Category Archives: International Relief

Hurricane Ida: Crisis in El Salvador


Courtesy SHARE Foundation (

Last week, we tweeted that Hurricane Ida hit the heart of El Salvador. Subsequent updates from the field have showed us how bad things really are. The storm destabilized weather patterns. Torrential rains & terrifying floods ripped through the capital city of San Salvador and 60% of the countryside. Nearly 200 people lost their lives, and over 10,000 lost their homes. Neighboring cities became islands, inaccessible except by helicopter. Crops were decimated, and those lucky enough to keep their homes lost access to vital services, health care, and food.


The SHARE Foundation, the Salvadoran Red Cross, and international aid workers work tirelessly for short term relief, but the real challenge comes after their efforts, with rebuilding and reconstruction. With worldly possessions washed away, how will Salvadorans live? With food stocks completely wiped out, how will Salvadorans eat? Looking forward to the second and future phases of recovery, the SHARE Foundation plans to restore agricultural production, emphasizing family farms & women’s co-operatives.


Courtesy SHARE Foundation (

For over a decade, MAZON has partnered with the SHARE Foundation to support agricultural programs & initiatives. Now, at this time of Salvadoran crisis, we ask you to partner with us for an emergency grant. Your support enables us to feed families in the short-term, and stay involved in the region in the long-term, as we have after Hurricane Katrina, to insure a healthy, sustainable recovery.


Please donate now. Under special instructions, tell us your donation is for El Salvador.


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Filed under International Relief, MAZON Grantees

Darfuri Refugees’ Letter to President Obama

Last week, we brought you reflections from Rabbi Lee Bycel as he embarked on a visit to a Darfuri refugee camp in Chad. He returns with this letter from the Darfuri refugees to President Obama.
Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (

Senator Barack Obama at Save Darfur Rally in 2006. Photo courtesy Flickr user jillaryrose (

Guereda, Eastern Chad
Rosh Hashanah 2009

A letter to President Obama from the Darfuri refugees,

As a rabbi I sit here welcoming in the new year with Darfuri refugees, people of great courage, strength and determination. I am here to celebrate the opportunity of a new year, with people who need not just our prayers but also our actions.

I have spent the day at the Mille camp, home to 17,000 Darfuri refugees. I first came here in 2004, soon after their arrival. A few remember my visit.  They all remember your visit to Mille, also in 2004. Several people showed me their picture with you and told me how happy they are that you are now president.

Mr. President, the years since your visit have taken a great toll on the people. Some of the 13 year old girls you met are now mothers. Many of the boys are now soldiers. Many refugees have died and many new ones have arrived. The UN tents which are now severely torn and ravaged reflect the lives of the refugees.

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (

"Darfur Refugee Family" Courtesy Internews Network (

Fifty babies a month are born in the Mille camp. Six hundred a year; about three thousand since your visit. Children like Sulaman, Hassan, Sumayah and Kadidya. They have wonderful smiles and beautiful eyes. Like our children, they want security, food, water and shelter. Thanks to the US, other countries and the humanitarian community, they have the minimal amount of each in order to survive.

For them, for their parents, their daily prayer is to return to Darfur. They are innocent, good people, as you have said “victims of genocide.”

Enough is not being done. They are waiting…waiting very patiently for their nightmare to end. I have synthesized their message for you.

Remember us. Remember your time here at Mille. Remember our situation. Remember our faces. We want to go home to Darfur and live in peace. We want to rebuild our lives. Please, please Mr. President do everything in your power to help us. Too many years have gone by. We need you. We do not know what to do but have great confidence in you. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Thank you,

The Darfuri refugees in Mille, as communicated to Rabbi Lee Bycel on September 18, 2009.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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Filed under Food For Thought, Guest Blog, Hunger Fighters, International Relief

A New Year: Is There Hope For The Darfuri People, For Us?

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (

"Women on Outskirts of Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (

No one says it…but the uneasy feeling was palpable.  I  could see the questions in their eyes:  Why are you going to spend Rosh Hashanah in Darfuri refugee camps in Eastern Chad?  Why would a rabbi welcome the Jewish New Year in a place where there are no Jews?  Do you really think going will make a difference?   I understand these questions.  I only regret that they are rarely asked aloud.  I have had lots of time to reflect on these questions on this three day journey to a place that is far more distant from San Francisco than the days of travel to get here.

I am here in Eastern Chad, this epicenter of human suffering.  I am here with fellow human beings, reminding them that we do care and we have not forgotten.  I am here listening to their stories and letting them know that I will bring their stories home.  I am here because our worlds are inextricably linked.

I first visited here in 2004 and since then I have returned several times.  The Chadian people are some of the poorest people on the planet.  Here, 275,000 Darfuri refugees have found a fragile safe haven in UN tents.  These shelters provide minimal protection from the harsh conditions of sub-Saharan Africa and not much more from the storms of conflict.  The plight of the Darfuri people – the nearly three million displaced from their homes and the four hundred thousand dead – has been well documented.  Our advocacy and diplomacy has had some impact on decelerating this genocide, now in its seventh year.   Our humanitarian aid has saved lives.  Still, the situation on the ground remains dismal.

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (

"Children Playing in Camp Djabal" Courtesy Flickr user oncedaily (

Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that celebrates renewal and creation.  It implores us to care for each other and to care for this planet.  It reminds us that as long as there is life there is hope.  What better place to welcome in the New Year than with the victims of man’s brutality to man.  Although we have yet to turn our powerful prayers into a world that is just and humane, I have hope—and hope is all these refugees have.  It is their lifeblood.

As I sit here with new friends and refugees whom I have known for years, I marvel at their ability to survive. The soul of a refugee camp resides in the courageous people who dwell within it. The silent screams that echo through the camp are those of a people who are asking if the world still cares.  My presence, it could be any of us, conveys that we do care and we are doing our best to restore their lives.

These refugees are the victims of horrific events: genocide, climate change, lack of resources and a world that is confused about its humanitarian priorities. It is no longer possible to separate these problems; real solutions will only come when we think and act in integrated ways. Ways which allow people to live with inalienable rights – to food, shelter, potable water and the absence of violence in their day to day lives.

There is currently much discussion about the role of the US and what international pressure should be applied to change the situation.  This work is essential and provides hope for long term solutions.    Immediate humanitarian needs, however, cannot be overlooked.  My friend Adam cannot wait another year for drinkable water; his daughters cannot wait another day for a life without the constant threat of rape; the elderly and the infants cannot survive another winter without shelter from the torrential desert rain.  Where will the aid come from unless we help to provide it?

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (

"Darfur Refugee Children Smile" Courtesy Internews Network (

Is my trip making a difference?  I see a difference in the smiles of the children. I feel it when I hold a refugees hand.  I witness it when I visit the aid clinics. Perhaps the difference isn’t quantifiable, but it is profoundly apparent to me.

Soon I will be returning home renewed and filled with hope for the New Year, thanks to the brave spirit of the Darfuri people. Experiencing the horrific conditions of their day to day lives brings an indescribable perspective to my own challenges and reminds me that my life will never be full until their suffering is over.

Our humanity is defined by our actions—our ability to show compassion, to empathize with others, and to do something constructive—and opportunities to help others are present each and every day.  For us, remembering the Darfuri people is a measure of our conscience and humanity. For them, it is their hope for survival. That is why I have returned to Chad.

Rabbi Lee Bycel is a MAZON board member and Executive Director of the Berkeley-based Redford Center. The Redford Center inspires positive social and environmental change through the arts, education and civil discourse.  For suggestions on actions you can take regarding Darfur please visit the Save Darfur Coalition.

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Filed under Food For Thought, Guest Blog, Hunger Fighters, International Relief, Links, Travel

The Carrot & The Shotgun

Courtesy Flickr user Steve Rhode (

Courtesy Flickr user Steve Rhode (

Recently, MAZON welcomed Bob Forney, former President & CEO of the Chicago Stock Exchange & America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America) into our offices to share the successes of his current efforts with The Global Foodbanking Network. Founded in 2006 as a collaboration between Feeding America, Food Banks Canada, Red Argentina de Bancos de Alimentos & Associación Mexicana de Bancos de Alimentos, The Global Foodbanking Network (GFN) establishes & supports food bank networks serving over a billion people worldwide who suffer from hunger and malnourishment. Mr. Forney has personally been involved with GFN programs in Jordan (which, besides hungry Jordanians, has seen an influx of a million Iraqi refugees in recent years), Turkey, Argentina, Canada, South Africa & Israel (these last two funded by MAZON seed money).

Why food bank networks, as opposed to more localized service centers? Mr. Forney offers a real-world example from his experience working with food suppliers. If Kellogg’s has a defective batch of Rice Krispies that tastes fine but doesn’t snap, crackle & pop to perfection, they can’t ship it to grocers, but it costs them money to dispose of it themselves. If Kellogg’s were to donate it to a single organization, that group would need access to a secure warehouse, industrial equipment & staff capable of receiving, storing, sorting & distributing 300 metric tons of rice before it goes bad. Few groups can manage that, and unfortunately the Rice Krispies goes to the dump – but with a food bank network, an infrastructure exists that can meet everyone’s needs across different regions.

The problem with some well-meaning organizations, according to Forney, is their inability to break barriers & collaborate. Nobody’s mission statement requires them to work alone, and ending hunger is one of the few things all people agree on – from everyday citizens, farmers & grocers to large-scale suppliers & politicians – but long-term change can only occur with a committee of the whole.

This is where you, the donor & concerned citizen, come in. You have the carrot & the shotgun to entice and, if necessary, force organizations to work together. Without your donations of time & resources, no organization can function, but with your help, ideas & pressure, organizations can break barriers, work together & end hunger once and for all. Hunger’s greatest ally is distance – the distance between the poor & accessible food, and the distance between organizations looking to save the universe by themselves. That distance separates a billion people, and it’s our responsibility to close the gap and bring everyone back together.

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Filed under Hunger Advocacy, International Relief, Interviews, MAZON Grantees

Teach A Man To Fish

While we all understand that feeding the hungry is an essential step toward repairing the world, effectively battling hunger requires not only treating the symptoms but also giving individuals the tools to control their own lives.  In the U.S. and around the globe, MAZON supports not only food providers but programs that work to build sustainable growth within communities that have slipped through the cracks of the modern world.

One of our newest grantees, Ikamva Labantu, operates out of Cape Town in South Africa. Ikamva Labantu, which means “The Future of our Nation,” traces its origins to the work of Helen Lieberman during the era of Apartheid. Lieberman worked with impoverished women in townships surrounding Cape Town to build solutions from the inside-out, rather than outside-in.

From those humble beginnings was born Ikamva Labantu, which now serves as an umbrella, funding and supporting over one thousand projects around South Africa that focus on building and maintaining sustainable development. They aid children, youth, adults, families, seniors and the disabled, supporting programs such as foster homes for orphans, food garden projects, home-based care training programs, youth life-skills programs, and training seniors to care for seniors.

Taken as a whole, Ikamva Labantu employs a novel and much needed strategy to tackling hunger in these impoverished townships, adopting a business model to focus on building social accountability. The trustees and Board of Directors are successful businessmen and women who bring corporate expertise to financial & management issues, including constantly auditing all funding.

As Ikamva Labantu states: “It is only by handing individuals control of their own lives that we can set them free to support themselves in a meaningful, sustainable way.” In other words, “Teach a man to fish…”
-Written by Peter Gjerset, Donor Services Associate at MAZON

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Filed under Food For Thought, International Relief, MAZON Grantees

Heroes For Haiti: Hollywood United & You

Courtesy Friends of the Children of Lascahobas, Haiti

Courtesy Friends of the Children of Lascahobas, Haiti

Haiti remains one of the poorest countries in the world: 80% of Haitians live under the poverty line, with 70% unemployed. Hurricanes flood the streets, while deforestation devastates the soil & eliminates key sources of fuel. Last year’s food riots have ceased (after bringing down the government), but shortages & malnutrition still plague Haiti.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are many ways to become a hero for Haiti.


This Saturday, August 8, Hollywood Unites For Haiti, InkTip & the HollyShorts Film Festival unite for a fundraiser reception at The Kress in Hollywood. Hosted by Hollywood Unites For Haiti founder & president Jimmy Jean-Louis (“Heroes”), the event features a gallery auction of portraits by pop artist Nicolosi, a raffle of Haitian art & special screening of the finalists for HollyShorts Film Festival’s Webisode category. All proceeds benefit Hollywood Unites For Haiti, and donations are also accepted at the door. For more information, or to RSVP, please email

If you can’t make Hollywood Unites For Haiti’s reception, the group also accepts donations of sports equipment, toiletries & computers for Haitian children’s programs. Several MAZON grantees also do important work in the region. The Lambi Fund of Haiti has a number of sustainable agriculture projects, including reforestation, goat & pig breeding, and training impoverished farmers on techniques and technologies appropriate to the region. Many of our synagogue partners & donors in Florida have collected funds specifically for The Lambi Fund. For over 30 years, Friends of the Children of Lascahobas, Haiti has brought medical services & screening to the border town of Lascahobas, where half the children under 5 are malnourished and only 25% of the population has access to clean drinking water. They have also set up a cooperative in Lascahobas so that Haitian mothers can work together to manage precious resources and create sustainable economics for their families.

Donations to MAZON ensure the continuation of work to end hunger in Haiti. With our combined efforts, we can all be heroes for Haiti.

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Filed under International Relief, Links, MAZON Grantees

Darfur/ICC Documentary The Reckoning on PBS Tonight @ 10PM

Former child soldiers of the Thomas Lubanga UPC militia, Ituri, eastern Congo (Photo Courtesy PBS)

Former child soldiers of the Thomas Lubanga UPC militia, Ituri, eastern Congo (Photo Courtesy PBS)

One of the most vibrant subjects in Darfur Now (our review here) is International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and his efforts to prosecute Sudanese minister Ahmad Muhammad Harun & Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb for war crimes. Those interested in a follow up should check out The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, premiering on PBS tonight (July 14) at 10PM. Filmmaker Pamela Yates & team spent three years following Moreno-Ocampo & the ICC, as the organization itself struggles to survive. Should prove very interesting.

Check out the trailer below (warning – some gruesome images may not be safe for work / children):

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Filed under Hunger in the Media, International Relief