Click to expand the sections below and learn how others are confronting the challenge of poverty daily. Read these stories of witness and discipleship.
Hunger in Niger
Called “the least livable country on earth” by the United Nations, Niger has bounced from drought to coup to famine for centuries. Nonetheless, its people persevere across their ocean of sand and scrub with dignity and fortitude. In this country nearly twice the size of Texas, camels are king, hospitality is paramount and tourists sleep on the warm sand under the desert stars.
Despite Niger’s rich culture, instability and drought are intractable challenges. In 2005, a food crisis prompted worldwide attention. Endemic malnutrition affected more than 3.5 million people. Catholic Relief Services launched an emergency response program that fed thousands of malnourished children and provided seeds to farmers. Niger is still recovering from the crisis, and the situation remains precarious. Millions of people still don’t have enough to eat.
The Food for Peace program in the U.S. Farm Bill supports building wells like this one, to help farmers irrigate their land so that they can grow food to eat and sell. This will sustain them through lean times and keep family members from having to migrate to seek work. That’s the power of international food aid for development in the U.S. Farm Bill. (Photo by Tahirou Gouro/CRS)
Malawi Orphans’ Big Sister
It was the shock of seeing a little boy stealing at a bus station and then singing about his exploits that first inspired Sister Beatrice Chipeta. It was the mid-90s and the HIV pandemic was devastating villages in Northern Malawi, a small country in southern Africa. In a matter of months, families with five children were suddenly caring for 15 to 20 as orphaned children came to live with grandparents, aunts and uncles. The families simply couldn’t afford to feed so many extra mouths. Many of the orphans took to the streets.
To help the orphans, Sister Beatrice realized that it would be up to the villagers themselves to create and maintain programs. They quickly discovered one family had extra food it could share. Some women had time to check in on homes run by the eldest child of orphaned siblings. Committees were formed. An action plan was drafted. They would start a community garden, sell fish to earn money for their projects, and begin a community-based childcare center where all the village children could go for food, educational activities and other support.
Hope apparently spreads quickly. Sister Beatrice continues to stay true to her mission of teaching children how to “live a good life and have good manners.”In addition to childcare centers and community gardens, the project also runs an orphanage that shelters 70 children, provides infant formula for babies whose mothers have either died or cannot produce milk, provides home-based care to 1,200 people with HIV, teaches agricultural skills and provides food baskets to orphan-headed households. Sister’s initial footsteps paved the way for much more than she might have hoped when she first set out to talk to the villagers of Mwambuli.
Domingas de Sousa, East Timor
In countries such as East Timor, poverty-focused international assistance can make a huge difference. Domingas de Sousa (pictured) of Baucau, East Timor, is participating in an innovative development project funded by U.S. international assistance that seeks to improve the quality of life for her and other candlenut farmers in her region.
As with many other developing nations, East Timor was colonized by foreign powers for 450 years, first by the Portuguese and then until 1999 by Indonesia. Before it officially gained independence in 2002, the East Timorese experienced systematic destruction, murder, burning of buildings, and general looting at the hands of pro-Indonesian militias.
The challenge for East Timor’s development towards a nonviolent and just society is to ensure that communities and the institutions that serve them are established to support a peaceful and democratic nation. Good governance and economic recovery are needed for the country to realize its full independence.
Candlenut farmers like Domingas have formed cooperatives and are receiving training on agricultural techniques, marketing and sales methods so that they can enhance and extract the full market value of their product and thereby secure a stable and growing source of income for their rural communities.
Yolanda Zurita, Peru
Yolanda Zurita is a resident of La Oroya, a mining town of 35,000 in the Andes mountains of Peru. Her community has experienced a high rate of cancers, lead poisoning, and problems of the nervous system—illnesses which many believe are related to the Doe Run smelting operation nearby. Yolanda’s own father, who worked in the smelting plant for most of his life, died of complications of the nervous system.
In the late 1990s, Yolanda began to lead an effort to call for testing of the air, water, and soil in the community and to scientifically measure the impact of the mining on residents and the environment. The Public Health Department of the Jesuit-run St. Louis University conducted an independent study two years ago that found 97% of children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. High concentrations of other heavy metals were also found in the blood of La Oroya residents. Now the local Archdiocese, with support from CRS, educates local people about the contaminants and advocates with the local and national government for changes in environmental policies and mining practices to reduce pollution.
Many other communities throughout the world are like Yolanda’s. Other communities have been plunged into violence as armed groups struggle for control over valuable resources. Paradoxically, the mineral wealth sought by some of the world’s largest and most powerful companies is often found in the world’s poorest countries. Communities near mines and oil wells frequently experience the negative, rather than the positive, impacts of mining. Unfortunately, the voices of the people most affected are rarely heard.
Raneen and Mariam, Bethlehem
Many children in the Holy Land have acutely felt the impact of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Having lost friends and family members due to the violence, and growing up in a constant state of insecurity and tension, these children often experience hopelessness and frustration.
Fortunately for them, Raneen and Mariam are part of a CRS program that engages students and their parents in coming up with their own solutions to issues affecting their communities. Efforts such as these are an important step toward establishing a viable Palestinian state and ultimately securing long-term peace and stability through a two-state solution.
But many children in conflict situations have no access to such opportunities. Instead, they often live in squalid, overflowing refugee camps, witness or are the victims of abuse, receive little education, and learn anger and hatred that persists for years after a conflict ends.
St. Thomas University: Supporting Economic Development in Haiti
With help from Catholic Relief Services, St. Thomas University in Miami, FL, is supporting a fair trade coffee cooperative in Haiti. Café COCANO cooperative members grow, process, and directly sell coffee beans, ensuring that profits stay in the hands of local families. St. Thomas also supports a fair trade Women’s Artisan Initiative for which Haitian women produce and sell crafts that in turn enables them to pay for their families’ food, clothing, and education. This work is part of the St. Thomas community’s advocacy for authentic, sustainable, Haitian-led development that empowers local communities and builds upon our Gospel call to solidarity in the world. READ MORE >
St. Louis University: Studying the impact of natural resources extraction in Peru
La Oroya, a mining town of 35,000 in the Andes mountains of Peru, has experienced a high rate of cancers, lead poisoning, and problems of the nervous system—illnesses which many believe are related to the Doe Run mining and smelting operation nearby. At the request of the local community, the Public Health Department of the Jesuit-run St. Louis University in Missouri conducted an independent study to test the air, water, and soil in the community and to scientifically measure the impact of the mining on residents and the environment. The study found that 97% of children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. High concentrations of other heavy metals were also found in the blood of La Oroya residents. Now the local Archdiocese, with support from Catholic Relief Services, educates local people about the contaminants and advocates with the local and national government for changes in environmental policies and mining practices to reduce pollution. READ MORE >
Service to Justice: Marywood University Campus Ministry
With “Confronting Global Poverty” as one of its two major Campus Ministry Goals for the past two years, the Marywood University Campus Ministry has helped students focus in on several important global poverty issues. As part of a service trip to Tijuana, Mexico, students acted in solidarity with migrants and studied the “push” and “pull” factors of immigration. When they returned to campus, they educated other students and launched a postcard campaign in support of the USCCB Justice for Immigrants policy asks for comprehensive immigration reform.
Prayer and Fasting for Justice: OLOS Youth Ministry
At Our Lady of Soledad parish, youth participated in a retreat and fast at which they learned about their brothers and sisters in Christ who experience poverty and injustice around the world. The youth wrote prayers about poverty that were placed around a big wooden cross in the prayer space and also contributed to a large Catholic social teaching mural in the church hall. On the second day of the retreat, the youth visited migrant families and learned about worker injustice and the right to fair wages. Next, a scavenger hunt activity helped youth learn about wealth, poverty and global inequality. Finally, the youth collected money from sponsors to support the work of Catholic Relief Services.
A Social Justice Club: Bishop Dwenger High School
The Social Justice Club at Bishop Dwenger High School does a wide variety of activities to join in solidarity with persons in poverty around the world. At Eucharistic liturgies, students pray for those who are poor, unemployed, unborn, forgotten, and excluded. Students work on videos to share messages about the dignity of the human person. Students participate in action alerts and the moderators of the social justice club travel to Washington, DC, each year to participate in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering and visit congressional representatives.
Campus Outreach Work
When the Villanova Wildcats played the Seton Hall Pirates in men’s basketball, it was more than a tough Big East conference game. It was a win for the people of the Republic of South Sudan, thanks to “Playing for Peace”—a Villanova/CRS partnership that gave student ambassadors a forum for showing the struggles of the new country.
CRS Rice Bowl
For more than 35 years, CRS Rice Bowl has offered Catholics in the U.S. a way to connect with our global brothers and sisters in need—a way “we can say, ‘No, we’re not going to let them live that way. We’re going to do what we can to help.’ “
CRS Afghanistan: If You Build It, They Will Come. Especially Girls.
Since 2003, CRS Afghanistan has been helping to put locally staffed village-based schools in rural communities. Today, about 12,400 students (60% girls) attend CRS-supported schools in 340 communities. Studies show that the closer to home, the better. Even a mile closer can boost girls’ attendance by nearly 20%. READ MORE>
Coffee Co-op in Nicaragua
This year, the 32 women of COPEMUJER will export more than 10 tons of organic coffee to a U.S. coffee distributor at $2/lb., a high price even for fair trade. All but one of the growers are now certified organic, and everyone’s children are in school. But the co-op has brought more than financial stability, it’s brought empowerment. READ MORE>
As a hungry young orphan in Ghana, Thomas Awiapo followed two students with containers of sorghum to school, looking for something to eat. That meal from CRS started him on a path that led to college in the U.S. and a career with CRS, educating American Catholics about the challenges and issues in Africa. READ MORE>