Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Peter Kimeu addresses students and staff at De La Salle North Catholic High School.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Peter Kimeu addresses students and staff at De La Salle North Catholic High School.
Peter Kimeu knows what it's like to be hungry. As a boy in Kenya in the 1960s, he recalls going four days without food. His mother told him to suck his fingers for comfort.

During that span when he and his siblings had nothing to eat, Americans probably threw out about a billion pounds of food, Kimeu told stunned students last week at De La Salle North Catholic High School.

A Catholic Relief Services worker based in Kenya, Kimeu was in Oregon last week seeking to build up solidarity between U.S. Catholics and the people of his beleaguered East African nation.

Catholic Relief Services is the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church. It works closely with regional churches to alleviate hunger, disease and conflict. CRS says about 400 million children worldwide are suffering from hunger.  

Kimeu explained that the iPhones many students use could not function without minerals from Africa. Gold and diamonds also come from the continent. With all those resources, Kimeu said it's natural to wonder why so many Africans are hungry.

That led him to explain the long-lasting effects of colonialism and also slavery, which took generation after generation of Africa's strongest and most capable people.

There is still a brain drain on the continent, he said, since Africans who obtain advanced education tend to get jobs in Europe and the United States. Even Africa's best runners end up at the University of Oregon, he joked.

Meanwhile, he said it is no laughing matter that arms manufacturers from around the world sell their wares aggressively in Africa, furthering regional conflict.

Kimeu said Catholic Relief Services not only provides food and water, but seeks to change situations that lead to shortages. CRS advocates with regional governments, teaches effective farming techniques and improves sanitation, among other projects.

Kimeu, a former teacher and headmaster, was energized by students at De La Salle North. He walked up and down the aisles, speaking to individual students in a booming voice.

"God created one human family," Kimeu said, getting students to give him high-fives and then calling out: "Aha, I have a brother! I have a sister!" Solidarity is one of the principals of Catholic social teaching.

"Can we do something so my brother, my sister, does not hunger?" Kimeu asked. "Is it possible? You can make a difference. If you dream it, you can do it."

Around the state, Kimeu urged listeners to buy fair trade articles — clothing, jewelry, food and coffee from organizations that give proceeds to entrepreneurs in developing nations.

Jeanine Boucher-Colbert, a CRS west coast representative, says the organization applies 94 cents of each dollar donated to programs, one of the highest rates among non-profits.

Meanwhile, De La Salle North has begun a food drive for hungry people in Portland and are talking about other aspects of hunger.

"A just world will make Africa smile," Kimeu told students. "A just world will make America smile."