JWF Panel Offers Faith-Based Solutions to Hunger, Poverty

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JWF’s Intercultural Dialogue Platform (IDP) organized an interfaith panel on February 1, 2006, to consider different religions’ responses to hunger and poverty, which are estimated to claim a life every 3.6 seconds. The event took place at Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall in Istanbul, Turkey.

Every person has the right to the dignity of rejoicing in God’s blessings and living in the most humane way … Even though we practice different beliefs, we must think and act together and strive for a better world.

Kirkor Damatyan, Turkish Armenian Patriarchate representative

Organized with the support of the Istanbul Municipality, UNICEF, the Kimse Yok Mu charity, and the Can Simidi Yardimlasma Kulubu organization, the event began with opening remarks by IDP President Prof. Dr. Niyazi Oktem and introductory comments by three economic and political experts, followed by a panel discussion featuring Jewish, Muslim, and Christian speakers.

As the first expert speaker, Prof. Francis Wilson from the University of Cape Town’s Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit provided an economic perspective on hunger and poverty, using South Africa as an example. “South Africa has the ability to produce its own goods like sugar, honey, corn, but due to political reasons, they are being imported. While farmers receive great support from their governments in the USA and the EU countries, we see strict legal obstacles in Africa,” Wilson said, adding that the deadly HIV/AIDS virus brings poverty to “terrifying proportions.”

Wilson suggested the following solutions: “The number of charity organizations should be increased, fair trade should be ensured by law, individuals should be made conscious – in this sense, this, mostly, calls for religious organizations – importation should be facilitated, immigration law should be more flexible, and non-governmental organizations should be prized for their effort and ideas for encouragement.”

The next expert speaker was Prof. Dr. Talat Halman, former Minister of Cultural Affairs and UNICEF Turkish National Committee President. Halman pointed out that the UN and the international community were not ineffective in their approach to the problem, but exiguous, meaning that everyone must embrace this problem as their own. Referring to UN reports, Halman noted that every minute, a child under five years of age dies because of poverty and hunger.

Halman said, “We are living in a world capable of ending hunger. How we are going to end it is not a secret. We do not need new technologies. We only need a political will to stand up to today’s policies that make the rich richer while the poor poorer.”

To conclude the first part of the program, Turkey’s Minister of Agriculture, Mehmet Mehdi Eker, discussed the balance between production and consumption. The minister pointed out, “While some die of hunger, some are searching for ways to end obesity.”

To illustrate this point, several children came onstage and displayed two sides of a picture: African children striving to live under hunger and poverty, and healthy children living in wealth.

After this performance, the interfaith panel began, moderated by Prof. Dr. Ali Erbas from Sakarya University’s Faculty of Theology. The panelists discussed solutions to poverty and hunger based on their holy scriptures and cultures, with many attributing the problem to unequal distribution rather than privation.

The panelists included Kerim Guzelis from the Syriac Orthodox Community; Kirkor Damatyan from the Turkish Armenian Patriarchate; Dositheos Anagnostopulos from the Istanbul Greek Patriarchate; Ali Bulac, Muslim writer for Zaman newspaper; Rabbi Yeuda Adoni, Jewish society representative; and Sleiman Saikali from Caritas in Istanbul, a Vatican charity. Key quotes from each of these speakers are listed below.

The event concluded with remarks from Ikbal Gurpinar, host of the STV show Kimse Yok Mu. She accepted a donation from the children who performed earlier in the program, noting that the money would be sent to children in need.

Quotes from the Interfaith Panel

Ali Bulac (Writer, Zaman newspaper)
“The core of the problem lies in unfair distribution. It is stated in the UN reports that member states had agreed to give 0.7 percent of their national income to countries in need but they did not. If the practice of alms of Islam can be adapted for the UN’s actions against poverty, it can be diminished to tolerable levels.”

Rabbi Yeuda Adoni (Jewish Community of Turkey representative)
“We know now that discrimination due to skin color or physical attributes is wrong. Every member of the family of humanity is capable of beneficial achievements in intelligence, knowledge, and ethics. We must never forget we are responsible for all of humanity.”

Kerim Guzelis (Syriac Orthodox Community representative)
“In the ruins from 1000-1500 BC, especially in the caves in Hasankeyf, besides collective rooms, there were rooms designed to help others. They were as deep as water wells and nobody saw who entered below. Those who wanted to help would put the goods in a basket and lower it to those in need. Since no one saw the other, feelings of gratefulness or obligation did not exist.”

Sleiman Saikali (Caritas representative in Istanbul)
“We especially strive to help the ones in most need. We never discriminate due to religion, language, race, or sectarian while doing this. We do not see the ones we help as ones taking advantage. I wish that the cooperation and peace emphasized here may reflect on our hearts and the work we do in the future.”

Kirkor Damatyan (Turkish Armenian Patriarchate representative)
“Every person has the right to the dignity of rejoicing in God’s blessings and living in the most humane way. The existence of people living in poverty is still a disgrace on the accounts of people with conscience. Even though we practice different beliefs, we must think and act together and strive for a better world.”

Dositheos Anagnostopulos (Istanbul Greek Patriarchate representative)
“Hunger and poverty is the natural result of people’s preferences on lifestyles. They are the products of materialism, over consumption and extravagance. Our religions tell us to get by with less, share, and not to sleep full while our neighbors are hungry. Today, those in Afghanistan and Ethiopia are our neighbors, too. They tell us not to worship materials and get ready for the Day of Judgement.”

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