Why does the Democratic Republic of Congo Need our Prayers?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Several weeks ago, I had an opportunity to sit down with a young man from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).   As you know, this second Annual Dominican Month of Peace is focusing on the DRC which is struggling with war, violence, displacement, and, recently, Ebola.  Theo is a husband and father to two baby girls. I first met him when he came to the Dominican Learning Center to see about getting ESL classes for a group of men and women from the DRC who were worshipping at a local Catholic church.  The primary language in the DRC is French and they wanted to learn English.

Theo explained to me that the nation has experienced political insecurity for many decades.  The current president, Joseph Kabila, agreed to step down as president at the end of 2016 but then reneged.  This has resulted in much violence as protestors demand the elections.  Last December, the Roman Catholic bishops, supported by a coalition of civil groups, called for peaceful demonstrations after Sunday Mass. The government refused permits for the demonstrations yet more than 160 churches in many parts of the country participated in the call. Police responded with teargas, rubber bullets, and, in some cases, live ammunition.  Parishioners of St. Dominic’s Parish in Kinshasa (capital city), run by the Dominican friars, were fired upon in the church grounds and even inside the church. One friar was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.  Elections are now planned for the end of this month.

The DNC is a country of great natural wealth that is the cause of much of the current conflict.  In the eastern portion, the resources are being fought over by both internal and external forces. Corporations are encouraging this discontent because they are able to get the minerals more cheaply. This is also resulting in environmental disasters such as poaching, water pollution, deforestation, and mining. The Government had to shut down the Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park, when two British tourists were kidnapped and six park rangers were killed in April.

Now, in the northern part of the country, there is an outbreak of Ebola. More than 419 cases have been reported and 240 have died.  Treatment is complicated by violence against the aid workers who are trying to bury those infected.  Burial customs are in conflict with the need to isolate those who have died because they are still contagious.  Recently, the World Health Organization announced some success with some experimental treatments it is using to stem this deadly disease.

The DRC has the largest displaced population in Africa with more than 4.49 million internally displaced persons, including 2.7 million children.  Chronic instability and conflict are the primary causes of this displacement but poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation which lead to natural hazards such as floods also contribute to the displacement. Local ethnic divisions are used and abused by armed groups and the military, coupled with corruption and the illegal exploitation of mineral resources, mean the violence continues.  There is also competition for other natural resources, such as fishing grounds and arable land causing local insurgencies and conflict.  Theo told me of one village where the villagers were forced to flee to the forest to survive.

So you can see how much violence has touched the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Let us keep them in our prayers and hope that with a fair and peaceful election and sufficient care, some peace may again come to this land.

 

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

More on Food Waste

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

My comment in last week’s blog about throwing out food
touched a nerve for several people so I thought I’d dig into it a little more.  Globally, food waste or unused edible food
weighs in at 1.3 billion metric tons or 1/3 of all food produced. Recovering
just 25% of that would feed 870 million hungry people. 

In the U.S., we throw away an average 430 pounds per person
which can cost a family of four around $1,500 per year. 30 – 40% of all food
grown is not eaten. That’s a lot of food. And it costs $218 billion annually to
grow, manufacture, process, distribute and dispose of that food.  That’s a lot of money.  

The Environmental Protection Agency reported that food waste
is 21.6% of garbage shipped to municipal landfills and incinerators.  This is problematic because the produce in
landfills produces methane gas which contributes to climate change. 

The United Nations recognizes this problem and Number 12.3
of the Sustainable Development Goals (Ensure sustainable consumption and
production patterns) proposes to halve the per capita food waste at the retail
and consumer level by 2030. In fact, France is the first country to pass
legislation prohibiting supermarkets from throwing away unused food. It must be
donated or the market faces stiff fines. 
Denmark has opened ‘ugly’ produce grocery stores.  (Ugly produce is produce that is below the
standard for size, shape, color, or appearance but still perfectly good to
eat/use.)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also proposed to
reduce food loss and waste by half by 2030. Kroger will be introducing a new
line of Ugly Food called Pickuliar Picks
beginning next year.  This is part of
Kroger’s Zero Hunger/Zero Waste program launched in 2017. Remember, nearly one
in seven Americans suffer from “food insecurity” or limited or uncertain access
to adequate food.

Another reason to support the Senate version of the Farm
Bill is that several measures to address food waste are included.  These include Food Donation Standards for
Liability Protections, Spoilage Prevention, Milk Prevention Program, and
others.

Also on the Federal Level, in July 2017 bills were introduce into both the House and the Senate to provide funding and establish requirements to reduce food waste by encouraging food donations and liability protection and standardize date labeling on food.  Unfortunately, neither bill has moved past committee. In our litigious society, grocery stores and restaurants are hesitant to donate food should someone eating it get sick.   

One big reason that individuals throw away food is because of the confusion about the “use by” and “sell by” dates on the label. “Best if used by” means the food is tastiest close to the date on the label but it’s still safe to eat once that date is passed. “Use by” is more concerned with safety, not quality, meaning the food becomes less safe to eat after the date. 

What can we do to reduce food waste? Consider these tips from Toby Amidor, a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. 

  • Make a shopping list to avoid buying duplicates of items you have and prevent impulse buys.
  • Understand the food labels (see above.)
  • Buy the exact amount you need. Buying more because it’s a bargain might result in waste.
  • Practice FIFO. First In, First Out means using up food you have in the fridge before using newer food.
  • Eat leftovers. Or cook only what you will eat in that meal.
  • Use leftover scraps.
  • Preserve. Pickle, freeze, can and/or dehydrate fruit or vegetables that were abundant in the summer or fall.

We can all take action to reduce food waste and encourage your legislators to support the Senate Farm Bill and those House and Senate Bills that address this issues. (HR 3444: Food Recovery Act of 2017, HR 954: FoodDonation Act of 2017, S 1680: Food Recovery Act of 2017)

You can also check out www.savethefood.com for more
information on food saving actions.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Thanksgiving… or not

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

As I entered the church, I noticed a huge white altar with
these yellow bottles around the top. Looking more closely, I realized they were
bottles and bottles of yellow vegetable oil.  My first though was what an interesting way to
decorate an altar. Then… “Wow. Using money that would be used for flowers to
buy food for people in need. That’s really justice!” Later I learned that the
parishioners were decorating the altar by bringing different food items each
week.  By Christmas, the altar would be
filled with food and boxes prepared for the families who use the soup kitchen
that the parish also runs.  It was a
beautiful witness to the mission and charism of the Vincentians and a sad
commentary that in the U.S. there are people without enough to eat.

We have a love/hate relationship with food in our
country.  We eat too much and yet are
malnourished.  We are so busy that we
have to depend on processed food or fast food restaurants rather that eat fresh
meals made from scratch. While we produce enough food to feed the world, there
are millions of children who go to bed hungry every night.   We throw out about 1/3 of the food produced
for human consumption or about 38 million tons each year.

Does the United States have a responsibility to make sure people
in the U.S. and the world, aren’t hungry? 
I don’t know …. but as the richest nation, one blessed with prosperity,
we certainly could.  When our government threatens
to defund programs like WIC, SNAP, Food for Peace, USAID that feed people, and
we don’t try to stop this, are we forgetting the bounty that we are blessed
with or do we see only scarcity and want to protect our portion?

I love thanksgiving. It’s my all-time favorite meal…filled
with memories of my parents and family gatherings. But there are others who
because of poverty, famine, or war will have nothing to eat.  Let us take a minute to recognize our
blessings and resolve to work to eliminate hunger in our world. 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

What you Wear may Contribute to the World’s Warming

Blog by Sr. Roberta Miller, OP

Don’t like wrinkled clothes? Don’t like to iron? Then
buy materials with polyester? Perhaps we want to think again about what is
convenient, practical, or time saving. 
All choices have consequences, right?

Sisters and Associates in the Congregation participate
in a campaign against the wide use of plastics—straws, containers, bags.
Clothing/materials have escaped our attention, yet 60% of our clothing made out
of plastic.  Polyester comes from oil—a polymer
which is a long chain of repeating molecular units; the synthetic polyester of
clothing results from a chemical reaction involving coal, petroleum, air, and
water (one type: purified terephthalic acid or PTS). (For the non-chemical
engineer the names are tongue-twisters.) Polyester has become ubiquitous in
clothing because the threads in the spinning process can be spun short or long
which enables blending the threads with the natural fabric threads of cotton,
wool or silk. And so we can have our warm fleece or non-wrinkle pants or
fast-drying shirts. Did you know that China is a leader in producing all
plastic clothing?

A major problem exists, however: producing polyester
requires great amounts of fuel—oil and coal—which releases significant CO2 into
our atmosphere—adding to the CO2 and methane trapping the sun’s heat on our
earth and into our oceans. We in the US and peoples around the world in the
Americas, Africa, Europe and Asia experience its consequences of extremes in
heat, fires, droughts, and home losses. Do we include all the animals, fish,
and birds lost in these events?

Another related consequence is adding to the amount of
plastic in our earth’s water. In laundering fleece and other materials-often of
50-50 polyester fabric composition-microfibers are released by heat into the
waste water, ending up in our oceans, lakes, rivers for ingestion by aquatic
creatures and us.

All of us can and must speak up and resist continued
dependence upon fossil fuels.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Freedom from Fear

In  light of what’s been happening on the border, I wanted to share an article from the Southwest Kansas Catholic written by the editor, Dave Myers.  It may be hard for some of us to imagine this happening but this is why so many good people will walk thousands of miles for peace and safety.

Honduran family journeys to Kansas seeking
Freedom from Fear

By David Myer 
Southwest Kansas Register
Editor’s Note: Ana’s name has been changed for this story.

For 10 minutes, Ana felt the cold steel of a gun held to her head.

For 10 minutes, the mother of three children knew she would die at
any moment, and when that moment never came, it was nothing short of a milagro
(miracle).

When the Register spoke with the diminutive woman from Honduras, she was only six days in the United States
and living with family members. The relief she felt was palpable. She and her
two sons were safe, and she soon would be reunited with her husband and
seven-year-old daughter, from whom they separated before crossing the border.
She was at peace. Finally. And she no longer had to face the inevitability of
her two sons being forcefully indoctrinated into a gang or cartel.

Having a gun pressed to her head was not the first time Ana felt
heart-crushing fear, and it wouldn’t be the last. But it was the moment
when the family finally decided it was time to leave.

With the help of Sister Janice Thome, OP, who acted as
interpreter, Ana described the day she encountered the gunman. She was at work
in a restaurant when a gang of thugs flew through the front doors.

“They wanted to kill a [wealthy man], but he was surrounded by
body guards,” Ana explained. “They killed a lot of people. They wanted money,
but it was 9 a.m. when we opened, and there was no money yet.”

Because Ana was a witness to the shootings, she surely would be
killed, too.

“I ran to the back, but a man caught me and put a gun to my head.
For 10 minutes he didn’t say anything. I don’t know why he didn’t kill me. When
this kind of thing happens in my country, they shoot you for sure. It was a
miracle.”

Why didn’t she go to the police?

“The police and the gangs are linked. I would be dead.”

If it was just about her safety – going to work and getting
home without being victimized – they might have stayed. But then there were the
children. Ana explained that when children enter, say, the ninth or tenth grades,
they are approached by cartel members wanting to “train them to be drug mules
or to kidnap people for money. If they don’t want to be a part of it, they are
told that their whole family will be killed.

“I didn’t want my sons to grow up and be bad men. I wanted to come
here and be safe, where they could grow up to be good men.”

She found the help of a kind “coyote.” (Coyotes are those who help
others cross the border, and are notoriously less interested in their
“customers’” welfare than they are in money. To find a kind coyote who
charged the “very cheap” price of $9,500 for the entire family, was another
“milagro.”) Ana, her husband, three children and two other family members
boarded a bus and began the long trek across Guatemala,
along the vast expanse of Mexico,
and finally to the border of Texas.

Like so many immigrants flooding into the southern states, once
across the border, Ana and her family allowed themselves to be taken by
immigration officials, in hopes that they would be granted asylum. She and her
husband – she with their two sons and he with their daughter – separated,
hoping that each, having children but being without a spouse, would be
granted the asylum they desperately sought.

It was a decision that would haunt each parent like a bad
nightmare for several days to come.

“They took all my jewelry,” Ana said. “They went through my hair
and gave me a total pat-down. They took my fingerprints, took my picture, and
wanted to know the address of family members here so we could prove we had some
place to go.”

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, because of
the overwhelming number of immigrants crossing the border, the conditions of
the temporary facilities “are lacking in even the most basic services and
conditions.”

For two days, Ana and her two sons slept on a bare, cement floor.
It was cold, and they had no blankets. Her oldest son slept sitting up, while
the younger son slept with his head on his brother’s leg.

“I didn’t eat or sleep for two days,” Ana said. “I was so scared.
I began shaking. They asked why I hadn’t moved to a different place in Honduras.
I told them because of the violence. They asked why I didn’t move to Mexico.
I said I didn’t have family there. They wanted me to sign a form, but I was so
scared. I didn’t speak English and didn’t understand what I was signing. I
began to cry.

“One of the [guards/immigration officials] became so angry when I
wouldn’t sign that he made a slashing motion across his throat. I was so scared
I would be killed.”

Eventually her sister, who resides with Ana’s mother in southwest Kansas, convinced her by
phone to sign the paper, and she and her two boys were released.

With no money and no food, the three stood helpless outside the
detention center; Ana was crying. With little hope, a kind woman spotted them
on the road and offered them her phone, which Ana used to call her sister. The
woman took them to McDonalds and told them to order whatever they wanted. Ana
was so distraught that she couldn’t eat. Then the woman took them to a Catholic
church where Ana offered thanks to God.

A priest brought them to a “place for food and rest” where they
slept two nights. “It was wonderful; I helped cook,” she said.

Even better than the food and shelter, is the fact that they offered
help in finding her husband and daughter.

Meanwhile, back in Kansas,
Ana’s mother and sister obtained the aid of a minister. He enlisted the help of
his congregation to raise the gas money so that he personally drive to Texas,
pick up Ana’s family, and bring them back to Kansas. It turned out that Ana’s
husband and their little girl had been released after only two hours of
incarceration, and had been given shelter by her husband’s friend in Dallas.

As the Register spoke to Ana, her husband and daughter were
packing their bags to begin the end of their long journey. “They should be here
tomorrow,” Ana said with a broad grin. “When we talk on the phone, we want to
have each other in our arms so bad that we cry. He’s my support. He’s my
shoulder.”

Soon they will have to report to the immigration office in Wichita where they will
have the difficult task of proving that “the fear; the absolute fear” of
staying in their homeland is real.

If they are unable to do so,
the family faces the very real possibility of being deported back to the
violence they left behind.

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog