June 17, 2005: Headlines: Figures: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: PBS: An Interview with Tony Hall

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An Interview with Tony Hall

An Interview with Tony Hall

Former Congressman Tony Hall of Ohio, now ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand in the 1960's.

An Interview with Tony Hall

Ambassador Tony Hall

June 17, 2005 Episode no. 842

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: According to the United Nations, in addition to deaths from normal causes, there are an estimated 25,000 hunger-related deaths in the world every day. The U.S. responds to that with many kinds of aid and with an ambassador whose job it is to negotiate, expedite, and lead on behalf of the most needy. He is Tony Hall, a former congressman from Ohio who believes helping the poor is a moral obligation. Kim Lawton talked with Ambassador Hall about his work and the faith that keeps him going.

KIM LAWTON: Ambassador Tony Hall has seen much of the world's misery up close. Take his recent trip to Gulu, northern Uganda. At dawn, he watched thousands of children head out from a special security shelter where they had come to sleep in safety. During nighttime in this region, rebels abduct unprotected children and force them to fight in Uganda's nearly 20-year-long civil war. Tens of thousands have been mutilated in the conflict, and more than a million displaced from their homes. Many of the refugees are severely malnourished and dying from preventable diseases.

Ambassador TONY HALL: The one thing I never get over is, in the world, man's inhumanity towards one another. And it's something that I've never gotten used to, and I've seen it a hundred times. Before this day is up, 25,000 people will die in the world, and it's mostly from humanitarian problems: civil war, drought, corruption, lots of things. But 25,000 will die before the day is up.

LAWTON: Hall has made it his life's mission to try and save some of those people. For more than 20 years as a congressman, and now as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations humanitarian agencies, Hall has traveled the world focusing on hunger and human rights abuses. An evangelical Presbyterian, Hall says his faith plays a key role in his mission.

Ambassador HALL: I don't know how people sustain this or do this, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, without faith. I know some people do, but I could never do it. It's what keeps me strong; it keeps me going.

LAWTON: Hall, who is a Democrat, was appointed ambassador by President Bush in 2002.

President GEORGE W. BUSH (At National Prayer Breakfast): Tony Hall -- as you can tell, I obviously made the right choice.

LAWTON: He works in Rome, where he represents the U.S. at the UN agencies based there that deal with food and agriculture.

Ambassador HALL (In Rome office): Of the 35 most difficult nations in the world, 25 are in Africa.

Photo of poor children LAWTON: Hall is frustrated that in some quarters the U.S. has the image of being stingy. In fact, he says, the U.S. contributes more than 50 percent of all the humanitarian aid that goes through the UN. He's proud to be part of that.

Ambassador HALL: I believe that good nations, great nations, are evaluated by what they do for other people, especially poor people -- their own people in their own country and people outside. We have a lot, and we should give a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (At event in Dayton, Ohio honoring Ambassador Hall): Thank you so much, Congressman Hall.

LAWTON: Hall's passion for humanitarian issues began when he was a congressman from Dayton, Ohio. In 1984, he went on a fact-finding trip to investigate the famine in Ethiopia. He was stunned by what he saw.

Ambassador HALL (Speaking at Georgetown University): Most children were dying. Many were dead. And in a period of about a few minutes, I saw 25 children die.

LAWTON: As a result, Hall says he sensed God calling him to focus his political work on humanitarian issues. In a recent speech at Georgetown University, Hall stressed his belief that God is deeply concerned about the poor.

HALL (Speaking at Georgetown University): You can take anybody of faith, any religion, and you will see the tremendous number of scripture verses dealing with the issue. I like the ones in Proverbs where it says that, God says, "If you help the poor, you lend to me." He also says in another way, a couple of chapters later in Proverbs, "If you are gracious to the poor, you honor me."

I don't want to be a hypocrite. I don't want to wear God here and say, "Look at me. I love God, and I'm doing this and I'm doing that." But by working with the poor, you're kind of showing a sermon. You're not giving a sermon.

LAWTON: In his understated way, Hall has become one of the world's leading crusaders against hunger. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times. Last year, he was instrumental in negotiating a new relief corridor through Libya to get desperately needed aid to refugees fleeing Sudan's Darfur province.

Hall's office is decorated not with his many awards, but with photos of people he has helped, such as street kids in Congo.

Ambassador HALL (In Rome office): I talked to these two kids, and when they got done telling me their story, how they got kicked out, and they were really sweet kids, and I hugged them both, and they both wept because nobody ever touches them.

LAWTON: For Hall, the suffering of children has a deeply personal impact. At this year's National Prayer Breakfast, he described losing his 15-year-old son to leukemia eight years ago.

Ambassador HALL (Speaking at National Prayer Breakfast): One day he had an especially bad day, and he had a lot of complications. I got so mad that night that I screamed and cussed and swore, yelled, asked God to come down, confront me, talk to me: Why?

LAWTON: Hall says God answered that prayer by showing him the mystery of faith that survives tragedy.

Ambassador HALL: I don't understand why my son is gone. I don't understand the tsunamis. I don't understand 25,000 people dying every day. But you know what? That experience with my son has made my faith stronger. I came through that experience with more love for God. I cannot explain it. It's the truth, though.

LAWTON: According to Hall, suffering in the world can be overwhelming, the problems seemingly intractable. One of his heroes, Mother Teresa, taught him valuable lessons about avoiding discouragement.

Ambassador HALL (Speaking at Georgetown University): People asked Mother Teresa once, "Don't you think what you do is kind of a drop in the bucket?" I get that question often, too. And she said, "No, it's a drop in the ocean." She said, "But if I didn't do it, it'd be one less drop." I kind of feel that way, too.

Sometimes I go on a trip [and] it's so bad, the governments that I'm dealing with are so corrupt, so vicious, that there's very little I can do. Other times, I can go in a situation, and we can help feed a couple hundred thousand people that day. That's not bad. That's a good day.

LAWTON: And Tony Hall intends to keep working for more good days.

I'm Kim Lawton reporting.

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Story Source: PBS

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


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