Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Birmingham Workshop: Education for Girls, Giving Blood and Writing Letters, and Dual Citizenship

Brendan Rice

By all accounts, the Offering of Letters workshop in Birmingham, Ala., on March 24 was a huge success. "A rapt crowd of about fifty people attended the workshop held at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church," said Elaine VanCleave, a local volunteer district coordinator.  There were 15 churches represented at the workshop, plus a strong college contingent.

This was one of about three dozen similar workshops scheduled around the country in February-April 2011. Each of the workshops has or will be offering Bread members and other interested persons the opportunity to learn more about the 2011 Offering of  Letters and to discuss strategies to rally our congregations around foreign aid reform.

Some of the workshops (including ours in Albuquerque) have also featured guest speakers. This was the case in Birmingham, where Doug Coutts, Special Advisor on Child Hunger to the World Food Programme (WFP) spoke about the global efforts of the U.N. organization and its relationship to our 2011 Offering of Letters campaign.

Below are highlights from the workshop in Birmingham, based on notes and photos provided by Elaine VanCleave, who is also a member of Bread for the World's board of directors.

Greg Sims & Doug Coutts
WFP: The 9-1-1 for the World
The featured speaker, Doug Coutts, is also founding partner of  the Universities Fighting World Hunger initiative and distinguished visiting professor at Auburn University in addition to his role with the WFP.

He shared concrete examples of how U.S. foreign assistance is saving lives and why it's essential for people of faith to insist that our nation's aid be as effective and efficient as possible so that every dollar is translated into "greater help for the world's nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people."

"The World Food Programme is the 9-1-1 for the world. When a tsunami or a hurricane hits we are the first responders," said Mr. Coutts, who has 23 years of experience with the WFP.  "But we are also working with the most vulnerable communities to prepare for 'the next time'.

Food Items Provided by WFP
Mr. Coutts--whose most recent post was as WFP Country Director in Bangladesh (where he oversaw the organization's single largest development operation in the world)--said the WFP devotes most of its funding to school feeding programs. 

And the key to ending the cycle of poverty and hunger is education for girls. There is a huge benefit of linking the two, as school feeding programs are a big incentive to keeping girls in school. "If parents send their daughter to school, that might be the only meal she gets all day," he said.

Brendan Rice, Jayme Cloninger, Meg Lacy
Mr. Coutts also emphasized the importance of writing letters to Congress. "As a staff member with the congressional Select Committee on Hunger, yours truly responded to the letters written to Congress on hunger," he said. "I tell you that thoughtful hand-written letters are taken seriously."

Offering of Letters Strategies
Greg Sims
Bread for the World regional field organizer Greg Sims spoke about different strategies for organizing letter-writing campaigns and attracting members of a congregation to participate.   

Among the suggestions was to hold a blood drive in conjunction with your Offering of Letters.  "You have someone sitting for 45 minutes with nothing to do," he said. 

Other suggestions: bribe people with fair trade chocolate, bake fresh bread and hold a competition among churches. The idea of competitions was especially appealing to the college students and other people in attendance, including Callie Gee of Metropolitan AME Zion Church.

Callie Gee & others write letters at workshop

Greg Sims underscored the importance of working with all members of Congress, regardless of their political affiliation. "Bread for the World is nonpartisan in spirit and bipartisan in approach," he said. "We must hold up hunger as an issue of concern AND we must have bipartisan support to be effective."

The Students and the Hunger Justice Leaders
The strong college contingent included several students who participated in Bread for the World's Hunger Justice Leaders program in the summer of 2010.  These students took important roles in planning of the program for the workshop.
Jamye Cloninger
Samford University senior Jayme Cloninger spoke about her motivation for participating in anti-hunger advocacy. "I have a heart for social justice," she said. "We hold a dual citizenship. Not only are we citizens of Birmingham, of Alabama, of the U.S., of the global community, we are also citizens of the kingdom. Bread for the World offers a bridge between the two.”

Jilleyn Foley, a Hunger Justice Leader, related how her childhood experiences were instrumental in shaping her commitment to anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocacy. When her parents divorced, 12-year-old Jilleyn and her mother moved to government housing and struggled with food security. "Bread for the World helped me find my voice. I learned that my story in the most powerful advocacy tool that I have," she said.

Back: Doug Coutts, Greg Sims, Elaine VanCleave, Brendan Rice Front: Jayme Cloninger, Jilleyn Foley, Meg Lacy

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