Human Dignity Holds Center Stage
Five Decades of "Brot für die Welt" - From Fundraiser to Professional Relief Agency
November 26, 2008
Brot für die Welt was born on 12 December 1959. The approximately 12,000 persons who had gathered in the Deutschlandhalle in Berlin were shaken out of their "inertia of the heart" by the speaker, Protestant theologian Helmut Gollwitzer. Many marks and pfennigs rattled into the large collection boxes that had been set up. The boxes were those which had contained milk powder sent to starving post-war Germany by the United States. Germans in the early years of the "economic miracle" were being asked to show their gratitude by remembering those who were hungry in India and Africa.
The response surpassed all expectations. The Protestant regional and free churches, the parent organizations of Brot für die Welt, had not dreamed of receiving nearly 20 million marks in donations. The first funds went to Morocco, Chile and Indonesia, as well as other countries. What was intended as a one-time campaign became a permanent institution. When the 50th Brot für die Welt collection begins on 30 November in Berlin, it will have behind it one of the largest charitable organizations in Germany with over 100 collaborators. In 2007, nearly 53 million euros were collected.
The Anglican bishop David Gitari from Kenya, who is known as the "bishop of the poor," is the anniversary celebration's guest of honor. Bishop Gitari, now retired, had made a previous visit to Stuttgart; it was to celebrate with Brot für die Welt the peaceful end of the regime of Daniel arap Moi in late 2002. Addressing Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, the director of Brot für die Welt, Bishop Gitari, who had survived several assassination attempts said, "We owe you a deep debt of gratitude."
For many years, the relief organization supported the efforts of the National Council of Churches of Kenya in favor of human rights and democracy. This project typifies the metamorphosis Brot für die Welt has undergone in five decades: from the acute emergency relief operations of the early years to the long-term development work, advocacy and strategic assistance of today as a means of alleviating the causes of poverty and hunger. Brot für die Welt described itself in the beginning as "helping others to help themselves." Yet, "It has taken nearly two decades to shift from the major medical complex to the primary health-care facility," once said in a self-critical remark long-time director Hans-Otto Hahn, who passed away in 2003.
The heritage of colonialism and the Cold War: Brot für die Welt took sides and despite its philosophy of strict non-violence, had to confront accusations of supporting armed groups in Brazil, the Near East and the Philippines. Apartheid in South Africa was also a source of discord. Ultimately, in 1970, Brot für die Welt withdrew from the World Council of Churches' Programme to Combat Racism. The campaign "Hunger in abundance" in 1981 incensed farmers' associations and unleashed a heated debate about agricultural exports, feed production and meat consumption.
The goal when the "Justice for the poor" program was announced in 1989 was to change unjust conditions. In 1997, Brot für die Welt launched a campaign to promote sustainable small farm agriculture without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. "Empowerment" was the goal of development projects, that is, providing training and support to landless farmers and slum dwellers as well as indigenous women so that they are able to assert their rights and improve the conditions in which they live: "I know of no better concept than empowerment," Director Füllkrug-Weitzel said.
EKD Council chairperson Bishop Wolfgang Huber commended the Protestant relief campaign: "The goal of Brot für die Welt is to alleviate the causes of poverty, help people help themselves and thus contribute to the building of a more just world. This effort relies extensively on the generosity of people in this country. For many, Brot für die Welt and the feast of Christmas are extremely closely linked. It is not possible to rejoice over the blessings of Christmas while others are in need. This spirit of sharing and love of neighbor is what Brot für die Welt is all about."
The former Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Erhard Eppler (SPD) is convinced that in five decades Brot für die Welt has made it possible for millions of persons to live dignified lives. He feels that development cooperation efforts among church partners have gained acute, new relevance: "Where governments crumble, churches stand steadfast." Füllkrug-Weitzel does not measure the success of the projects in terms of economic balance sheets, but rather, she places individual human beings in center stage, with their dignity and their pride.
There is no time for rest. Brot für die Welt on its 50th birthday wants to remain an organization that continues to learn and responds to the challenges of globalization. Change is in the offing; a merger with the Church Development Service (EED) by 2013, under the same roof with diakonia, is planned and then relocation to Berlin. The merger should make it possible to establish new linkages between development and diaconal activities both at home and abroad. At the international level, Brot für die Welt, by joining forces with church relief agencies in other countries, hopes to increase its political clout. According to Füllkrug-Weitzel, together they want to become "locomotives of social transformation." (with epd)
"People hunger for bread!" - The first fundraising appeal in 1959
At the beginning of Advent in 1959, Brot für die Welt addressed its first urgent appeal to the people of Germany. The fact that one in five inhabitants of this earth is "on the brink of starvation" should leave no one indifferent. The response was overwhelming. Germans from both East and West Germany donated nearly 20 million marks. This year, the 50th collection campaign will begin on 30 November. The 1959 appeal was entitled "People hunger for bread!" We give here extracts from that appeal:
(...) "In Germany, our generation knows what hunger means. Images from the years immediately after the war are still fresh in our minds, bitter personal experiences remain acute. But God has been merciful to us. We have experienced the generous assistance of other nations. Their churches have been particularly generous. By the work of our own hands, we have once again become able to earn our bread, sometimes bounteously.
In the rest of the world, Germany is once again considered a wealthy country. If we compare our standard of living with that many other countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and South America, we see that this judgment is not entirely unfounded. We therefore call upon the Protestants in our country to make a special offering of gratitude.
We cannot blindly and cold-heartedly ignore the millions who have no bread. We must help, each according to his or her means! It is proper and necessary to raise the question as to the roots of this universal distress, in order to measure its full scope. In so doing, we will again and again encounter with horror the considerable past guilt of white people. Precisely this makes us particularly accountable to the hungering and homeless people of today and tomorrow.
(...) This is our appeal to all our congregations in East and West: in the weeks of Advent and the Christmas season, in the days of joyful expectancy of the coming of the Son of God, let us put together a plenteous offering, so that in many destitute places, people might receive healing and support.
(...) Whoever thinks that they need to buy new fixtures for their homes should think about the starving children in Asia. Whoever is thinking about buying Christmas presents for their families should devote a portion of the money to someone who is hungry. Do we want to heap luxuries upon each other and indulge in surfeit pleasures on the occasion of the birth of our Lord and Savior and live in overabundance, while millions in other parts of the earth have hardly a handful of rice to eat?" (epd)