|Church center hosts hearing on U.N. poverty goals|
Kasaine Nalangu (right) of Kenya testifies through interpreter Ene Taki at Millennium Development Goals hearings at the Church Center for the United Nations.
A UMNS photo by Joshua Wiese, Every Human Has Rights Campaign.
By Yvette Moore*
September 26, 2008 | NEW YORK (UMNS)
Worried about land rights, the effects of disease and even getting enough food to eat, women, children and human rights advocates testified on efforts to end poverty in their countries in a hearing at the Church Center for the United Nations.
A Call to Action Against Poverty—an international coalition of trade unions, faith groups and other non-governmental organizations—convened the Sept. 22-23 hearing for grassroots voices excluded from the U.N.’s Sept. 25 High Level Event on the Millennium Development Goals.
Harriett Jane Olson
A drummer’s prelude set the tone for the opening interfaith worship service in the chapel that included dramatic readings on a child’s view of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals and singing by a local children’s choir.
Harriett Jane Olson, president of the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, welcomed the standing-room-only gathering to the United Methodist Women-owned facility. "This is the place and now is the time for us to let the urgency of the Millennium Development Goals be known," Olson said. "Thank you for your commitment."
The hearing began with the words of "witnesses"—indigenous peoples, children and grassroots women—and a panel of advocates that included former Ireland President Mary Robinson voicing concerns about education, poverty and hunger, and environmental sustainability in their nations.
An Indian woman advocate said parents in her country were ready to send even their girl children to school, but lack of money and schools in rural areas hindered fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goal for universal primary education. A witness representing tenant farmers in Nepal cited lack of access to land as a major hindrance to eradication of extreme poverty and hunger in her country.
"We do not have land rights," said Sharmila Karki of Nepal’s Citizen’s Campaign for Democracy and Social Transformation. "We produce food from the land, but we do not have rights to the food."
A Masai mother from Kenya appealed to the international community for debt relief for African nations, for health initiatives on malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and for action to stem the global warming causing droughts in her country.
"We depend on our livestock," said Kasaine Nalangu of Kenya’s Narok Development Initiative. "If our animals die, we may not survive. As a mother of eight, all my children are looking to me for food, but I don’t know if I can provide it at the end of the day."
Sense of urgency
Participants shared stories of impoverished children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and raising siblings, women spending hours fetching potable water for their families, and subsistence farmers losing land to multinational agribusinesses. Their testimony stood in stark contrast to U.S. government negotiations to spend billions of dollars to bail out international banks and financial institutions—a fact that was not lost on the audience.
"We need a sense of urgency about the Millennium Development Goals because we’re talking about power, and we’re talking about political will," Robinson said. "There is never any shortage of funds to buy arms. … It’s no problem to get $700 billion to bail out financial institutions. … It’s a scandal. But our strength is in our numbers ... and our capacity to network more efficiently because of technology."
Children play alongside a sewage-filled ditch in a neighborhood near Malanje, Angola. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
U.N. Millennium Campaign Global Director Salil Shetty encouraged participants to demand that their nations meet their obligations to implement the goals. No hands went up when he asked if participants believed the goals would be fulfilled by 2015, although all hands rose when he asked if they ought to be implemented.
"That gap between the ought and the will is why we are here," Shetty said, reminding the audience of other seemingly impossible human rights victories achieved over the years because of advocates like them. "Remember, even if a little baby wants to be fed by its mother, it has to cry out loud."
In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Millennium Declaration calling for implementation of eight goals by 2015:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
- Achieve universal primary education;
- Promote gender equality and empowerment of women;
- Reduce child mortality;
- Improve maternal health;
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
- Ensure environmental sustainability; and
- Create global partnerships for development.
The Women’s Division is the national policy-making arm of the nearly 800,000-member United Methodist Women organization. Members raise nearly $20 million annually for programs to improve the lives of women, children and youth.
*Moore is executive secretary for communications for the Women’s Division.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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