April 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: Dayton Daily News: U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: April 16, 2004: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: Dayton Daily News: U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

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U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

Indescribable poverty, unspeakable heartache

U.S. ambassador Tony Hall returns to Ethiopia, where 20 years ago he witnessed famine and began his tireless advocacy for the hungry

By Ellen Belcher

Dayton Daily News

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia | It was in this country 20 years ago that Tony Hall for the first time saw a child die. Actually, he saw 24 die in one morning.

Hall, then in Congress, was making his first trip on behalf of the House's Hunger Committee. Physically and spiritually shaken by the scale of death and starvation he witnessed ultimately a million people died in Ethiopia's "Great Famine" the event marked the beginning of a two-decade professional and religious journey for Hall that once again has him coming face to face with indescribable poverty and unspeakable heartache.

Hall, 62, was back in Ethiopia last week inspecting feeding programs, visiting AIDS orphans and using his bully pulpit, this time as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies.

It's a job that many people say was made for Hall, one that gives him a portfolio to travel to the poor and translate their misery to political bodies that have the power and money to feed millions.

At a health clinic and feeding center run by the Catholic order Sisters of Mercy, Hall on Tuesday talked to young mothers who walk as much as four hours twice a week to get a vitamin-rich supplemental feeding formula for their underfed, underweight babies. It's the end of this year's growing season, and families are having to stretch their already meager food portions further until the new crops are harvested. Children, as always, are the most vulnerable hours twice a week to get a vitamin-rich supplemental feeding formula for their underfed, underweight babies. It's the end of this year's growing season, and families are having to stretch their already meager food portions further until the new crops are harvested. Children, as always, are the most vulnerable.

One of the world's poorest countries, Ethiopia has a favored spot in Hall's heart because it was here that he decided how his career and his Christian faith could intersect without "wearing my religion on my sleeve."

It was here that he decided that helping to feed the hungry was both his political and religious calling.

"This is where I got inspired," Hall said. "So many of the things you do in life, and in Congress, don't count. I just felt drawn to it. I wanted to demonstrate my faith, but I didn't want to talk about it. In Ethiopia, it's where it all came together."

Among the moments that seared him in 1984 was an encounter with a doctor who had to choose each morning which half-dozen children he would try to save from starvation. Hall put on sunglasses to hide his tears as the doctor selected those children who were near enough to death that they needed treatment, but not so malnourished that he would be wasting precious medicine.

"On my first trip, I was always crying," Hall said. "I tried to do it away from people. I was supposed to be bringing hope."

Since that trip, Hall has traveled to 110 countries learning firsthand how to best feed the starving and what's needed to alleviate the hand-to-mouth existence that millions in the world endure. Hall has filled 34 journals with his eyewitness accounts of hungry children in the Congo shunned because they were deemed "witches," pregnant girls in Sierra Leone who had been raped and had their arms cuts off by guerrillas, and children eating grass in North Korea because it was the only food they had.

Conditions are better in Ethiopia today, but at a feeding center for near-death children last week, Hall watched as a girl, maybe all of 7, cradled her baby sister. "She's responsible for her sister and other children back home," an incredulous Hall said of the orphan.

Besides a staff person and government officials, Hall's delegations on these trips always include a friend who travels at personal expense. "As I kept taking these trips, they got tougher," Hall said. "We meet corrupt people. We meet people who are killers, sometimes mass killers. You can't do it alone."

Hall said he finds strength in Jesus' advice to travel with other believers, and he invites anyone who wants to come to a morning prayer session. The fellowship, he said, helps him to be "bold" when confronting dictators or making appeals on behalf of the hungry.

John Nakamura, 68, a retired California agriculture administrator and former farmer, has traveled with Hall more than a dozen times and is on this trip. He and Hall, and their wives, are "prayer partners" in Rome, where Hall now lives. Nakamura, a former Buddhist, moved to Rome to assist Hall as a volunteer. He said he can't afford to pay personally for all his expenses, so donors who are supportive of Hall's anti-hunger efforts contribute toward his travel.

Ethiopia is a very different country today than it was 1984, when shocking television images were being shown around the world of stick figures who barely appeared human. The root of the suffering was a natural disaster famine brought on by yet another of Ethiopia's cyclical droughts compounded immeasurably by man. The Marxist government at the time refused to ask the world for help, or even let it know that millions were starving. By the time the BBC captured the horrifying images, it was too late for an estimated million people.

Ultimately, the brutal dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown by a group that promised Ethiopia would never again suffer at the hands of a government dedicated to keeping its failures secret.

Still, millions of people in Ethiopia walk a fine line between subsistence and starvation.

In a good year like this one, when harvests are comparatively plentiful, upwards of 6 million to 7 million in this country of 70 million still depend on food aid to survive. If the fickle rains don't come which happened in the 2002 and 2003 growing seasons the number doubles. Last year when Hall was here, the country was a dust bowl.

Though the current government is progressive and stable by African standards and enjoys good relations with the West (unlike 20 years ago under the Soviet-backed Mengistu), the current per-capita income is a pitiful $108. In 1984, it was $190.

Moreover, the population rate remains unsustainably high. In 1984, the country had 40 million people; today the number is approaching 70 million. If the current birth rate continues, the population will double in 30 years. In a nation that can't feed all of its people now, that's unfathomable.

Noting that the world has poured billions of dollars in food aid into the country, Hall said, "They're tired of getting food aid and the world is tired of giving it. We have to help them become more self-sufficient."

Hall, who has been to Ethiopia a half-dozen times since 1984, knows the problems intimately. He's fluent in the statistics that measure the depth of the country's challenges, and he has an academic and practical understanding of the difficulties of promoting development in an agriculturally primitive society where the richest farmers rely on oxen and a plow.

He believes this year that the hunger can be managed if the United States, the United Nations, foreign governments and relief agencies all come through and remember the lessons learned in previous disasters.

Because the country isn't currently in a crisis, that makes it easier to argue for and get development assistance, he said. "We won't have to spend as much on emergency food aid. Maybe that will get us some breathing room to do the programs we've been wanting to do. But if we don't act, we're going to be right back where we were in other droughts."

Specifically, Hall wants to make sure the major industrialized countries represented by the G-8 conference, which meets in Sea Island off the coast of Georgia in June, will make development in Africa one of its priorities. This trip will produce fodder for reports aimed at prodding those countries to spend a big portion of their development aid in Ethiopia.

"We're going to push them to use Ethiopia as a model," Hall said, noting that the sheer size of its population demands investment. In absolute numbers, the extent of hunger and number of AIDS cases in the country are overwhelming, he argues, even in comparison with other smaller African nations where larger percentages are HIV-infected or experiencing famine.

Hall divides his commitment to fighting hunger between macro and micro initiatives. After seeing a project aimed at improving farming methods for a community of 300 families, he said Ethiopia needs "thousands" of projects like this one if Ethiopians are ever going to be able to feed themselves.

In another breath, he gets angry at the debate about whether massive emergency food aid promotes dependence and keeps the country poor. "If I hear one more time that you have to teach people how to fish rather than feeding them, I'm going to vomit," he said. Though he supports the popular food-for-work programs that are largely the norm now with relief agencies, starving people need food, and they can't wait for technical, long-term agricultural assistance, he said.

Historically, the United States has been more generous with emergency food aid to Ethiopia than with development aid. In 2003, the U.S. government gave the country 766 metric tons of free food, valued at $352 million. Development aid totaled about one-seventh of that amount.

On Wednesday, proud farmers took Hall through an area in the lowlands where they are growing beets, tomatoes, green beans, hot peppers and cabbage, thanks to a seed distribution project funded by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization. Hall talked to a mother of eight who had been widowed and was, for the first time, able to feed her children and have enough crops left over to sell at market.

"I go home committed after these trips," Hall said. "I love the work. If you save a few lives, and if you can make some good things happen, you sleep pretty good at night."

Hall, a political appointee, serves at the pleasure of the president and will, like all ambassadors, submit his resignation at the end of President Bush's term this year. He could then be reappointed, either by Bush if he's re-elected or by fellow Democrat John Kerry if he wins.

Hall isn't counting on anything, though he's not obsessing about losing his post. "I don't think there is a long line of people back in the States waiting for this job, getting all excited about going to Chad and North Korea," he said.

Then again, they weren't in Ethiopia 20 years ago watching children die.




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Story Source: Dayton Daily News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; COS - Thailand; Diplomacy; Hunger

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