outcomes with the limited resources available.

The most critical period in human development is the 1,000 days starting at pregnancy and lasting through a child’s second year. Healthy development, particularly in the brain, depends on getting the right foods during this critical time. Even short bouts of hunger can be catastrophic, because the resulting physical and cognitive damage is lifelong and irreversible. Early hunger and malnutrition is associated with problems later in life, such as chronic illness and poor school attendance and learning.

According to UNICEF (the U.N. children’s fund) more than 1 million children in the Sahel region could experience “severe and life-threatening malnutrition” this year, and more than 300,000 children under the age of 5 in Niger are at risk of severe and acute malnutrition.

The United States should strengthen its leading role as the world’s largest provider of food aid, and also move quickly to improve its nutritional quality. Current regulations should also be restructured and improved to include cash, vouchers and local procurement of food.

New mothers, young children and other vulnerable people — such as those living with HIV/AIDS — can benefit from highly nutritious forms of food aid now available. These cost more than the foods normally included in U.S. food aid, but it is possible to reduce costs by purchasing in or near the countries where the food is needed. By buying food from smallholder farmers in and around the region, we would help reduce poverty, build self-reliant communities and get aid to where it is most needed — more quickly and cheaply.

The longer-term solution to these recurrent food crises is to improve the productivity of farmers in the region, improve the process of getting food from farm to table, and improve access to markets through programs such as Feed the Future.

In crisis situations, food aid is critical. The farm bill gives the United States an opportunity to improve this essential tool and to more effectively help the poorest people in the poorest places, such as West Africa’s Sahel region. Food aid is a crucial tool in combating global malnutrition, and Congress should act before the next famine is declared.

David Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.

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.

Church Leaders Aim to Improve Nutrition for Mothers and Children

Bolivian mother and child. Photo by Margaret W. Nea.

On February 1, after months of planning, everything was in place. More than 50 religious leaders from denominations and relief organizations around the country filled Bread for the World’s boardroom in Washington, DC. The goal? To build the advocacy voice of church leaders for improved nutrition for mothers and children, especially during the crucial 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday. (Learn more about the 1,000 Days movement here.)

Bread president David Beckmann greeted the attendees, who included bishops, presidents of denominational women’s organizations, advocacy staff from around the country, and representatives of denominational relief and development agencies. Organizations represented included the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Church Women United, among others.

For some, this call for advocacy was personal. Lucy Sullivan, director of the 1,000 Days partnership, told the group she was a “1,000-days baby”— she and her mother were able to get proper nutrition during the 1,000-day window because they  had access to the critically important Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). As a result, Lucy is 5’10” and significantly taller than her immigrant mother. We also heard from Raj Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), about his childhood visits to relatives in India. He was known as the “giant cousin” from the United States — no doubt because of the access to nutrition he had growing up in the United States.

Malnutrition’s impact on children is shocking. Without proper nutrients, children can experience permanent damage: shorter heights, weaker immune functions, impaired vision, and underdeveloped brains. All of this leaves them more vulnerable to illness and less prepared for school. Malnutrition can also result in lower earnings — up to 10 percent — over the course of their lifetimes. And what’s worse, the cycle continues with underweight mothers giving birth to underweight babies, and baby girls growing up to become underweight mothers giving birth to underweight babies.

Under the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. government has taken steps to improve nutrition through development assistance — especially in the two flagship programs the Global Health Initiative and Feed the Future. When our group met with leaders from the State Department and USAID on February 1,they asked tough questions about continued nutrition funding and pushed for effective coordination of programs on the ground and across departments in the United States.

We must continue to put pressure on our government to improve nutrition for women and children during the critical 1,000-day window, in the United States and abroad. To do that, we need to spread the word. Denominational women have created “Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement” and are pledging as groups and as individuals to have 1,000 conversations in 1,000 days about maternal and child nutrition.

Won’t you join the conversation? Visit our webpage to learn more. Or send me an email and let’s have a conversation!

Nancy-nealNancy Neal is associate for denominational women's organizational relations at Bread for the World.


Injustice and the Modern-Day Refugee

Two children share a smile in the Dakhla refugee camp in Algeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

It can be so easy to put from our minds the plight of the rest of the globe when life here in the States seems to get more difficult each day, between the high unemployment rate, the poor economy, and the general stress that seems to rule our lives.  However, there is a world beyond ourselves and the problems of that world are far greater than we can perceive. 

According to the European Parliament, right now there are 10 million people living in refugee camps.  These are people much like us who have no place to call home, who have gotten used to feeling displaced, without an identity, and who are some of the poorest people in the world.  The term “refugee” is rather broad, but Human Rights Education Associates define refugees as “people who are forced to flee their homes due to persecution, whether on an individual basis or as part of a mass exodus due to political, religious, military or other problems.”  How terrible it must be to be uprooted from all that you know and love, through no fault of your own, perhaps never to see your home again? 

Furthermore, horrible living conditions plague these refugee camps.  Hunger – even starvation – is prevalent among refugees, as well as the spread of disease due to a lack of effective sanitation systems as well as the large amount of people living in such close proximity. These refugee camps are scattered across the globe, located in the war-torn Middle East, as well as famine-ravaged Africa. 

Furthermore, some refugees are refused aid and amnesty from their new countries. For example, stateless refugees from Burma known as the Rohingya, are denied access to humanitarian aid because the government of Bangladesh denies them access. The Rohingya are a religious and ethnic minority, and according to  Physicians for Human Rights, they live in refugee camps, but without official refugee status. As a result, they are denied food, living in huts made of twigs and plastic next to open sewers, and many of their children suffering from malnutrition. This is just one case of many. 

Bread for the World aims to fight against injustices such as these. People of faith and conscience have a collective responsibility to look out for our fellow human beings, be they here or across the ocean. We must alert our members of Congress to the extreme poverty and hunger rampant in refugee camp. 

Bread for the World’s Offering of Letters has a mini campaign with the aim to form a circle of protection around international food aid programs that deliver humanitarian aid to those who most desperately need it.  America is a nation that despite its hardships is still quite prosperous. Let us use the resources we have been blessed with to be a blessing to those who need it most – the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the refugee.

Jael-kimballJael Kimball is a media relations intern at Bread for the World.



HungerQOTD: Robert Alan Silverstein

A young girl sells oranges in the market in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo by Margaret W. Nea

"Those who wish for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world are helping to make ending world hunger a major priority... Together we can end hunger."

-Robert Alan Silverstein

Drummers Called to ‘Beat-Down’ Famine in the Horn of Africa

Marv Dahlgren, former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, is calling drummers across the nation to play the same piece, "Three Camps," this Saturday to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa. Photo by Howard A. Gitelson.

This Saturday, January 14, drummers from around the country will grab their drums and drumsticks and join in a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the famine in the Horn of Africa called the Hunger Beat-Down. At 2 p.m. Central Standard Time, drummers are invited to play the commonly known drum solo “Three Camps,” a piece that is reminiscent of the drums used in army camps during the Civil War. (Click here to see the sheet music for Three Camps.)

The mastermind behind the Hunger Beat-Down is Marv Dahlgren, aka, the “Drum King of the Twin Cities.” Dahlgren, 87, is a former principal percussionist and assistant timpanist for the Minnesota Orchestra, and currently teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music.

I caught up with Dahlgren over the phone last night to ask about the inspiration behind the Hunger Beat-Down and how he believes drumming can raise awareness of famine and starvation in Africa.

Why is the famine in the Horn of Africa an important issue for you?

When people are starving to death and we can’t get food to them and milk for their children, it makes you wonder, what’s going on in the world? People are dying every day and I believe we could help them. I’m more or less a pessimist. People say that the famine is bad and we can’t do anything about, but I think we can at least raise awareness.

In 1985, there was a similar situation in Africa and at that time the whole world seemed to be aware of it. Everybody was talking about it and doing something about [it], and so I’m just wondering why it’s different this time.

I realize people are more concerned about themselves now than they were in 1985, and times are tough, but still, there’s very little written about it in newspapers.

How did you come up with the idea for this Hunger Beat-Down?

I thought we could perhaps raise awareness somehow. I was sitting around talking with some other drummers, thinking about what we could do and one of the drummers said, wouldn’t it be neat to get everybody to play the same thing at the same time? I thought about that. I knew it had to be a really simple drumbeat, and I thought about “Three Camps.”

Tell me about “Three Camps.” What attracted you to that piece in particular?

The drummers in the Civil War were the ones who did the communications – they would play and spread messages throughout the camps.  They even had a beat called “roast beef” to tell soldiers what they would eat that night!

“Three Camps” is something a lot of drummers learn. Not only is it one of the first drum beats learned, but it’s one of the best because it’s written in triplets, so it has a swing feeling, which is unusual from beats coming out of the Civil War. That piece bridges what we play today in jazz.

What kind of response have you gotten from other drummers around the country?

Well, I have gotten responses from people in 22 states. I’ve reached out to drummers in all 50 states, and people from 22 of the states have said they’ll get drummers together. In Cleveland, OH, the symphony orchestra is behind it, and they’re putting it in their program notes and the symphony drummers are all playing.

Here in the Twin Cities, we probably could have as many as 50 drummers coming to St. Paul where I teach at the McNally Smith College of Music. And in Minneapolis, drummers will be at the McPhail Center of Music.

Why do you play the drums?

I don’t know what it means to not be able to play drums. I’ve been drumming since I was about 3 years old; it was just what I wanted to do. I went to a great school that had a drum bugle corp. I’d walk to school with a drum strapped around me playing beats! I don’t know if people thought I was crazy.

I was lucky, and I had a teacher in junior high school who didn’t charge us anything, so every week I got a free drum lesson. Amazingly, when I went to college in music, the drum teacher went into the navy for World War II, so he asked me to take over for the students. I was the drum teacher in the college!

What do you hope drummers who participate will take away from the Hunger Beat-Down?

I don’t think they’re going to take anything away except for the knowledge of the starvation that’s going on in Africa. There are an awful lot of people who don’t know about it, and if they don’t hear about it consecutively, they will forget about it.

Jeannie-choiJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. To find out how you can participate in the Hunger Beat-Down, click here (PDF). Learn more about the famine in the Horn of Africa.


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.



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