We’ve made you angry, so now what?

By Cindy Corell | Mission Co-worker, Joining Hands Haiti
Haitian woman holding oranges

Madame St. Pierre of Trou du Nord, Haiti, talks about the cost of small oranges. After the family lost its small farm to a corporate plantation in 2013, even small purchases at the market are expensive. Photo by Cindy Corell.

The man sat in the Fellowship Hall growing angrier by the minute. I continued explaining how foreign countries dumping cheap imported food into Haiti made it all but impossible for Haitian farmers to sell their local foods at market. Cheap rice from the U.S. sells quickly. Better quality, and more expensive rice from the Artibonite Valley of Haiti — not so much.

People in the audience shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. The angry man scowled. Then I moved on to talk about how corporations are taking land from small stakeholder farmers to build for-profit plantations and industrial zones. I showed a photograph of Madame St. Pierre standing at the door of her family’s small home and explained that she too lost her home when a corporation wanted the land for a plantation.

The angry man could take it no more:

“Who is taking this woman’s land?” he shouted out. “And what are we going to do about it?”

Madame St. Pierre of Trou du Nord, Haiti, had another fierce advocate.

I hadn’t expected to motivate someone to take action so quickly, but then this work as a facilitator for a Joining Hands network often guides me to passionate advocates for justice.

What do you do again? I get that question a lot.

In a nutshell, we Joining Hands facilitators, working through the Presbyterian Hunger Program(PHP), serve as bridges between networks of grassroots organizations in a handful of countries and presbyteries and congregations in the U.S. The networks plan advocacy campaigns based on issues they’ve identified as systemic causes of poverty.

And our network in Haiti, called FONDAMA, a Haitian Creole acronym for the Haiti Hands Together Foundation, is building a campaign to promote Haitian farmers – like the St. Pierre family – and help protect them from foreign food imports and land-grabbing.

In Peru, my colleague Jed Koball, the Joining Hands facilitator with Red Uniendo Manos Peru, the network in Peru, works with congregations to understand how mining extraction has polluted a rural community called La Oroya. The pollution has harmed children’s health and development. Over several years, working with other civil society groups, the network helped pressure the government of Peru to strengthen and enforce environmental laws that protect the people and the land.

Due to the more stringent environmental regulations, in 2009, Doe Run Peru, which owned and operated the metal smelter in La Oroya, closed down operations for the metal smelter in La Oroya and then in 2010, The Renco Group, Inc., the U.S. based parent organization for Doe Run Peru, sued the government of Peru for lost profits under the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement. And just last week, a panel from the World Bank dismissed the claim.

So a series of campaigns to protect the health of a community and its environment has taken several years – and likely will take many more. The good news is that the network in Peru has made great strides in rooting out this primary cause of poverty and ill health and pushed for reform.

Together, as Joining Hands, we examine dire poverty and look for its root causes, which are different in different places, but have many things in common. We have organized the causes into three categories: food & land, resource extraction & the environment, and trade.

The PHP has created roundtables for each of these topics. Monthly conference calls open to people from local congregations and presbyteries tackle current events and topical issues.

The topics range from the impact of genetically modified (GMO) crops in diets and society to how the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement could affect people both in the U.S. and in other countries.

Through constant prayer and a determination to understand the complexity of systemic poverty, Presbyterians in partnership with grassroots networks have made a difference.

So where do you fit in? What can you, as a member of a congregation do to help?

Join us in a visit to a place you feel called to help.

Join our Roundtable conversations, and stay in touch with us for more details.

Join up with local campaigns happening in your regions.

Join us in prayer for all those on the margins, eking out a living in spite of these obstacles, then join us in combating the root causes of poverty around the world.

We tell the stories as we find them – of Madame St. Pierre whose families’ land was taken and of the children of La Oroya, Peru, who have been poisoned with lead due to a mining company’s profit-scheming pollution.

If these stories make you angry, join us in making a better world for all.

Check out our work at www.presbyterianmission.org/joininghands

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