Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

122 posts categorized "Millennium Development Goals"

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.


David Beckmann: Finding Our Political Will to End Hunger

120216-heatherandson[Editors' note: This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post]

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all talked about poverty -- which was very unusual, as political leaders of both parties generally avoid talking about poor people.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama explained how his Christian faith inspires his commitment to fairness and to opportunity for poor people in our country and around the world. No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, he was right about the connection between Christian faith and justice for poor people.

Governor Romney says he misspoke when he said he's not concerned about the very poor -- but I think he was right about one point. The social safety net in this country is helping many hungry and poor people make ends meet in this terrible economy.

Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) expand automatically when poverty increases. In 2009 and 2010, Congress and the president strengthened SNAP, child nutrition programs, and tax credits for working poor people. Bread for the World churches and members across the country helped achieve those changes.

Speaker Gingrich also spoke about poverty in the last two weeks. He said we shouldn't be satisfied with a safety net for poor people -- that what they need is a trampoline to help them get out of poverty. While Gingrich doesn't say much about how he would help people get out of poverty, he's right that we should aim to overcome hunger and poverty.

Last year conservatives in the House of Representatives pushed for deep cuts to all programs focused on poor people in our country and around the world. Their budget proposed to cut $4.5 trillion in government spending over 10 years, with two-thirds of those cuts directed to poverty-focused programs (mainly Medicaid and SNAP).

In their first appropriations bill, the House voted to cut 700,000 people from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and to end food aid rations for about 14 million of the world's poorest people. No Republican in the House or Senate dissented from those decisions, and Democrats were talking mainly about protecting the middle class.

This led Bread for the World and other faith-based groups to urge Congress and the administration to form a circle of protection around poverty-focused programs -- domestic and international. People of faith across the country joined suit by contacting their members of Congress. Remarkably, we made it through 2011 without any major cuts to programs focused on hungry and poor people. We maintained the safety net in this country, and it is doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Census data show that hunger and food insecurity surged in 2008, but it did not increase further in 2009 and 2010 even though unemployment and poverty continued to increase. This is because programs such as SNAP and WIC have expanded to meet the increased need. We also maintained U.S. assistance to poor countries. World hunger also surged in 2008, and although it is still unconscionably high, it stabilized somewhat in 2009 and 2010 -- largely because of international assistance.

Ironically, we have not had a president since Lyndon B. Johnson who made reducing poverty one of his top five priorities. We have never had a president who made reducing poverty in the world one of his top 20 priorities. One-fourth of all Americans are in religious services every week, but we don't insist that our presidents make opportunity for poor people a priority.

Many churches across the country collect food for hungry people, but all the food churches and food banks provide is equivalent to just 6 percent of the food federal nutrition programs provide--mainly through SNAP, WIC, and school meals. It is not enough to be personally charitable. We also need to be advocates for laws that respond to God's requirement of justice for poor people.

I think God is calling us, people who know the love of God through Jesus Christ, to provide leadership in making justice for poor people a national priority. I urge you to think ambitiously, take a stance, and protect programs that support those in need.

David-beckmannDavid Beckmann is president of Bread for the World.


Photo captionHeather Rude-Turner reads to her son Isaac in their northern Virginia home. Heather depends on EITC (earned income tax credit) to help support her family: Mark Diamond, 32; Naomi, 5; and Isaac, 3. Photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.

Hunger QOTD: Harry Chapin

A young girl does her school work in Karachi, Pakistan. UN Photo/John Isaac.

"What is needed is a marriage of two impulses, a coupling of the urge to do something positive with the willingness to constantly re-evaluate how effectively our actions lead to our goal -- that of ending world hunger."

--Harry Chapin, singer-songwriter and humanitarian.

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.



Think Young Christians are Apathetic and Uninformed? Think Again.

Young activists like LaToya Brown of New Haven, CT, gathered on the opening day of Bread for the World's 2011 National Gathering on Saturday, June 11, 2011, to advocate on Capitol Hill for poor and hungry people. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl.

It may catch leaders in Washington off guard, but there is a wave of young activists ready to leave their imprint on a broken world.  Many believe that young Christians are too busy living within their own protective bubbles to notice the problems of the world around them.  While this may be true for some, the vast majority of college-aged Christians I’ve met and formed friendships with are on fire with a passion unlike any I’ve ever experienced before.

As a 21-year-old intern at Bread for the World, graduating in May, my possibilities seem endless.  I am idealistic, headstrong, and ready to devote my life to a cause that I believe in – and right now that cause is ending global hunger. This same passion lives in many of my friends, who fight for causes ranging from stopping sex trafficking, to ending the use of child soldiers, to volunteering in local nursing homes and homeless shelters. Lawmakers may think that the youth of this nation are apathetic, lazy kids who really don’t care about anything other than the newest video game, but they are wrong.  We want to make a difference – more than anything we yearn to show Christ’s love to the world. 

These issues keep us awake at night, and inspire us to make a difference. I am haunted by the thought of children going to bed hungry; of families working multiple jobs while struggling to make ends meet; of children facing stunting and challenges to physical development due to malnutrition; and of whole communities ravaged by drought and famine.  

Young Christians are banding together to make their voices heard – to proclaim the good news of Christ’s love but to also put it into action.  In a Reuters article, author Shane Claiborne explains that this new movement is comprised of young Christians seeking a more authentic expression of faith: "'I see an entire generation of young people who want a Christianity they can wrap their hands around.  They don’t just want to believe stuff. They’re saying if you want to know what I believe, then watch how I live.'"

I have found an authentic expression of my faith at Bread for the World where I work to advocate for poor and hungry people in near and distant places.

To my fellow young Christians, I want to challenge you to ask yourself, what is the one cause that makes you impassioned for someone other than yourself? If you haven’t found one yet, I would recommend getting involved with Bread for the World to make a lasting impact on turning the tide of hunger and poverty in America and abroad.  Participating in Bread's Offering of letters is a great way to start advocating on behalf of those less fortunate.  Everyone is called to make a difference.  Find a way to make yours.

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



+Find out how you can organize an Offering of Letters at your church. Find resources, stories, videos, and more at www.bread.org/OL.

Just a Tweet Away with @DavidBeckmann #WEF

Photo by Flickr user World Economic Forum

Yesterday, David Beckmann tweeted: “I’ve been invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year.” (Follow @DavidBeckmann on Twitter.)

Since a portion of my day is spent facilitating the @bread4theworld twitter feed, I wondered if our twitter followers, me included, know why Davos is so important. So I set out this morning to do a little online investigating and this is what I’ve learned:

  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) has taken place in Davos, Switzerland, since 1971. This year, the WEF is happening from January 25 to 29.
  • In attendance are more than just government officials, but also academics, business representatives, journalists, religious leaders and other dignitaries.  The meetings create a cross-pollination of ideas to address the world’s economic and social problems.
  • Transformational programs around poverty have been launched at past meetings, such as the Global Health Initiative (GHI), a program through which the U.S. government supports the work of Scaling Up Nutrition, a program that Bread for the World is mobilizing around in this year’s Offering of Letters.

Still, I wasn’t sure I understood why I should care about what is happening at Davos this week, so I asked my friend, Bread for the World Institute’s policy analyst Faustine Wabwire. Faustine pointed out that with competing interests in these tough economic times, global food security needs a strong voice and a renewed commitment from world leaders. “Investing in long-term development requires long-term, sustained commitment from national governments and the international donor community,” Faustine said. “As our leaders meet in Davos, we are reminding them to follow through on the commitments they have made in the fight against hunger, poverty, and disease.”

So I’ll be following @DavidBeckmann this week (and the hashtag #WEF) as he navigates the conversations with an ear toward solutions to end hunger and poverty. Be sure to follow us at @bread4theworld, where we will be posting different opportunities for you to include your voice and remind leaders that their choices can indeed make a world of difference.

Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer 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

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.


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.

Educating the Future, One Child at a Time

Picture 3
Screenshot from "Educate the Future" by the Global Campaign for Education.

“To get to school, I had to walk barefoot three miles, uphill both ways.”

You might be used to hearing this joke, poking fun at our parents’ and grandparents’ views on how “kids today” have got it so easy, compared to what they had to endure in order to receive an education. But all over the world, there are millions of “kids today” who are actually living this reality every day.

Around the world, 69 million children don’t have easy access to education, if they have the opportunity to go to school at all, according to the Global Campaign for Education (GCE), an organization dedicated to promoting access to education as a human right. Nearly 250 million children have to work in order to help their families get by, and it’s hard enough to study for hours without having to worry about helping your family pay their day to day bills … especially when you’re a child.

The GCE is trying to change those figures, by organizing faith-based groups, NGOs, foundations, teachers unions, and other organizations to create a coalition to advocate for a greater emphasis on education as a priority in poverty-focused development assistance.

In a new video showcasing some of the group’s youngest activists, teenage students stand in front of the Capitol building, spelling out “Education for All” with a paper-chain of links decorated by other supporters of the initiative.

One girl emphatically states that she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, but that she thinks that’s the beauty of education — because it gives her the opportunity to choose from so many potential career paths. For many children around the world, the chance to simply have a career is more than they can ask for.

Hopefully someday, the parents worldwide who had to say, “I walked miles without shoes to get to school,” will have children who will  someday joke about it as well—because everyone will have easy access to quality education, and “those days” will just be a memory.  

To learn more about the Global Campaign for Education, watch the video below or check out their website at campaignforeducation.org

Emily-Warner Emily Warne is a communications intern at Bread for the World.


Stay Connected

Bread for the World