The crisis in Ukraine is front and center, but others also deserve our attention and compassion

‘OGHS Around the World’ webinar on April 5 will show what the PC(USA) and its global partners are up to

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Valéry Nodem speaks as part of a panel during 2019 Ecumenical Advocacy Days (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Valéry Nodem, a former human rights lawyer in his native Cameroon, is sounding the alarm over possible outbreaks of famine in places like northern Nigeria and elsewhere.

“Intense droughts are affecting people all over the world right now,” Nodem said Monday during Special Offerings’ Between Two Pulpits broadcast (watch here). “They have a hard time producing the food they need, and that fuels a lot of displacement, hunger and poverty. Wherever you look,” he told host Dr. Bill McConnell, interim director of Special Offerings, and René Myers, mission engagement advisor for the West Region, “the needs are really, really huge.”

Nodem, the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Associate for International Hunger Concerns, said PHP is teaming with the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance — all three of whom benefit from One Great Hour of Sharing — for a webinar at noon Eastern Time on April 5. The invited guest for the OGHS Around the World webinar is CISCOPE, the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Alleviation, a civil network whose goal is to reduce and, over time, eradicate hunger in Nigeria.

The Presbyterian Hunger Program began working with CISCOPE back in 2018, when the United Nations declared a famine in northern Nigeria. PDA and SDOP soon joined the effort. “Together,” Nodem wrote in an email highlighting the April 5 webinar, “we hope to support CISCOPE to achieve their ultimate goal, which is to serve Nigeria’s most vulnerable populations, especially women, by acting as an agent of change and an influencer of the nation’s public policies and programs.” Register for the April 5 webinar, titled “OGHS Around the World,” by clicking here.

“In a time when the global attention is on the crisis in Ukraine, it’s important to remind ourselves and the world that there are other conflicts that are forgotten and need to be on the map as well,” Nodem wrote. “CISCOPE in Nigeria is working in a region that for years has been prone to extreme hunger, famines, displacement because of civil conflicts and climate change.”

Working in partnership with SDOP and PDA “brings us together around the table more to coordinate our work and priorities,” Nodem said. “It generates more support for partners on the ground and helps to connect with a larger section of the church.”

PHP is already at work with its partners in more than two dozen countries. Nodem said it’s his job to relate to the hunger program’s international partners and support the work they do, “building relationships and connecting them with the Church,” he said. “We also look for ways to connect people in the U.S. with our global partners.”

Nodem said both the UN and World Bank have said the economies of many nations around the world will be weaker coming out of the pandemic than they were in 2020. In addition to Nigeria, nations including South Sudan, Yemen and Cameroon “are asking to not be forgotten.”

Myers wondered how PC(USA) congregations can engage “so they can understand that what we are doing locally can impact things globally.”

While the war in Ukraine is top of mind for most people in the U.S. and other nations, “my hope is [the April 5 webinar] helps a lot of congregations to understand it’s not just about Ukraine right now, and to be able to see brothers and sisters as really connected to us … We need to find ways to be in global solidarity. I am a Cameroonian living in the U.S. The system that is creating hunger and poverty there, we have the same system here. Congregations here are trying to tackle the system wherever they are.”

“I’m really intrigued you are talking about a systems approach,” McConnell said, “not just sending pallets of food, which is wonderful. But why does the person need the food in the first place? How do you address that?”

“That is the mission of PHP, alleviating hunger around the world, and trying to provide people with what they need,” Nodem said. “Another important part is, what is causing hunger? The more you ask that question, the more you get into systems and structures which create problems around the world.”

On top of his other duties, Nodem coordinates the Joining Hands program within PHP, a program that “brings people from different countries together with Presbyterians. When you ask, ‘Why are people hungry?’ we find we impoverish people by polluting their environment,” Nodem said. When companies pursue extracting nation’s energy resources, “it can push farmers away from their lands,” he said. “It is important to really address those systems of oppression.”

PHP began building a relationship with CISCOPE about four years ago after the UN, for the first time in its history, declared simultaneous famines in four countries: the northern portion of Nigeria, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia.  CISCOPE “is working to make sure to be there to support women and children and the elderly, providing them with tools to rebuild societies,” Nodem said. “They do this work in dangerous and hard contexts, working with the government and asking it to put climate change on the national agenda in Nigeria.”

“We want others to see the context in which they do their work,” Nodem said. “The UN is talking about famine returning to that part of the world, so we’re hoping to give people some hope” that hunger there will be alleviated.

Myers said she once journeyed to South Sudan, where she visited women gathered for Bible study in a presbytery office. She recalled “how determined and committed they were to having a school in the refugee camp where they were living, because that was the future. We can learn a lot about coming together to build a better future.”

She then asked Nodem: What is your hope for the Church?

“That’s a huge question,” Nodem said. “I think my hope is the Church continues to ask the questions about who is our neighbor and what are we doing with our neighbors? We must understand how we are all connected. I pray we will keep asking the hard questions and digging down, because we still have a lot of hard work to do.”

Between Two Pulpits airs at 1 p.m. Eastern Time most Mondays on the Facebook page of Special Offerings. Watch previous episodes here.


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