Fighting colonialism and poverty globally through the Joining Hands initiative

By Eileen Schuhmann, and Valery Nodem | Presbyterian Hunger Program

*This article was originally published in the PHP Post Spring 2021/Matthew 25 Edition

Artisanal miner in Lubumbashi transporting bags of cobalt from the mining pits to be processed before transportation. They do very hard work and are exposed to a lot of risks, usually for very little pay. Photo by Valery Nodem.

In our international work, the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP) is in many ways working with partners to remedy the past injustices that are the legacy of colonialism, as well as to fight the current day injustices of neocolonial policies and practices.

Colonialism was a system based on occupation, domination, and exploitation of people, land and resources. “[T]he impacts of colonialism were similar, regardless of the specific colonizer: disease; destruction of indigenous social, political, and economic structures; repression; exploitation; land displacement; and land degradation.”[i]

Many former colonies are current day extractive economies, where their natural resource wealth in the form of metals, minerals, oil, gas, timber and cash crops is extracted by foreign corporations and exported to wealthy countries. These former colonies, rich in natural resources, tend to have some of the worst development outcomes in terms of poverty, inequality and disadvantage.

Local populations suffer from what is often called the “resource curse,” receiving minimal benefits from the extractive operations while enduring the brunt of its consequences.

Many of our Joining Hands partners are working to defend the rights of frontline communities within extraction zones who have had their environment and health polluted, been forcibly displaced from their lands and fallen into deeper poverty.

Most of these extractive projects are implemented without respecting international law and the principle of free, prior and informed consent as a basic right for Indigenous people, meant to ensure their self-determination and participation in decision making.

Much of Joining Hands’ work is to ensure that communities understand the decisions that are being made without their consent, how those decisions could impact their futures, and understand what their rights are and how to amplify their voices.

In the spirit of the Matthew 25 vision, with the focus on healing global systems of oppression, PHP has for years been actively engaged in accompanying our partners’ efforts to dismantle remnants of colonialism in their countries and communities. Joining Hands brings together partner networks in seven countries with congregations and presbyteries in the United States to look together at the immense troubles we all face on a small planet and pull together in prayer, research, repentance, and in a process of mutual transformation that reflects our shared commitment to global peace and justice. Through local, national and international campaigns, Joining Hands networks address issues that cause and maintain people in poverty.

Red Uniendo Manos Peru (Joining Hands Peru) has been organizing mining communities to advocate for specialized health care and environmental remediation in La Oroya, Peru, and throughout the country. La Oroya is one of the 10 most contaminated cities in the world due to contamination from a metallurgical smelter that used to be owned and operated by a U.S. corporation.

And just this April, a new law for specialized environmental health care in response to mining contamination was passed in Peru. This was the work of the National Platform for Environmental Health organized by the Red Uniendo Manos Peru. This initiative is rooted in the last decade of work by the Red in La Oroya.

The advocacy of POM (Joining Hands Democratic Republic of Congo) and its partners led to a change in the mining laws of the Democratic Republic of Congo that has resulted in millions in mining royalties and profits being invested in communities impacted by mining, with the communities themselves making the decisions on their development priorities and how best to allocate the funds.

RELUFA (Joining Hands Cameroon) was successful in pressuring the Cameroon government to scale back a large land concession made to an American company, Herakles Farms Inc., from 76,000 hectares of rainforest to 19,000 hectares. The company was to set up an expansive palm oil plantation, reducing farmers to indentured servants on their own land, working for minimal pay producing food for export rather than for household consumption.

Changing systems of oppression takes time, effort and persistence. Through Joining Hands, we have learned that issues that our partners face overseas are also very relevant in the United States. If your congregation/presbytery is ready to engage more deeply, whether by addressing U.S. policies that maintain global systems of oppression, reviewing mission network relationships or expanding your knowledge of systemic poverty in a globalized world, then visit our blog Together for Justice ( and contact Valery Nodem ( The Matthew 25 vision invites global solidarity, which is key to reimagine and create a better world where all have life in fullness.

[i] Campbell, P. J., MacKinnon, A., & Stevens, C. R. (2010). An introduction to global studies. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell. P.37.

The work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program is possible thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.


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