There are many grassroots organizations founded by individuals with innovative ideas who seek to advocate for a common cause. For an organization to be successful, its leaders must inspire and recruit like-minded citizens in order to remain viable and work toward a common goal.
One such organization, Partners in Health (PIH), featured on CBS' 60 Minutes, is a nonprofit organization cofounded in l987 in Boston, Mass., by Dr. Paul Farmer, to provide health care needs in Cange, Haiti. The organization uses a community-based model, believing that health programs should involve community members at all levels. The 60 Minutes segment demonstrated the challenges patients and physicians are faced with in order to obtain basic health care. Like the trip to central Haiti, by way of a long and bumpy ride along unpaved roads, to visit a clinic started by Dr. Farmer in 1985 that has developed into a 100-bed hospital.
The CBS reporter interviewed a young American doctor, who walks anywhere from one to four hours, up hillsides through rocky paths and vegetation, to provide healthcare to patients in remote Haitian villages. When asked why as a Harvard graduate he chooses to work in Haiti, he responded, "I can't turn my back on this. This is my life's work."
Dr. Farmer believes that access to primary health care is a human right - PIH has expanded from Haiti to Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, the United States (Greater Boston) and Russia.
Another nonprofit grassroots organization, Bread for the World, seeks to end hunger at home and abroad. A small ecumenical group of Protestants and Catholics joined together in 1972 to reflect on how persons of faith could influence U.S. policies on the causes of hunger and by 1974, 500 people had joined their efforts in advocating for the hungry. Today they have nearly 60,000 members.
According to Bread, more than 854 million people in the world go hungry. In developing countries nearly 10 million children under age 5 die every year from preventable and treatable causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition. In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in nine households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.
Recent worldwide catastrophic events have captured the headlines; hundreds of thousands have died in cyclones, earthquakes, and tornadoes, which have galvanized relief organizations into action to help alleviate human suffering. The general public is very generous in providing donations of food, clothing, medicine and money. Yet nearly every three seconds, a child under 5 dies because he or she is simply too poor to survive. Chronic food insecurity compromises the human immune system, contributing to the staggering numbers of children who die each year.
In September 2000, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders agreed to a set of time-bound and measurable goals and targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women. These goals have been established as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be achieved by the year 2015.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations states that, "Civil society can bring about change by putting pressure on all areas of government and assisting vulnerable groups to empower themselves to claim their rights and access to recourse mechanisms. The strengthening and networking of local community and advocacy groups over the past decade is one of the most promising developments in the struggle against hunger. Improved public understanding of human rights in general and the right to food in particular help individuals and communities to participate in making decisions that affect their food security situation." (http://www.fao.org)
The advocacy groups, Partners in Health (www.pih.org) and Bread for the World (www.bread.org), promote community based programs, which assist local communities in investing in agriculture, education and healthcare. In its 2008 Offering of Letters Campaign, Bread is urging Congress to provide more funding for effective anti-poverty assistance, as well as urging passage of the Global Poverty Act, which will encourage better coordination of U.S. policies and programs, improving our country's efforts to fight poverty and hunger around the world.
President Bush has asked lawmakers to fund an additional $70 billion dollars to fund U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total war funding to $875 billion since September 2001. According to the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 63 percent of Americans say the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq.
As an individual I choose to support advocacy groups, such as PIH and Bread, by lobbying my legislators to spend tax dollars and pass legislation that will support a culture of life here in the U.S. and throughout the world.
• Fresh Ideas: Starting conversations by sharing personal perspectives on timely and timeless issues. Elizabeth Reville is a freelance writer and resident of Carson City.