Category Archives: Africa

Rwanda’s dream of a music school

The author Kahlil Gibran once wrote, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”

In the African nation of Rwanda, the spirit of peace is so needed just two decades removed from a civil war and genocide. Mary Fanaro, the director of the charity OmniPeace, recently visited there. Her organization helps communities overcome poverty by enhancing education.

Read the full article at The Huffington Post.

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In Search of Peace in South Sudan

Father Joseph Otto of Magwi, South Sudan holds mass every day, even if no one attends. If only all of South Sudan, or everywhere for that matter, could hear him when he reads “Blessed are the peacemakers” from the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. For what South Sudan needs more than anything is apostles of peace.


Father Joseph Otto of St. Theresa Parish in Magwi, South Sudan (Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services) 

Conflict threatens South Sudan a year after it gained independence. There is fighting with its northern neighbor Sudan, which is causing a major humanitarian emergency with hundreds of thousands of refugees. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is airlifting food to the displaced, including Plumpy’Sup to prevent the wasting of thousands of infants.

The longer the conflict goes on the greater the humanitarian nightmare. There needs to be a demilitarized border zone between South Sudan and Sudan and safe humanitarian access to reach all of the suffering.

There is also internal conflict. In Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, 24 soldiers were killed last month in attacks from an insurgent group.

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says it is “particularly concerned by the apparent emergence in Jonglei of an armed insurgency group linked to the militia leader David Yau Yau, which is believed to be acting in concert with groups of armed youths who have evaded the civilian disarmament operation in the state.”

Last year fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes escalated. People were killed or kidnapped, homes burned to the ground, and thousands displaced.


Displaced people in Pibor, Jonglei state (OCHA photo)This year the fledgling government began a major peace and disarmament initiative. Hilde F. Johnson, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to South Sudan, says, “The widespread possession, and use, of illegal weapons by the communities and the proliferation of small arms constitutes a significant threat to peace and security in South Sudan, and is seriously exacerbating inter-communal violence in Jonglei…A pro-active reconciliation process and peaceful disarmament is the only way forward to maintain peace and security for the people of the area.”


Will disarmament of rival tribes occur throughout South Sudan? (United Nations photo)
The disarmament process has resulted in the release of some of the kidnapping victims. A mother who, along with her two-year old son, was rescued by the army during the disarmament campaign said, “I was thinking day and night about my village and parents…and almost lost hope of seeing (them).”

The tribal violence is not the only threat, though. Flooding has also struck Jonglei, causing more displacement and suffering for at least 68,000 people. The UN is continuing to assess this latest development as it tries to deliver humanitarian aid.

The road to peace in South Sudan has many twists, turns and rocks that have to be navigated. It starts by ending conflict among rival tribes, the theme of a series of peace conferences this year.

After one of these conference in Magwi County earlier this year, Sylvia Fletcher of UNMISS said, “The success of the new nation of South Sudan in large part will be determined by the capacity of peace between communities and the ability first for coexistence, [and] next for concerted development efforts that will engage all communities.”

It’s more than giving rival tribes a peaceful way to resolve differences; it’s also ending the hunger, poverty, and lack of education that cause desperation and chaos. A society cannot develop if its citizens are hungry and malnourished. In fact, malnutrition can stunt someone early in life to the point that they never recover.


Commitment to community fosters trust and peace in war-ravaged southern Sudan. Father Joseph Otto of St. Theresa Parish in Magwi greets a child after Mass. (Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS)

South Sudan needs national infant feeding and school lunch programs. The World Food Programme provided 355,000 schoolchildren with meals and take-home rations during July, a hopeful sign for South Sudan, particularly if this is the start of a self-sustaining national program.

A system of roads needs to be built connecting all corners of the country. These are the foundations of peace, development, and a sound economy. Small farmers must be allowed to grow their crops in peace.

Once the guns fall silent and disappear from South Sudan there is no telling how much the country could achieve. Other countries can continue to offer help, but ultimately the answer must come from the peacemakers within South Sudan.

See also An Independent Nation’s Parallel Path to Lasting Peace.

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Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan?

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the mini-summit on the Horn of Africa in New York on September 24. (Copyright: WFP/Dena Gudaitis)

Aid agencies are racing to save people from starvation in Somalia. UNICEF says that a child dies every 6 minutes in the famine-ravaged country. Severe drought in East Africa, coupled with the conflict in Somalia, has produced one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in decades.

Is Afghanistan next to be attacked by famine? Drought has struck the north and western part of Afghanistan. An Oxfam press release states, “Nearly three quarters of the people living in the affected areas say that they will run out of food in less than two months.”

Asuntha Charles, head of Oxfam in Afghanistan, says “Governments need to wake up to the gravity of this crisis and ensure they are ready to respond before the situation gets worse. Delays will just make things harder for families already struggling to cope. The drought has completely destroyed the wheat crop in some areas. People are reducing the amount of food they are eating and selling what little they have. We still have time to stop this becoming a disaster, but only if we act now.”

The United Nations World Food Programme has been facing low funding for its Afghan relief operation this year, so there was already a hunger crisis firmly in place before this drought took hold.

WFP, at last report, was about $200 million short on funding for its 2011 operation. Earlier this year WFP had to cut school meals for about 500,000 Afghan children because of the low funding. For children in developing countries school meals are often the only meal they receive the entire day. Afghanistan is a country that needs a nationwide school meals program, not a reduction in child feeding. WFP programs to help small farmers are also impacted by low funding.

It is expected that almost 3 million people will need food aid this fall in Afghanistan, on top of a population of 7 million already suffering from hunger. In a country seeking to build peace, will it now be confronted with famine? Afghanistan needs an emergency response now as well as plans to prevent future tragedies.

This past week in New York Josette Sheeran, the UN World Food Programme’s director, urged actions to prevent famine from striking again. Where there are investments in food security, as well as open access, a powerful line of defense can be built against famine. The drought In East Africa is proof of this.

Sheeran says, “The fact is while droughts may not be preventable, famines are. In areas where the humanitarian community has access, millions of hungry are being reached with life-saving action and lasting hunger solutions.”

These actions range “from supporting small holder farmers to deploying anti-hunger safety net programmes like school feeding.” Sheeran adds, “In my own agency, through a community adaptation program called MERET, the Ethiopian government, with support by WFP has been has build a sustainable land management and rain catchment program that has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought.”

These programs require enough funding from the international community. However, WFP has faced funding shortages for its operations all year, including in Somalia.

The international community needs to act fast in Somalia and Afghanistan. In addition to meeting emergency needs, long-term solutions have to be put in place. We cannot afford another humanitarian disaster.

Article first published as Famine in Somalia. Is the Wolf at the Door in Afghanistan? on Blogcritics.

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Filed under advocacy, Afghanistan, Africa, Congress, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, Ethiopia, famine, global hunger, Josette Sheeran, malnutrition, Middle East, Oxfam, plumpy'nut, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme

Take Action To Save Hunger Fighting Programs from Budget Cuts

Yesterday, I spoke to a great class at the College of Mount St. Joseph about the fight against hunger, both at home and abroad. We talked about proposed budget cuts in the Congress to food aid programs.

Here are food aid programs at risk of budget cuts:

Domestic Food Aid:

TEFAP:  The Emergency Food Assistance Program which supports food bank across the country. If funding is reduced there will be less support at a time of high unemployment when more families need the support of food banks.

WIC- Supplemental Nutrition for Women, Infants and Children.

Vicki Escarra of Feeding America says, “As Congress and the Administration look for ways to reduce the federal deficit, it is more critical than ever to protect funding for nutrition programs that provide the first line of defense against hunger in America.”

International Food Aid:

Food for Peace: This is the primary tool the U.S. has in fighting global hunger. This program was started during the Eisenhower administration and has saved countless lives and promoted stability worldwide.

McGovern-Dole program: This is geared toward international school meals. Agencies like Catholic Relief Services, World Food Program and others apply for McGovern-Dole funding to run school lunch programs in developing countries.

Here is an excerpt from an interview I did with Nora O’Connell of Save the Children discussing international food aid:

“For every one dollar that the U.S. government spends, roughly one-tenth of one penny goes towards food aid.

Completely eliminating food aid would do virtually nothing to impact either our debt or deficit. And it would not relieve Congress of the need to make the difficult choices required to alleviate the debt crisis. As Congress decides exactly where to make cuts, we urge them to do what’s right for children. Disproportionate and unjustified cuts not only hurt children today, they put our future at risk and move America further away from its values.

The best way to help prevent these cuts is to get in touch with Congress and let them know that programs that fight hunger and poverty are important. Individuals can call, write, email, or tweet their members of Congress and ask that they protect funding for international hunger- and poverty-fighting programs. Communication from constituents is critical to building support for programs that protect children and families across the globe, and help build a more stable and healthy world.”

You can reach your elected officials by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. You can let them know what you expect them to be doing about food aid both at home and abroad.

Catholic Relief Services says “Your action is particularly important now because the funding levels for FY 2012 will become the template for decisions about how much the U.S. invests in life-saving poverty-focused assistance for the next decade. Your voice is critical now to support poverty-focused international assistance so that life-changing and life-saving interventions can continue to reach those who need it most.”

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Filed under advocacy, Africa, Catholic Relief Services, Congress, Feeding America, Save the Children, School feeding, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger

Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa

President Reagan called the U.S. Food for Peace program an “instrument of American compassion.” This government program has a tradition of feeding the world’s hungry. It saves lives. It represents the very best of America.

And we see it in action again with the recent Food for Peace donation of $64 million to the charity Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The food will be used as part of a relief mission to drought-stricken Ethiopia.


Ronald Reagan said “people who are hungry are weak allies for freedom.”  Today, Food for Peace is threatened with severe budget cuts by Congress. (photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)

Ethiopia is suffering food shortages from failed crops. For the food that is available, prices are high for many Ethiopian families.

Catholic Relief Services is feeding about a million people there as part of the Joint Emergency Operations Plan. The Food for Peace donation goes to this joint mission.

The charities CARE, Save the Children US, Save the Children UK, World Vision, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia, and the Relief Society of Tigray will assist in the distribution of the food.

Around a million people are being given a lifeline, thanks to Food for Peace, CRS and the other charities working together. In addition, CRS and other aid agencies continue their work to build up the resilience of farmers to drought. This effort has helped make Ethiopia less vulnerable to the drought, compared to parts of Somalia where aid agencies have had far less access in recent years.


Women collect water in a region of Ethiopia where CRS has been working on drought mitigation projects since 2003. Photo by KL Dammann/CRS

Food for Peace, which started during the Eisenhower administration, has come under pressure recently from Congress. Members of the House of Representatives have proposed cutting most, if not all, of the funding for Food for Peace. Yet hunger-fighting programs are a very tiny part of the overall budget and cutting them makes no dent in the federal deficit.

CRS is working with its partners throughout East Africa to bring relief from the massive drought that struck the region. This includes aid to Somali refugees in Kenya, as well as support to host communities there which are also suffering from the widespread drought. In Somalia, within the areas of Mogadishu and Baidoa, CRS is helping 28,000 displaced persons with health and nutrition services.

In addition CRS is providing food, water, and livelihood support to 35,000 drought-affected Somalis in the south-central part of the country. Their work involves not only emergency aid, but also projects for building up resistance to future droughts.

David Orth-Moore of CRS says, “While working to alleviate the immediate human suffering, CRS recognizes the importance of long-term drought mitigation programs, and we’ve seen that some communities are faring better now during this current drought because of those projects.”


You can help Catholic Relief Services by donating to their East Africa Emergency Fund

Article first published as Food for Peace, CRS Working to Feed the Hungry in East Africa on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Africa, Catholic Relief Services, drought, Dwight Eisenhower, East Africa, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, Kenya, malnutrition, Save the Children, Somalia, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Vision

Saints QB Brees teams with World Food Programme on famine relief

Tonight the NFL season kicks off with the last two Super Bowl champions facing off — the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints.  Green Bay is fresh off its victory over the 6-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Aaron Rodgers is now established as one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

Saints QB Drew Brees is again leading the Saints prolific offense. But this former Purdue grad has already been taking the lead on famine relief for East Africa.

Brees has partnered with the UN World Food Programme, raising awareness of the plight of millions of starving people in East Africa. Massive drought in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and other parts of the region has caused severe food shortages, putting over 12 million people at risk of starvation.

Brees made a special famine relief poster available at the World Food Programme’s (WFP) web site. There is also a Drew Brees and WFP fundraising page set up for East Africa. This is a great way for football fans and teams to get involved and help East Africa through its hunger crisis.

Football teams at any level are encouraged to display the famine relief banner at games and on team web sites, etc. Fans and teams can do things, like pledge donations per each touchdown or any type of fundraising ideas to help WFP, which relies on voluntary donations to feed the hungry.

The football community can do great things to help East Africa recover from this great crisis and write another chapter in the American epic of humanitarianism.

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Filed under Africa, drought, East Africa, East Africa drought, malnutrition, World Food Programme

Senate Urged to Support Food for Peace Program

This week the Senate will be considering how much funding to give to the Food for Peace program, our main tool in the fight against global hunger. It’s vital the Senate give full support to Food for Peace.

For if you are looking to have a cost-efficient and effective foreign policy, then look no further than Food for Peace. We know this plan works.

Food for Peace was essentially born out of the World War II era where the famous motto was, “Food will win the war and write the peace.” Every CARE package, Friendship Train, or people taking in a silent guest at their home on Thanksgiving was food for peace in action.

The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe stood on a foundation of food. These post-war actions paved the way toward the official launch of Food for Peace (Public Law 480) in 1954 by President Dwight Eisenhower. President Kennedy continued and strengthened Food for Peace, showing the bipartisan support for the initiative.

But today there is a different tune. Amid all the talk of budget cuts, Food for Peace has been placed on the cutting block. Some members of the House have proposed eliminating all funding for the program. Others want to keep funding levels at 1.69 billion, which is relatively inexpensive compared to other foreign policy expenditures.

Hunger-fighting programs make up less than one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. In short, Food for Peace is not the cause of our spending problems.

What Food for Peace does is it combats hunger and gives hope for peace and stability. Peace cannot be founded on empty stomachs. Whether it’s Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, or Haiti, they all share one thing in common: the need for food for healthy generations of children.

The Senate could cut Food for Peace and its partner program Mcgovern-Dole just to save a few dollars. But that would be ill-advised foreign policy.

What Eisenhower said in 1959 holds true today. Food is essential so that “our bodies may be fit for every task and duty and service; our minds free from the fear of hunger; our eyes undimmed by the tragedies of famine, searching out new horizons; our aspirations not frustrated by failure of crop or catastrophe of weather.”

The world’s nearly 1 billion hungry people wonder each day where their next meal will come from. We cannot just skip over this crisis because of tough times domestically, for withdrawing from the fight against hunger will pose grave consequences.

Reducing food aid will threaten millions of lives and will help create desperation among people that will lead to a dangerous instability. The chaos caused by hunger is powerful enough to topple governments.

The Senate needs to stand united and fight global hunger with Food for Peace.

See the World Food Program USA take action page for supporting Food for Peace.

See Food for Peace and the World Food Program.

See also Bringing Dems and Reps Together over Food (Bakersfield Californian 1/9/2011)

Article first published as Senate Urged to Support Food for Peace Program on Blogcritics.

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Filed under Afghanistan, Africa, drought, East Africa drought, global hunger, History, malnutrition, Middle East, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, World Food Programme, Yemen