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World Food Program Director on Lent

2/3/2009 - 14:37 PST

(Page 2 of 2)

billion in food directly from the developing world for our programs, helping break the cycle of poverty at its root.

School feeding programs have a strong track record of providing meals and other basic social services to children, while also ensuring they receive an education. There is perhaps no better example of school feeding programs than the ones we run in Afghanistan. There we have seen an entire generation of girls go to school for the first time, a dramatic change for a country that once forbade girls from attending school. We know that families are more likely to send their children to school if they will have a meal during the day. Worldwide, WFP’s school feeding programs increase school enrolment by 28 percent for girls, and 22 percent for boys, serving as an effective and affordable way to provide education and nutrition, while empowering women and girls.

Another exciting example of the power of the world to do good is in Gaza today. We have all heard about the humanitarian crisis. I witnessed it with my own eyes just two weeks ago: people who could not pick up traditional rations due to military action, and even if they had food, could not cook it. WFP issued a call for help to the private sector to find ready-to-use, highly nutritious food for the children of Gaza. Today, fortified date bars are being delivered into Gaza, with cooperation from food companies from Egypt to the Netherlands. This is a powerful example of humanity in action with a heart of love.

We need to work together. For our side, we partner with charities and NGOs around the world to ensure that we tailor our programs to local needs. Catholic charities are key partners for the WFP. For example, WFP works with local Caritas in the dioceses of nearly 40 countries, in food-for-work, health and education programs. We also work with Catholic Relief Services, where we collaborate in 15 countries.

I met Pope Benedict and was deeply moved by his commitment and compassion for the world’s hungry. Speaking just recently, the Pope called on Governments to look to the poor, especially in our day: "We need to give new hope to the poor," he said. "How can we not think of so many individuals and families hard pressed by the difficulties and uncertainties which the current financial and economic crisis has provoked on a global scale? How can we not mention the food crisis and global warming, which make it even more difficult for those living in some of the poorest parts of the planet to have access to nutrition and water?" (Address to Diplomatic Corps, 8 January 2009). The Pope, quoting from Saint John, offers us a way forward in this year’s Lenten message: "If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet shuts up his bowels of compassion from him -- how does the love of God abide in him?" (1 John 3:17).

Many people, especially during the Lenten season, want to know how they can help. This is manifest in the Lenten message we just heard, with its challenge to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan. Humanitarian assistance is not possible without Good Samaritans stepping up to help people in need. Whether from the generous donations of national governments, or collections taken in churches, mosques and schools, donations to relief agencies are essential for continuing to reach hungry people around the world.

Shortly after joining the World Food Program, I launched the "Fill the Cup" campaign, named after the humble red plastic cup in which millions of children are served a cup of porridge for lunch. This simple meal costs only one euro a week, and can save a child’s life. We calculated that for $3 billion a year, the world can end hunger among school children. The tradition of voluntarily fasting during Lent, and giving the funds to charity, can make a real difference in a child’s life.

We also need national governments to take the lead. At this time of trillion-dollar financial rescue packages, we need a human rescue package. We have called for 0.7% of all stimulus plans to be dedicated to fighting hunger. Financial rescue packages must serve not only Wall Street and Main Street, but also the places where there are no streets.

Each one of us has a choice, to pass by those in need, or to take action to help others. This Lent, let us choose a hunger-free world.

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Lent, Easter, Food

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