Archive for April, 2014

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Food Aid Reform: Cargo Preference

The United States is one of the world’s largest food aid providers, yet its practices are inefficient, in part because of the transportation restrictions. Currently, 50% of all aid given must be sent on U.S.-flagged ships, a rule known as Cargo Preference. The argument for this rule is to maintain a reserve of vessels for times of war, and to support the maritime industry. At the start of 2014 Congress passed some modest food aid reforms in what is known as the Food for Peace Act. These reforms included ways we could more quickly reach the hungry at a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers, such as purchasing local food in the target countries. The House passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 on April 1. Within the bill, Cargo Preference would increase from 50 to 75 percent, meaning the U.S. would have to send 3/4ths of its food aid on U.S.-flagged ships. This would cost an estimated $60 million to the Food for Peace Act, an amount that should be going to feed the hungry, not to transportation. In fact, it is calculated that because of this new rule, 1 million people will miss access to crucial food aid. Catholic Relief Services explains how food programs will be negatively impacted, here. It is understandable the U.S. Navy and maritime industries are priorities for members of Congress. However, food aid accounts for only 5 percent of government-purchased goods shipped each year – a very small volume. Additionally, 70 percent of the ships approved for Cargo Preference do not even meet military-use criteria. It is difficult to see any added benefit the new Cargo Preference would be providing. The House has already passed the bill, but there is still time to urge the Senate to vote against it. Please join the campaign to remind your representatives that increased Cargo Preferences would only hurt the hungry and hinder our food aid programs. The modest reforms we gained in January would be negated with the extra costs Cargo Preference demands, keeping our practices inefficient and limited.  
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Earthquake Update

Nicaragua has experienced a string of earthquakes that emanated from the fault lines directly under Managua during the last week, ranging from 5.1 to 6.7 on the Richter scale. There have also been aftershocks. The temblors have caused serious concern among seismologists and other experts, and reminded many in Nicaragua of the devastating 1972 earthquake that left 10,000 dead and over 250,000 homeless. In Nicaragua, they are preparing for the worst. The Army has been deployed to set up emergency hospital facilities to be used in the event of a catastrophic quake. The government has advised that people sleep outside in the coming nights. Some residents of Managua identified as high-risk (due to age or living in unsafe structures) have been evacuated to government facilities. From the Tico Times:

Ineter experts and the government believe that the seismic danger has not passed and that the population should not let its guard down.

“We have to remain vigilant of the signs” that the government “has given us as to not mourn (more) casualties,” said Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes to thousands of followers during a procession in Managua to start the Holy Week celebrations.

[First Lady] Murillo summed the casualties and damage as one dead, 38 injured, along with 2,354 homes partially or totally damaged, and more than 700 buildings cracked, including several hospitals, in 17 municipalities in the departments of Managua, León, Granada, Carazo, Madriz and Boaco.

The concern now is that the earthquakes may have re-activated the fault lines that meet under Lake Managua. This dangerous intersection was the source of the 1972 quake. At the Quixote Center we are thinking of our many Nicaraguan partners, and hope that there will be no need for the disaster preparation measures the country is taking.
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Jim Burchell, Presente!

It is difficult to write of a friend in the past tense; to say, “He was a good man”, or “He was a funny guy.” “Was” seems to final. But then death is final and I suppose we need to find ways to accept the passing of friends; putting them in the past is one way we do this. But today, at least for today, I want our friend Jim Burchell to be present. In solidarity circles we have a ceremonial litany of names of people who have died, each name followed by a collective statement, “presente” – you are here with us. Jim, you are here with us – in our hearts, in our minds, in our memories. Jim Burchell, Presente! Jim was recently profiled by an alumni magazine for the University of New Hampshire where he received his bachelor degree in 1980. As a student, Jim was also a state legislator in New Hampshire, and for a time, a member of the Rochester City Council. When Jim moved to Michigan to get a Masters degree in public policy he organized a referendum of opposition to the Reagan administration’s policies in Nicaragua, and also to establish a sister-city relationship with Juigalpa, Nicaragua. The vote was successful. During this time, Jim also worked as a regional organizer for the Quixote Center’s Quest for Peace program, opposing Reagan’s proxy war and sending cargo containers of material aid destined for those most affected by the war. Later, moving to New Jersey, Jim continued working with the Quixote Center as shipping coordinator. He launched his own organization, PeaceWorks, to send humanitarian assistance to community groups in Nicaragua, work he has done for over 30 years now. Jim’s life has been an exercise in effective community service and activism. More recently, he served on the Center’s Board of Directors. Jim you are here with us. Presente! In that same University of New Hampshire alumni profile Jim said, “We’ve made these personal and professional relationships that help to put a human face on global warming, promote fair trade, and focus on the plight of street children. On a micro level we’re able to help people, and on a macro level we inform even more people. It’s not a one-way street when you do this kind of work. It’s not selfless. You gain a lot.” Jim you are here with us. Presente! I knew Jim through his work with the Quixote Center, PeaceWorks, and his passion for gardening. He coordinated our cargo container shipments until 2009 when we stopped them. During my tenure at the Quixote Center from 2001-2008 and again from 2011 to this past January, Jim was a valued advisor and strategist, creative thinker and political analyst. Jim was a brilliant guy, but you had to spend time with him to discover just how brilliant he was. His soft and intentional way of speaking did not hint at the fire burning inside. At least, not at first. But man, get him talking politics from Managua to Jersey City and you’f find out how much he knew, and how deeply he felt it. Jim you are here with us. Presente! My relationship with Jim has mainly been through our work together. That work is serious in many ways, and so to keep going, it is best done with a healthy dose of humor. Jim’s smile and eyes, crinkling a little deeper at the corners each year, were always a welcome part of the discussion, and his jokes, well sometimes weren’t sure it was a joke or where he’s going at first, but once you caught up with him you realized how funny he was. Jim you are here with us. Presente! Jim struck me as a bit of a contradiction at times. He committed his life to others and engaged in many public campaigns, organizing people to get things done. Though living in this very public way, he was a private guy. He didn’t give away much, at least not easily, of his person, in conversation. He didn’t like being the focus of attention (sorry Jim!). Though he helped many, he was reluctant to ask for any help for himself. On the last score, I am much the same way, and know the stubborn refusal to reach out can wear on a person’s heart. Jim you are here with us. Presente! Jim, like many friends, fell in love with Nicaragua, and with the people he worked with there: The glue-sniffing kids and their care givers at Inhijambia; the women at the Masaya Women’s Collective who are pushing back against sexual violence and striving for the economic independence that will allow them to leave abusive relationships; the members of the Federation of Campesinos and the El Porvenir Organic Coffee Cooperative, each struggling to carve out a sustainable future for rural communities. Jim often quoted Thelma Fernandez Solis when talking about this work, “We work shoulder-to-shoulder in the consciousness-raising of our people, so that each day new compañeros become involved in this task of human dignity that unites men and women from far-away lands, of distinct colors and races, of different histories, but with a common denominator– to give true meaning to our lives.” Jim you are here with us. Presente! Jim also liked to quote Joan Dye Gussow, “As long as you have a garden you have hope.” Jim planted many gardens, working shoulder to shoulder with friends and family to create new spaces of liberation and sometimes simply understanding. Jim’s work is the work of hope, work that is so desperately needed in these times. It is the work that will continue, and with it the life that inspired it. Jim you are here with us. Presente!
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Food Aid Reform: What Happens to America’s Farmers?

The strongest opposition to Food Aid Reform, a system which currently buys and ships U.S.-grown grain to countries in need, seems to becoming from our own farmers. Yet even many farmers recognize the need for more flexibility in U.S. food aid policies, as outlined in this article by Roger Johnson, the president of the National Farmers Union. Fifty years ago, our food aid policies made sense given our surplus of grain. As Johnson points out though, “Our food system has changed drastically in the past 50 years; naturally, our system of international aid must evolve as well.” He also recognizes that, “At a time of such urgent human need and budget constraint, reforms that enable us to reach more hungry people while saving taxpayer dollars, and continue to engage the talent and generosity of American agriculture, are the right choice.” In mid January both the House and Senate passed the Omnibus Spending Bill for fiscal year 2014, which included $35 million that increases U.S. flexibility to buy grain locally from the regions receiving aid. This is a small step in the right direction; let’s keep pushing for more, and bigger, reforms along with the National Farmers Union. Learn more about the National Farmers Union.
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Green Schools

So often in development we hear stories of one side throwing money at the other, who can only use it for a project that they never really wanted (or needed). Unlike this one-sided relationship, The Quixote Center’s entire mission is centered on equal relationship with our partners. Over the New Year we learned of a program that has been ongoing in the northwest of Haiti. About 8 years ago, community members founded a network of “Green Schools” – schools dedicated to reforestation. Each school must apply to be in the network, which now boasts over 60 schools. The requirements to be a Green School include teachers attending environmental training sessions, including reforestation within the curriculum, and allocating land for a forest that the students will help plant. Acknowledging that some peoples’ livelihoods depend on cutting down trees, the schools share parts of the forest with the community members. The community owns 30% while the school owns 70% – and those who need to can cut down trees from their portion. However, seeing the positive effects of these new forests and learning about reforestation as students spread their knowledge, many people who used to make charcoal now look for alternative sources of income – like selling the fruit that the new trees bear. Within the schools, each grade takes turns watering and weeding, or has its own section of the forest to tend. At the end of the year the grade that did the best work wins a prize. In the broader network, the schools with the most progress win prizes, like last year’s solar lights. The network has gotten so big and so successful that Haiti’s Ministry of Education has taken notice and wants in! Many schools within the network find the saplings for their forests at the Grepin Center’s tree nursery, one of the important projects you help fund with the Quixote Center. Consider making a donation today to help provide the resources for Haitian-led initiatives like these Green Schools. The Green Schools Network was an idea sparked and carried out by Haitians – and it is an ongoing success. Your donation will help provide our partners the resources they need to make their own quixotic dreams come true!
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Homes of Hope: 2013

Nicaragua faces a severe housing shortage, one that has left families without options for safe and dignified housing. Homes of Hope is our initiative with the Institute of John XXIII to address the challenges faced by the country’s large working poor population, those with incomes below what is needed to support the family. In 2013 the Institute built 50 homes! The project was financed directly by donors to the Quest for Peace, with additional funds provided by the Institute’s housing rollover fund and through a new partnership with CAFOD. In 2013 we built homes in Chaguitillo, a community in the Matagalpa department, to the north of Managua. Prepare

Community engagement is the first step in any successful project.

Homes of Hope begins with an organized and involved community. Initial meetings resulted in over 90 beneficiary applications and a local Housing Committee. The Committee members reviewed applications and selected the families for the 2013 construction season. Those selected for the program are required to participate and contribute in a number of ways: they help with construction, they provide a small down payment on the home, and they commit to monthly payments into the building fund for future participants. This all helps to ensure the process is smooth, and fosters a sense of ownership from the beginning. Local buy-in is key to the success of the program! Build

The construction site in Chaguitillo

Construction began in April of 2013, and the Institute’s team was able to complete the 50 homes by December. Throughout the construction period, beneficiaries received training on home maintenance, family hygiene practices, and safe water techniques. All of these help ensure a smooth transition from previous living arrangements to the new home. The homes are either the 385 square foot model or the 420 foot model. Both have two bedrooms, a kitchen, a shared bathroom, and a living room, with a wash sink on a rear patio. The sizes of lots vary, depending on what is available, but are typically large enough for some storage and a garden. The parcel used in Chaguitillo was open land, covered with a mix of sandy soil and grass. Deliver After the construction is complete, the celebration of new homes can begin! The Institute of John XXIII partnered with the new housing committee to hold a ceremony for transferring ownership to the beneficiary families on January 17, 2014. In less than a year the Institute transformed this section of Chaguitillo.

Families officially received their homes at the ceremony in January.

Now we have a suitable roof, a home for our family, it is a dream that we’ve all had and that we have made into reality with our work… we hope that more families are benefited in the future, and that they keep helping people of scarce resources. -Douglas Jose Gonzalez When I found out about the project I applied and I now have my own home. The project gives a lot of hope to those of us who have low salaries and can’t work with big banks. -Meyling Ruiz In 2014 we plan to begin the second round of construction for additional families that qualify for the program. Join our fundraising campaign for the Homes of Hope with the gift to the Quixote Center today!
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)