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Citizens take on climate, hunger

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CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Hundreds of volunteers traveled to Washington last week to let lawmakers know that they care about the world's estimated 1 billion people who survive on less than $1 a day.

The Capitol Hill visits were part of an annual celebration sponsored by the humanitarian group Care, commemorating the anniversary of the first Care packages sent to Europe in May 1946 to provide relief to survivors of World War II.

The volunteers, who also attended the 2009 Care National Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, told lawmakers that vulnerable people today need far more than a relief package.

"They need advocates and a fighting chance," said Jason Caslavka, a software engineer who traveled from Portland, Ore., to participate in Care's two-day advocacy blitz on Congress.

"Far too many millions of our fellow human beings have limited access to basic resources, few opportunities for education and little influence over the decisions that affect their lives. We can help change that picture," Mr. Caslavka said.

Hunger was one of the key issues on which the volunteers appealed to lawmakers. They pressed members of Congress to support President Obama's call for increased food security by doubling the U.S. investment in international agriculture development.

After Care's campaign last year, Congress approved a $50 million program that promotes the purchase of local crops during hunger emergencies rather than shipping food aid from the U.S.

In developing countries where markets work well and good food is available in sufficient quantity, vouchers and regular cash transfers are the fastest and most cost-effective way to distribute food aid, humanitarian aid specialists say.

Volunteers last week also called for action on climate change. They asked their senators and representatives to demonstrate leadership in the global effort to reduce the rate of climate change and commit to sharing resources to help developing countries adapt to new conditions.

Another major issue was child marriage, which is common in certain regions of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Several studies show that child brides are more likely to drop out of school, face higher rates of maternal mortality and are more vulnerable to domestic violence.

"Child marriage is both a human rights violation and a barrier to development for young girls. Ending child marriage must become a policy priority," said longtime Care volunteer Sandra Tully, who visited Washington from New York.

A proposed House resolution, the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, would authorize the president to provide aid to stop child marriage in developing countries and direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to devise a multiyear strategy to end the practice.

"I want the United States to take the lead in ending child marriage and championing the value and potential girls have to develop, grow and contribute their skills to strengthening families, communities and entire countries if given the opportunity," said Rep. Betty McCollum, Minnesota Democrat and the resolution's chief sponsor.

"We saw democracy at its best," Care's vice president for policy and advocacy, JoDee Winterhof, said of the effort. "As the citizens went from Capitol Hill to the Reagan Building to attend sessions in how advocacy works, their investment in time should translate into an improved future for people thousands of miles away."

• Christina Santos is the national policy events manager for Care.

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