Religious Leaders Fight Malnutrition
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After months of planning, everything was in place. On February 1, more than 40 religious leaders from denominations and relief organizations around the country filled Bread for the World’s conference room in Washington, DC. The goal? To build the advocacy voice of church leaders for improved nutrition for mothers and children, especially during the crucial 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday.
Taking the Next Steps
The meeting was part of Bread’s ongoing work to highlight the importance of nutrition, particularly during this 1,000-day window in a child’s life. Last October, Bread hosted a delegation of U.S. church leaders who visited Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania to meet with government officials, regional staff of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) offices, and leaders of faith-based organizations working to improve nutrition in these countries. Now, those leaders—along with others in Bread’s conference room—were ready to take the next step.
“Our presence at this meeting was a continuing response to the exhortation to take care of the ‘least of these’—a moral and religious responsibility and privilege—as we partner with Christ,” said Claudette Reid, a coordinator for women’s ministries at the Reformed Church in America.
Later in the day, Reid and others met with leaders at the U.S. State Department and USAID to push for a stronger commitment to nutrition in U.S. development assistance and food aid. Reid did the same thing during her meeting with Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY). Reid said Lowey’s staff representative, Erin Kolodjeski, emphasized that faith communities are key to their work. “We bring life to the data and statistics they already have in abundance,” Reid said.
A growing number of denominational women’s groups are also creating a church women’s voice for reducing child malnutrition. “Women of Faith for the 1,000 Days Movement,” led by Nancy Neal, Bread’s associate for denominational women’s organization relations, includes women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Women, Church Women United, National Council of Catholic Women, and the Women’s Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, among others.
To help raise awareness and encourage action, the women are pledging as groups and as individuals to have 1,000 conversations in 1,000 days about maternal and child nutrition. So far, countless conversations have taken place and thousands have been pledged. Women are sharing over cups of coffee, at dinner parties, at the grocery store, in church forums, in women’s circle meetings, and in blogs. To learn more, visit www.bread.org/1000days and the group’s Facebook page.
“We must continue to put pressure on our government to improve nutrition for women and children during the critical 1,000-day window. To do that, we need to spread the word,” said Neal. “We should pledge to have conversations so we can count them and tell our members of Congress about them. We need to create a buzz so members of Congress know this is an important issue among their constituents.”
Other Bread staff members have also highlighted the 1,000 Days initiative in their work, including Derrick Boykin, who is part of African American Voices for Africa, a project started by Bread that advocates for changing policies, programs, and conditions that allow poverty, hunger, and disease to persist in Africa. He has written and spoken about the initiative in religious and secular publications and during radio tours throughout the country.
Focusing on adequate nutrition is also part of our 2012 Offering of Letters campaign. Throughout the year, we’re urging members of Congress to protect funding for programs that benefit hungry and poor people, including nutrition programs. For example, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), helps millions of mothers and their children in the United States receive food that supplies nutrients many lack in their diets. The Food for Peace Program is another effort that supports maternal, infant, and child nutrition programs around the world.
It’s critical that these programs be protected. Write or talk with your members of Congress and ask them to form a circle of protection around programs that support nutrition in the 1,000-day window—programs such as WIC, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Feed the Future, and the Global Health Initiative.
You can find more information about these and other programs on our Offering of Letters campaign website. For more background on the global and domestic efforts under way to scale up nutrition, see “Nutrition and Health: Strengthening the Connection,” in this issue.