Building Bridges of Solidarity with the One, Human Family

Joan Neal Features

For the next 40 days, Catholics all over the world will forgo chocolate, TV or some other indulgence as a way to focus on their relationship with Jesus. This year, I would like to invite you to enrich your personal and parish penitential experience by praying, fasting, learning and giving through Operation Rice Bowl, Catholic Relief Services’s (CRS) annual Lenten program for individuals, families, parishes, schools and other groups.

Through Operation Rice Bowl, those of us in America can connect with the millions of people around the world who suffer from hunger and poverty. We can learn about the root causes of their hunger, share their experience by fasting in solidarity and by preparing and eating a traditional dish from one of the featured countries. Finally, we can do our part to alleviate world hunger by giving a portion of our financial resources. Through Operation Rice Bowl, we can understand our call to be a part of the one global community, and we can all help to create a world of compassion, action and justice. Here are some stories from the 2006 Operation Rice Bowl Program.

In Kenya, Anna Akinyi and her husband work on their farm in Homa Bay. They did not grow enough food beyond what they ate to earn money for other household expenses. Through her participation in a small loan program supported by CRS for farming families, Mrs. Akinyi is now operating a small shop at the market near her home. With this money, she has paid back her initial loan and has the extra money to pay tuition for her children’s education, as well as save for the future. Mrs. Akinyi shows us what is possible when we show compassion for the needs of our brothers and sisters.

In Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Minh lives with her son Trong, who suffers from Down’s Syndrome. In the past, many local schools would not accept children with disabilities, because they were unable to provide the extra care these children needed. Working with the National Institute for Education Strategies and Curriculum, CRS helped create training and resources to make it possible to include children with disabilities in classroom and school activities. Best of all, Trong’s classmates, teachers and parents worked hard to help Trong adjust and now he has graduated to the next grade level with the students from his class. Mr. and Mrs. Thi Minh and their community teach us that action is a powerful way to make the world better, whether it is for one little boy or a nation.

In Nicaragua, Mari Antonio Blandon Guillen and her family are coffee farmers in Las Nubes. A few years ago, she was selling her coffee for 8 cents per pound. In fact, coffee farmers often receive as little as 1% of the cost of a triple skim latte you and I buy at the corner shop. However, she is now part of a coffee cooperative that participates in the CRS Fair Trade Program and recently sold her coffee for $1.25 per pound. By working together, these farmers are able to receive a fairer price for their crops, which allow them to feed their families, send their children to school, and provide for their needs year round. Mrs. Guillen is a great example of how working for justice can make a difference.

This Lent, it is my hope that we can continue to work together to promote global solidarity and help create a world that embodies the ideals of compassion, action and justice. May our prayers during Lent help us to achieve our goals and give hope to all those who are suffering.

Joan Neal is the Vice President of U.S. Operations for Catholic Relief Services. She oversees Operation Rice Bowl and the agency’s other domestic programs.