Presbyterian Hunger Program launches new initiative to look at root causes of poverty

Participants asked to weigh in on charity, policies and practices

By Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
Conveners for the Presbyterian Hunger Program tables on poverty (left to right): Pamela Lupfer, Lori Hylton and Ellie Stock. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

Conveners for the Presbyterian Hunger Program tables on poverty (left to right): Pamela Lupfer, Lori Hylton and Ellie Stock. (Photo by Valéry Nodem)

Louisville—The Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP)—through its Joining Hands program—is inviting people interested in digging deeper into the root causes of poverty to join one of three roundtables focusing on global issues that create poverty and affect our global partners and the United States. The idea is to not only treat the symptoms of poverty but eradicate its causes.

“When we send funds for water wells, chickens or to cover school fees for children, it does have a big impact on lives,” said Valery Nodem, an associate with the Presbyterian Hunger Program. “But many of our partners are asking us to think deeper and work with them to identify what is actually causing poverty. As we are involved in that work, we understand that many of the issues that create or maintain people in poverty cannot be solved with charity alone. Very often they require a change of policies and practices.”

PHP, along with Presbyterian World Mission, launched the Joining Hands initiative 15 years ago at the request of global partners as an effort to improve policies and corporate practices that impact the poor and most vulnerable. The work has focused on eight countries: Bolivia, India, Peru, Sri Lanka, Cameroon, Haiti, Congo and El Salvador with four mission co-workers on site working on poverty, especially as it impacts women and children. In many of these countries where the level of corruption is high, Nodem says the ruling elite often siphons off dollars earmarked for public programs to help people.

“You can’t always resolve all of these issues with charity alone,” he said. “In situations like these, you can deal with it by addressing who is taking resources that are supposed to go to the local infrastructure and welfare.”

Global partners have identified three global issues that affect their lives and have their roots in unjust systems: Resource extraction and climate, food and land, and trade agreements. In 15 years of working with Presbyterians in the U.S., clear linkages have been established to show how these issues affect people in this country as well, and global solidarity is needed in addressing them together.

Earlier this year, three discussion tables were created to gather Presbyterians and people interested in having conversations about these systemic issues and how to address them together with partners overseas. The tables are convened by three Presbyterians: Lori Hylton (Food and Land), Pamela Lupfer (Trade) and Ellie Stock (Resource Extraction and Climate), and have already begun the conversation via webinars or conference calls.

The food and land table is looking at the rapidly changing food system and the pressure it puts on small farmers’ way of farming, ownership of seeds and access to traditional lands.

“In India, there are reports that as many as 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past ten years,” said Nodem. “Globalization and monopolies have forced farmers to buy GMO seeds and since GMO crops have become pest resistant, the farmers have no choice but to purchase companies’ herbicides. This situation trapped farmers in a cycle of debt and despair they could not escape.”

At the same time, Nodem says big corporations from Europe, Asia and the U.S. are buying more and more land overseas and growing food for export, or to turn into biofuels, further depleting resources for communities. Farmers, in turn, lose their ancestral land and their ability to support their families thus causing a new problem as they migrate to cities in search of work.

The second table focuses on trade justice. Trade agreements often exacerbate poverty in countries by imposing hardships on developing country farmers, making access to affordable medicines more difficult and constraining the kinds of policies developing country governments should enact to protect their own citizens and fight poverty.

Of particular concern to this table is the Trans Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and 11 countries in the Pacific. PHP’s global partners have argued that the six-year negotiations were kept secret from the public and the press while more than 500 corporate advisors had access to the text and the negotiations. Once it is in place, there could be long-term economic, social and environmental consequences.

Extraction and climate are the focus of the third table. Countries like Peru, Congo, Bolivia and Cameroon have suffered significant environmental damage from oil mining and gas operations that have contaminated the water, air and soil. PC(USA) partners are working to ensure the statements on profit made by the exploitation of these resources be made public so they can follow how they are being used for local development. In Peru, the Joining Hands Network Red Uniendos manos is working with communities and partner organizations to propose new regulations for companies seeking to do resource extraction business in the country.

Nodem says the three tables have generated a lot of interest. More than 200 Presbyterians have signed on to participate.

“A lot of education takes place here. We invite those who are working or have an interest in these issues to participate whether they are Presbyterian or not,” added Nodem. “It’s a good place for connections and action. We are also encouraging people to travel and see firsthand how these unjust global structures have harmed citizens in these countries. Many Presbyterians have shared how getting out of their zone of comfort has helped them to realize how these same structures affect people in the United States as well, and global solidarity is a good way to address them together.”

“This is an opportunity to engage Presbyterians on some of the most challenging and life-changing issues facing many countries today,” said Nodem. “This is a different way of doing mission and we want to make sure that everyone has a voice here.”

Those interested in joining one of the three discussion tables can contact Valéry Nodem at

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