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Photo exhibit focuses attention on hunger, poverty in Africa

 


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Photo exhibit focuses attention on hunger, poverty in Africa

Jan. 21, 2004

By Shanta Bryant Gyan*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - A photo exhibit featuring portraits of impoverished children and families in Africa is focusing attention on the continent's pressing social problem - and serving as a challenge for Americans to respond.

The exhibit, "Bread and Stones," is on display in the rotunda of the United Methodist Building at Capitol Hill. Photos were taken from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Zambia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Algeria.

James Winkler, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said the exhibit depicts the church's deep concern for hunger and poverty in Africa. He noted that some 3.4 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone have died from war and famine in less than a decade.

"It shows the faces of Africa and what happens in Africa," he said at the exhibit's Jan. 15 opening.

One photo shows a young girl of about 7 or 8 years old in tattered clothes with a broad smile and outstretched arms, yet unable to reach a loaf of bread locked in a store cabinet above her head. Another photo depicts a family of six, with melancholy expressions, standing in the foyer of their concrete home.

The Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist minister and president of Stop Hunger Now, an international aid organization, took some of the photos during visits to several African countries, where he assessed humanitarian relief needs.

Other photos were taken last October during a Board of Church and Society fact-finding trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gloria Holt, a Board of Church and Society board member from the Northern Alabama Conference, and the Rev. Eugene Winkler, a retired pastor in the Northern Illinois Conference, took those pictures.

The board delegation traveled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the request of the country's three United Methodist bishops - Fama J. Onema, Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo and Kainda Katembo. Winkler, who led the mission, said the group sought to learn more about the political and humanitarian situation in the country in order to strengthen advocacy efforts.

In the Congo, the delegation met with President Joseph Kabila, members of Parliament, church leaders and human rights advocates. The group also visited refugee camps and orphanages to observe the humanitarian situation.

Winkler said the United Methodist Church in the Congo has been an integral partner with the Congolese government in trying to end the ongoing conflict in the country. "The church stepped out and said, 'We will work with whoever will bring peace.'"

He urged the U.S. government to invest more resources in helping foster peace in the Congo. "To achieve peace in the Congo, it can't be done by spending money on weapons of mass destruction and in sending people to the moon," he said.

Board officials hope the photos from the Congo and other Africa countries will catch the attention of U.S. policymakers by putting human faces on poverty and war in Africa.

"If we see those faces up close and personal, we would not have fear, we would not have indifference," Buchanan said. "We would say, 'Yes, these are my brothers and sisters, and there's nothing we can't do on their behalf.' The thing we have to understand is that this is our family.

"We've got to care enough to share," he said. He added that in his travels to poor countries, he often uses photography to protect himself from getting too emotional.

A representative from the Christian advocacy group Bread for the World showed a video of local church efforts to overcome hunger and spoke about a 2004 campaign to fully fund the Millennium Challenge Account, a new government program to increase U.S. foreign assistance and emergency global AIDS funding without cutting other poverty-focused programs.

Bread for the World's "The Letters of Offering" encourages members of church congregations to write letters to Congress in support of anti-hunger legislation.

"It's unfair and unjust for people, especially in our world today, to ever go hungry," said Derrick L. Boykin, Bread for the World's local church outreach associate. "We have the ability and the wealth to ensure that people are fed. The United States has to take the lead."

More information on the photo exhibit is available at www.umc-gbcs.org.

*Gyan is a freelance writer based in the Washington metropolitan area.

News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

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