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11/11/2013 7:29:00 PM
Kenyan aid worker calls Catholics to solidarity
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.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

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."


Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, February 15, 2014
Article comment by: Geoffrey Ngui

I describe Peter as my academic father. He has done more for me than my own mother could have done in my life. I should be a herding boy somewhere in the arid areas of Kenya, wishing that I could have got an opportunity to go to school. But that has not been the case. I am now in the university taking my education degree. I talked to him about my situation and so passionately, took me to school and is now supporting me in college. Poverty in Africa is true, even today when one of the worlds goals of alleviating hardcore poverty should already have been achieved. Today my family still goes without food, and my grandmother has to walk for long distances and do jobs out of her capacity, ailing from a bone disease, to look for food and consolidate what my mother and two aunts have to provide for the family of seven. The only way to alleviate this is to have that "Brother and sister feeling that Peter is passing around the United States." We cannot survive without each other. African children do not need to go without food and die without education when we have sisters and brothers who can make one or two lives have hope. I am grateful today because Peter has made me an example of what can be possible. He has made my family have hope that the situation they are living in will not last for long. They are so proud of me.

Posted: Monday, December 9, 2013
Article comment by: Robert Muendo

The two musketeers in the fight against poverty and hopelessness! Peter could not have addressed the poverty issue more aptly. While so many problems conspire to keep the average African family in dire poverty, it is spirit-lifting to know that all is not lost, and that there are people who actually care deeply about the plight of the disadvantaged in society.

Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Article comment by: SIMON MAWEU

The only way I can describe Peter is that, he is my brother. We grew up together in the same village and attended the same schools. Our background of poverty taught us many things and particularly survival under the worst circumstances and when he said in an article he wrote for the New York Times that “We Slept Like That” – meaning we went to bed without any food to eat, he was also speaking for me. We grew up in similar conditions and our life of want taught us what poverty is its shame and its despair. But we did not give up. The biggest burden lay on the shoulders of our mothers who would watch their children at night seating around the hearth fire and watching a pot sitting on the 3 stones that supported it over the cooking fire. What the kids didn’t know was that, the mother what trying to create an illusion that food was being prepared and so they sat there waiting. In reality there was hardly anything in the pot except some few measly green leaves of a plant called “itula” that grew on river banks. These green were not used except only by animals or the poorest of the poor. In fact the name of these greens was synonymous with poverty. When the kids begun to cry the mother would remove the pot from the fire and splat some of the contents of the pot into a half gourd that served as a dish and that would be the meal for that day. The phrase “tightening ones belt” was actually literal to us for we practiced it. At school and at home!
When we grew up and went different ways, fate provided different paths challenges and opportunities but we never forgot where we started and today when people speak of poverty, we can easily identify with what they say without any problems whatsoever.
It was as a result of the poverty we grew up in that we took to serving the needy just like fish to water. The KENYA-USA CHRISTIAN RELIEF & DEVELOPMENT, INC” foundation www.kusard.org that I started in 1997 and to which Peter Kimeu is an advisor was in response to our years of hardship and was a sort of way to try and give back for all the good God has bestowed upon us.

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