All posts by Steve Sheppard

Steve is CEO of the Winds of Peace Foundation

What Would You Do?

SCS[1] I mentioned in my last entry here that I had become infected with a serious disease, and that I was certainly not resting very comfortably during this holiday season.  The infection has been an attack on my conscience, my sense of justice, my very soul, as I come to terms to with the utter shame that we have brought upon ourselves in the face of a pandemic that grips our world.  it’s not the swine flu.  It’s hunger and starvation.  In the ninety minutes during which I sat at Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday, more than 1,500 people around the world died of hunger or hunger-related disease.  Preventable. Stoppable.  Shameful.

So in my fever I try to imagine what to do, how to get my arms around this infection that won’t leave me alone, how to know how I should act.  Do I ignore the symptoms and hope that they go away?  Should I be asking for some magic pill?   Is this something my chiropractor or some other doctor can fix?  More likely, is there some sort of home remedy?  These questions lead me to this blog entry and those to follow in the days to come.  In search of answers for my own disease, I wonder what others would do?  And so I have decided to pose the question in hopes of obtaining real answers or, at least, spurring your own thinking sufficiently to inoculate you against the worst of the infection’s symptoms: apathy.   I hope you can help me get better.

What if the world was much smaller than it is today, and that the entire population numbered only 100?  This is one of the questions raised by the anti-poverty organization, One.  It has compiled some interesting statistics about our imaginary world demographics.  For instance, of our one-hundred people, eighty would live in substandard housing.  Fifty would be malnourished.  Thirty-three would have no access to safe water.   Thirty-three would be living on only 3% of the total wealth of the world; five people would control 33% of it.  One person would have AIDS.  And one of us would be dying from starvation. 

In such a world, the chances are pretty good that you know each and every member of it.  (Think of your current circle of friends and acquaintances; it’s probably greater than a hundred people.)  And with such a familiarity, the face of that starving individual is known to you.  The individual is known to you.  You see all that he/she is, all that he/she can be.  And you experience his/her pain because he/she is one of you.   So here is the first of my questions: what would you be willing to do? 

It’s not a philosophical or theoretical question.  It’s life-and-death in the moment even if we choose not to see it.  We are collectively insulated from much of the world’s hunger because it is buried in statistics that have no names or faces.  But when we are forced to confront it in the face of a friend or family member, hunger takes on a much different meaning: there is almost nothing we would not do to feed a starving friend; you know that you have sufficient food for both of you. 

In reality, of course, the world is far bigger than one hundred souls.  But then, the world’s resources are more plentiful than in our fictional example, too.  In both cases, the resources are sufficient to feed the hungry, and therein lies the shame.  How do the remaining ninety-nine survivors in our example look at one another in the eye after one of us has died without cause, within our capacity to have helped?Buculmay

My own exposure to this disease has been heightened by numerous visits to a very unhealthy place, Nicaragua.  But the main threat from disease there is not malaria or dengue fever.  It’s the disquieting realization that hunger is taking the energy and life from people without cause.  Some are people I have been getting to know.   That’s a disease which can create irreparable harm to one’s heart….

It’s a very real question worth pondering, especially during this season of thanks and giving:  what would you do?

Enough!

I had the inspiring and infuriating experience of reading Roger Thurow’s book, Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, as well as hearing him speak, all within the past week.  If you dare to read his work and hear his stories, be prepared to become infected with “a disease of the soul,” as he describes it.

ThurowRoger Thurow is an award-winning jounalist for the Wall Street Journal who has compiled very personal, human stories of hunger which he and his co-author, Scott Kilman, have chronicled over the years from their visits to some of the poorest areas in the world.   Their book is an intense and enraging collection of contributions to WSJ over recent years, stories of famine, suffering, bureaucracy, self-interests and starvation in an age when food is sufficient to feed the world.  It is also an inspiring work, holding up the actions of heroic individuals who will never be known to us nor noted in the passing of the human parade; the work puts very human faces on people who are too often thought of as statistics in far-away lands.  And the authors give us, in the end, hope and calls to action for ending perhaps the greatest shame of human history: our complicit involvement in the unnecessary deaths of 25,000 people every day from hunger or hunger-related disease.

Thurow visited Luther College in Decorah, Iowa to participate in the Upper Midwest Global Poverty Conference on November 21, sponsored by the Luther College One Campaign.  His keynote talk contained many of the stories and much of the wrenching reality of hunger, especially as experienced on the African continent.  As he delved into his experiences, the volume and timbre of his voice changed as the recollections of people met and lives lost became resurrected in his consciousness.  This is a man who has felt the personal loss of individuals whom he has known and cared about.  And he is tormented by the needless loss of human life that held so much potential for good in this world.  As any of us would be, if we just allowed ourselves to truly know this scourge. 

There are many books written about the tragedy of hunger on this planet.  Many posit the enormity of the issue and the numbers of the afflicted.  Few, however, have the ability to reach into the depths of our own conscience and sense of human responsibility as this one.  I encourage and dare anyone to confront this book. 

I am ill tonight, with an infection in my own soul.  But I hope and pray to become better….

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Games People Play

Political maneuvering is a human deficit that knows no boundaries, to be sure.  East or West, rich country or poor, man or woman, pale or of color, elected or pundit, left or right, the condition infects us like a virus that has no cure.  Presently, I’m not sure whether I’m more discouraged at the discourse heard within the U.S., where I live, or the antics of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, where I work.    Take your pick.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Click to see an enlarged picturepelosi.jpg Nancy Pelosi image by edwhitejr

If you scrutinize the U.S., you already recognize the issues: health care reform, economic repair, reasons for war, who has influence, our priorities.  Hardly a day passes anymore without some new outrage over postures, slurs and behaviors which, if they were to take place in our schools, might even warrant dismissal or even arrest.  And if you scrutinize some of the latest news from Nicaragua, the behaviors and gamesmanship are at least as disappointing.

For economic reasons, government offices in Managua have been closing at 1:00 P.M. each day.  The officials leave their offices for whatever other endeavors they may have, whether personal or political, but the machinery grinds to a halt.  Keep this in mind.

The empty-office circumstance was not lost on the administration of President Daniel Ortega, who has been maneuvering since his re-election in 2007 to create a change in the election rules of the constitution, to allow him to run for office once again at the end of this term.  He hasn’t been able to capture enough votes in the national assembly for such a drastic change, so he filed the equivalent of a civil rights complaint against the government, claiming that the constitutional edict violates his rights, essentially preventing the population from voting for whoever they want as president.  To press his claim, he needed to present it to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court.  When they reviewed his case, they ruled that a similar issue had already been decided by the court some years ago, and that they would not hear it again.

Now, remember the closed offices?  Late one afternoon in October, long after most offices had been vacated for the day, the Sandinista judges (those loyal to Mr. Ortega) announced a special gathering of the court to review once again the President’s claim.  They served notice to the other judges by sliding the meeting announcements under the vacant office doors.  When it was clear that the more liberal judges would not be present at the court gathering, their chairs were filled temporarily with other Sandinista judges and the outcome, as you might readily guess, was unanimously in favor of Mr. Ortega’s claim.  End result?  He is free to run for the presidency once again, as proclaimed by no less than the “Supreme Court.”  The liberal judges have proclaimed the pronouncement a fraud, and they might have been able to make a good case of it, but for their own use of the very same ploy several years ago on a different issue.

The ultimate losers in these maneuvers are the poor and disenfranchised, shouldering the effects of still more dysfunction and short-sighted self-service.  Is it nonsense?  Of course.  The action even threatens Nicaragua’s recognition as a democratic nation under Organization of American States agreements.  But it’s a graphic example of how people’s character is oftentimes corrupted by the lure and practice of power.  Not unlike what we experience here in the United States, where it has become increasingly more difficult to find leaders in either political party who are not a part of the destructive and dirty games people play. 

We truly ARE more like one another than we are different….

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Winds of Peace to Co-Sponsor 2010 Peace Prize Forum

Winds of Peace Foundation will be one of the co-sponsors for the 2010 Peace Prize Forum, to be held at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.  This marks the third time that the Foundation has co-sponsored the event over its 20-year history. 

The 2010 Forum will recognize the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisarri.   Ahtisaari  is a former President of Finland and United Nations diplomat and mediator, noted for his international peace work.  Ahtisaari was a UN Special Envoy at the Kosovo status process negotiations, aimed at resolving a long-running dispute in Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. In October 2008 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts”.The Nobel statement said that Ahtisaari has played a prominent role in resolving many conflicts in Namibia, Indonesia, Kosovo and Iraq, among other areas.

In addition to its sponsorship of the Forum, Winds of Peace has also been active in having representatives speak at the annual gatherings, having made presentations at three different Forums: in 1994 Steve Sheppard spoke at St. Olaf College about the Foundation-initiated program “Cross-Boundaries,” which funded travel seminar opportunities to Third World destinations through The Center for Global Education; the Cross-Boundaries program was presented along with a bit more history and results in 1996 at Luther College; in 2008, Mark Lester, Field Director for WPF, and Steve Sheppard, now its CEO, co-presented at Concordia College on the topic of “Microlending in Nicaragua.”

Biting A Hand That Feeds

vilchez[1]One of the truly unanticipated things to have evolved in Nicaragua over recent months is the strange case of the “no-payer’s movement.”  This is a relatively small but vocal and visible group which has begun protesting against the Microcredit Finance Institutions (MFIs) which took a risk and loaned money to them.   Citing what they see as unfair loan terms and usurious interest rates, the movement participants even received a boost from President Daniel Ortega when he exhorted them to take their protests off the streets and move to the offices of the MFIs.  Sensing administration support, the protesters became more confrontational in their demeanor, in one case even firebombing one of the MFIs. 

This has had the immediate impact of some MFIs pulling out of Nicaragua for the safety of Mvt no pago CSJ[1]their people and their funding.  Naturally, it didn’t take too long for the government to realize that it was alienating a fairly important source of funds within the country, and it began the attempt to attract some of the departed organizations back to Nicaragua.  The President spoke publicly once again on the topic, this time to encourage all borrowers to make good on their debts and to thereby demonstrate the country’s attitude toward meeting its obligations.  The movement receded for a while in the face of this about-face from Mr. Ortega, but it never went away.  Now it has surfaced with a vigor which is intimidating and worrisome.  Their protests prevent employees from gaining access to offices while keeping customers away from sourcing assistance.  If the local police are present at all, they seem indifferent to the activities.

It’s a counter-intuitive movement, this backlash against some of the very institutions which have provided the greatest amount of financial help to some of the highest-risk borrowers.  It may be fueled by outsiders who seek to undermine any and all financial institutions, or by those who simply sense an opportunity to avoid repayment of a debt.  But whatever the genesis, it’s a potentially crippling movement which can only hurt the already difficult circumstances of the rural poor in Nicaragua. 

In response, a consortium of twenty-four finance providers working within Nicaragua published the following statement in both of Nicaragua’s major newspapers on September 22.  Their sense of confusion and concern is evident:

COMMUNIQUE FROM THE INTERNATIONAL PROVIDERS OF FINANCING FOR MICRO AND SMALL ENTERPRISE

ASOMIF[1]We, the economic and social development institutions who provide financial resources for the strengthening of urban and rural micro and small enterprises in Nicaragua, including private investors, international banks, international NGOS and foundation, are watching with enormous concern the ongoing deterioration of the investment climate in the country, because of the actions undertaken by a small group of debtors know as the “non payers movement” who are attempting, through measures of force that alter the public and constitutional order, to NOT honor their commitments made to the financial institutions (banks, microfinance organizations) that are benefiting more than a million Nicaraguans in the countryside and the cities.

We urge the Government of Nicaragua, the National Police, the Judicial Branch and the other organizations ensuring social peace to redouble their efforts to protect respect for the judicial order, provide security to the officials of the financial institutions and their installations, and to protect the rights of all citizens.

We reiterate our commitment to continue the support offered for the economic development of Nicaragua and we join our voices to the clamor of the affected entities and their responsible clients, asking the State to ensure legal security so as to not put at risk the flow of financing for this industry which has benefited so much the most needy part of the population throughout the years.

Managua, Nicaragua, September 22, 2009

 

Winds of Peace was not a co-signer of the statement since we were unaware of its development.  But in following up with the authors of the article, we have affirmed both our concerns and the seriousness of the movement.  And now there is said to be a legislative bill coming before the government which would tightly control the activities of MFIs, effectively driving them out of the country.  While there may be very small chance that it passes as law, the initiative is further basis for concern.  Undoubtedly, we have not heard the last of this movement and its implications….

Always Making A Difference

I’m delighted to share the following announcement about Jack and Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer and a very deserved recognition planned for them.  Sara is a member of the Winds of Peace Advisory Committee and as one can readily discern from the brief biography presented here she brings a valuable perspective to that work.  All staff and volunteers of Winds of Peace Foundation offer their warmest congratulations to Sara and Jack and look forward to their continuing work in the interest of peace and justice globally.

 

October 6, 2009

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Jack & Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer to receive

2009 Hawkinson Peace & Justice Award

Former U.S. Senate candidate Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and his wife Sara have been selected to receive the 2009 Honorary Award of the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Jack, 58, is an associate professor of justice and peace studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. Sara, 53, is executive director of the Center for Families in north Minneapolis and serves on the advisory committee of the Winds of Peace Foundation.

Given annually to individuals demonstrating long-term dedication to furthering peace and social justice, the Honorary Award will be presented on Sunday, November 8, 3 p.m., at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 2730 East 31st Street, Minneapolis. Also receiving the Honorary Award are medical missionaries Helmut and Rotraut Diefenthal of Moshi, Tanzania. The presentation is open to the public.

“Jack and Sara share a profound commitment to improving the world. They are exemplary models of peacemaking through action and it is our honor to recognize their years of dedicated service,” said Deon Stuthman, chair of the board of directors of the Hawkinson Foundation, established in 1988 to honor the late Rev. Vincent L. Hawkinson, a peace and justice advocate and late pastor of Grace University Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

Previous Hawkinson Honorary Award recipients have included Mulford Q. Sibley, Polly Mann, Marianne Hamilton, Stanley and Martha Platt, Joel Mugge, Arthur and Martha Sternberg, Eleanor Otterness, Louise Pardee, Larry Cloud Morgan, Joseph Schwartzberg, Marv Davidov, Lynn Elling, Eleanor and John Yackel, Brigid McDonald, Jane McDonald, Kate McDonald and Rita McDonald, Donald Irish, Gene and Mary Lou Ott, Luther Granquist, Marie and John Braun, Ralph and Kay Hilgendorf, Lowell and Carol Erdahl, Arvid “Bud” Dixen, Rhoda Gilman and Betsy Raasch-Gilman.

About Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, M.Div., is a nationally recognized teacher, writer, public speaker and activist academic whose life and work over the past 30 years has focused on addressing the political, economic, faith and foreign policy dimensions of hunger and poverty. He is a graduate of St. Olaf College, where he majored in political science. He earned a master of divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. His master’s thesis was on the topic of world poverty and was the basis for his first book, Hunger for Justice: The Politics of Food and Faith. He is the author of numerous articles and a dozen books on hunger, poverty, U.S. foreign policy, the historical Jesus and problems of God and violence, some of which have been used by progressive social change movements in this country and throughout the world.

From 1977 to 1981, Jack served as national program coordinator of the Politics of Food Program with Clergy & Laity Concerned, and directed the Minnesota-based Hunger and Justice Project for the American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Church in America for the following two years. He has long been active in the national movement to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas (recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), which has been linked to human rights atrocities.

In 2006, Jack brought his commitment to peacemaking into the realm of formal politics when he challenged the incumbent Martin Sabo in the 5th Congressional District. In 2008, he sought DFL endorsement for the U.S. Senate. At the University of St. Thomas, where he is an associate professor of justice and peace studies, he teaches courses including Active Nonviolence and Theologies of Justice and Peace.

About Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer

Sara Nelson-Pallmeyer graduated from the University of Minnesota with a major in biology. From 1984 to 1986, she and Jack served as co-directors of the Center for Global Education’s house of studies in Managua, Nicaragua. Sara went on to hold various positions, including associate director, at the Center for Global Education. She then worked as family services manager at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity from 1996 until 2005, when she assumed her current position as director of the Center for Families. She serves on the advisory committee of the Winds of Peace Foundation and is on the board of Congregations Caring for Creation.

The Nelson-Pallmeyers are active in the faith-based Community of St. Martin and are members

of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. They have three daughters.

Where the Butterflies Sing

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “A butterfly is lovely by itself.  But where several fly together there exists a flurry of  color and motion sensuous to the eye.  And where butterflies gather in number, one can also hear them singing songs of exquisite joy.”  When I watch monarchs gathering at this time of year for their annual migration to Mexico, I always listen a little bit harder to hear the music of their flurried wings.

 

banner_umoys[1] I imagine the music coming from the recent celebration of women in rural Nicaragua might have rivaled that of the butterflies, because the women certainly did gather together in a big way.  Some of the poorest women from the municipality of Matagalpa came together to celebrate the Union of Organized Women of Yasica Sur (UMOYS).  They come from over 22 communities, many of them miles away from each other.  And for the past seven years they have been growing their network of members, finding their voices, advocating for themselves and their families, This is a union of very rural, very poor women who have formed a network of activists that would be impressive in any location.  Their objective is clear: to be heard.  By the governments and agencies that make decisions about their lives, by the communities in which they live, and by their families and neighbors.  It’s a tough thing to do for any group of people.  But when the prospective participants are scattered about the countryside, with almost no means of transportation, with few funds available, and from a culture which historically has not supported women’s active involvement in community and civic affairs, then to accomplish what these women have done is extraordinary.

Last month, more than 2,000 members of this network gathered  to recognize and celebrate their achievements, their influence, crowd_shot_umoys[1] their existence and their voices within their communities.  They came together as an affirmation of their collaborative work in advocating for women’s issues, lobbying for environmentally safe water practices to protect their streams, creating housing opportunities for members who have none, and demanding that their concerns be heard and Ethelvina_Escorcia,_Coord_of_UMOYS[1]considered by those in positions to make decisions.  They have evolved into a grassroots lobbying consortium that has created not only positive community changes, but an immense increase in the self-esteem and confidence of these women.  Nearly all of the members are uneducated and inexperienced at such an undertaking, but they have grown into their roles with persistence and courage.  Seeing 2,000 of them come together is a particularly moving scene, considering the obstacles that they must face. What a proud moment for people like Ethelvina Escorcia, current Coordinator of the Women of UMOYS!

Of course, one of the major drivers of this initiative is the children.  The women recognize that for things to change in their communities and the in the attitudes which are found there, changes have to include the children.  And the kids are learning best kids_at_UMOYS_anni[1]by observing the strength of these women and the impacts that they are able to effect in their communities.  An event like this annual gathering reinforces not only the improvements that have been brought about, but also provides a visual affirmation of the strength of these women and their collaborative efforts.  What the children see and experience in such a celebration are images that will stay with them throughout the year; over time, such views of the women’s power and influence becomes an accepted fact of life.  But clearly what they see at this celebration is an important piece of their own future attitudes and development,  male and female alike.

The Union is one which has been supported by Winds of Peace almost since its inception, through our partner organization PRODESSA.  This NGO brings an absolute social science to their work with their rural partners, encouraging and guiding the rural participants to come to their own conclusions about their needs and the best way to address those needs.  PRODESSA attempts to teach about collective decision-making, communication and how to draw the skills and talents out of the participants.  It’s a facilitative group that does some of the best development work that I’ve seen, and I was pleased to see members of crowd_shot_with_Rolando_UMOYS[1]

Alfredo_Dir_of_PRODESSA_at_UMOYS_7th_ann[1]

PRODESSA so  prominently featured in the celebration.  The photo at right includes Rolando (in the blue shirt in the foreground), the Executive Director of PRODESSA, who also made an address to the gathered particicpants. The gray-shirted gentleman in the left photo is Alfredo, a director of PRODESSA and a frequent contact for us.  (See the May 18, 2008 entry to this blog site for an earlier reference to Alfredo and PRODESSA.)

While I was not in Nicaragua to be able to attend this celebration, Mark Lester did attend and came away hugely impressed by the excitement and energy generated by these women, their commitment and their cause.  It’s one of the success stories from the rural corners of Nicaragua and worth noting, especially at a time of so much discouragement. 

It strikes me that the human spirit evident here is like those Monarch butterflies and their joyous songs when they come together for autumn flight….                   monarch-butterfly-full

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cross-Boundaries

I frequently discover unexpected overlap between my Winds of Peace life and that of the employee-ownership community.  One such occasion occurred this past week as I prepared to address a business audience in Houston, Texas.  The topic of presentation was “Leading In Tough Times,” and the implication  was that perhaps there are some special tactics that leaders might use in times such as these, some magic that can somehow alleviate or at least reduce the pain of the current economic reality.  In preparation, I polled a number of experienced people from within The ESOP Association community, collecting wisdom from a wide range of perspectives and circumstances.  And I arrived at an interesting conclusion: that virtually nothing in what I heard was particularly new or unfamiliar.  The basic tenets of good ESOP company management which we’ve learned over the past couple of decades- broad participation, organizational transparency, open-book management, continuous improvement methodology, constant teaching and learning- still constitute the very best strategies for survival.  Aside from the management wisdom of this, I think there’s another reason for these survival techniques to have emerged.

These issues transcend management and employee ownership and profitability.  They represent response to universal human needs, not simply desires.  They are the same needs that I encounter in working with our partner organizations in Nicaragua.  Human beings function at their full capacity when they are invested in their day-to-day lives, when they know the truth, when they understand personally and clearly what they must do to create desired outcomes, when they are given the latitude and process to use what they know.  When human beings are provided the opportunity to learn, they also teach, and the chances for fulfillment are multiplied exponentially.  This is how the human creature thrives and why the strategies articulated by my ESOP contacts are so fundamentally true. 

It’s true in companies and organizations everywhere, Nicaragua or the U.S.   As Winds of Peace continues its work in Nicaragua, we’ll make it a priority to never forget the truth of those human needs.  Managers of companies and political leaders of nations can attempt to bend the truth of these universal needs, but they won’t subvert the reality of them.