This Thursday, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving, a celebration of harvest. Thanksgiving has come to be a wonderful time to gather with family and friends, and to reflect on the things for which we are most grateful. It also has an interesting history. In 1621, the English colonists at Plymouth Plantation (near Boston, Massachusetts) in the "New World" joined with the indigenous Wampanoag people to share an autumn harvest feast.
Today this is acknowledged as the official first Thanksgiving
celebration in the colonies that later became the United States of
America. This harvest meal has become a symbol of cooperation between
English colonists and the indigenous people of America. That sprit of
cooperation was short-lived, however, and was replaced with a long
history of marginalization, exclusion and mistreatment of indigenous
Americans. The unfortunate consequences of this history live on today.
So, that history reflects both the incredible possibility that
cooperation between diverse peoples can create, but also how
long-lasting and severe is the impact of social exclusion and injustice.
I just returned from a visit to our country office in Sri Lanka.
There I saw our work in the camps where internally displaced people
(IDPs) have been detained over the last 6 months since the end of the
30-year civil war. I also visited with Sri Lankan government officials,
partner organizations and, of course, our incredible staff (a few of
whom are themselves detainees). The links between social exclusion,
marginalization and poverty in this otherwise middle-income nation were
clear. However, I left Sri Lanka with hope. I was heartened to see an
article in Sunday's New York Times that said the government of
Sri Lanka had announced that IDPs would be free to return to their
villages after December 1st and that all remaining detention camps
would be closed by January 31 next year. Now as my mother would say,
"There is many a slip between the cup and the lip" – or, to put it more
simply, much work remains to be done. However, the possibility that the
end of this protracted war could give rise to cooperation between
diverse peoples and one day lead to a bountiful harvest for all is
Let me add one more note about Thanksgiving week and its additional
significance for CARE. Friday, November 27, marks the founding of CARE
in 1945. Back then, a consortium of 22 charities banded together to
form CARE, an organization that would deliver food packages to
survivors of World War II who were suffering from severe food
shortages. Using rations from the U.S. military, CARE delivered nearly
three million "10-in-one" boxes containing staples like canned meat,
dried milk, raisins and chocolate. These boxes could feed 10 people for
one day or one person for 10 days. Individual Americans paid for the
boxes by placing orders at railway stations, department stores, CARE
offices in major cities and through civic and religious groups. The
first packages were shipped to Le Havre, France in 1946, and
distributed throughout Europe. By early 1947, supplies of the original
10-in-one boxes were exhausted and CARE began designing its own
packages containing tools, cloth, medicine and other goods.
As we know, the scope and approach of our work has evolved, but I am
still proud of our initial roots and the spirit of cooperation and
sense of common humanity those early efforts signified.