Friday, April 06, 2007

Hunger: the end

What does one write on Good Friday, when one has spent the last 40 days writing about hunger? When one has gone grocery shopping this afternoon, buying luxuries against the end of the Lenten discipline? When one has never truly felt hunger, despite that discipline, and despite knowing those who have?

I don't know what to write. I am blessed, as, I imagine, are you, to have eaten my fill many times, to have education and opportunities, to speak and write and read on issues that interest me. The tragedy of hunger is that it walks hand in hand with the lack of all those things. Hunger travels with ignorance, with oppression, because it feeds from them. Hunger lives with those who were not given a chance far more often than those who were.

The truth is, I can't really add anything to what I've written before. I've explained my take on the hunger situation and some possible solutions. If you want to learn more, I've suggested some resources. For now, I'll just ask: please, do something.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Hunger: malnutrition in the midst of plenty

This may not seem like an issue to attack in a post on hunger, but I think it is vital for domestic issues of hunger: the poor are not just going hungry, they're being malnourished.

Undernourished and malnourished are different things. Undernourished is a lack of calories. Malnourished is the wrong calories, or the wrong balance of nutrients.

Our children in poor communities are being malnourished, in part, because healthy food isn't available. If you aren't in a suburb with a car to get to the big supermarket, your access to fresh produce and non-packaged food is limited. In the country, of course, you can grow your own. In the city, many people are left with just the corner convenience store. How healthy can it be to eat every meal out of convenience store choices? Not to mention expensive . . .

Add to this the ubiquitous cheap fast food with low nutritional value to match the low price, and the poor choices available in many school cafeterias, and the parents who don't know how to cook from basic ingredients . . . you get poverty leading to malnourishment, with or without undernourishment. NYC is doing something about this. It might be a good idea for other cities to consider similar actions.

Until then, let's push for farmer's markets and neighborhood grocery stores, for healthy school lunches and nutritional training as part of development strategies. That may help end one of the less visible hunger effects of poverty.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hunger: breaking out of apathy

Well, I could use a little of this for my work right now, but maybe we'll tackle the problem of world-hunger-apathy.

Why does it exist? Maybe I'm feeling a little pessimistic, but I think it has to do with our basic selfishness. If we personally are not hungry, why would we care about hunger? That's the idea of the hunger banquets and educational/short-term mission trips: letting people actually experience the feeling. That can help break apathetic cycles.

Maybe the distance is also related; most of us don't live near the hungry, so it seems less important than the things we see every day. There, again, the short trips to areas that experience hunger can help close the distance. Also, volunteering with organizations that work directly with the hungry could help increase your feelings for local hunger issues.

Mostly, though, we have to make the decision to care. I guess that's my theme this week: the choice is individual and personal. Then we can start trying to shock ourselves into doing something.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Hunger: Stewardship

I've written in the past about accountability, but a meeting/speaker I went to tonight got me interested in writing about stewardship. They're similar things, but while accountability means reporting to an outside agency, stewardship means reporting to yourself and God.

If we were perfect stewards, would there be hunger in the world? I don't think so, but I could be wrong. I feel that perfect stewardship would entail us giving the extra that we don't need to someone who could use it to its full potential (on a personal or national or international level, same concept). Then again, unless perfect stewardship from us was matched by perfect stewardship by everyone else, some people would waste what they had and people would go hungry by result, whether the waste happened in someone's excessive possessions or someone else's minimal possessions. In other words, we can't end hunger by perfecting the use of our own resources.

We could end hunger if we got the entire world to steward their resources perfectly. That's the idea behind socialism, right? Everyone has a certain amount of things to which they are entitled, and those that have extra will have to give it up to those who have not enough. Socialist governments take this principle and mandate it, but I'm not sure that works right (unless the nation in question has a Scandinavian work ethic, so people work even though they will get the same financial benefits from laziness). I think, in the end, that people have to choose stewardship for themselves.

That leaves us with only one acting point: convincing people to be good stewards. I guess that's what I've been trying to do here, these 40 days, by showing how and why. You have to make the decision, though.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Hunger: why?

I admit, I'm out of ideas. This has happened on occasion in the last 35 days, but inspiration generally struck. Today -- nothing.

So maybe I'll talk about why hunger exists. Except, of course, that I don't really know. I can spout off arguments: distribution problems, inequity, greed, misunderstanding, drought, disease, the list goes on. But none of these are core reasons.

I think all of this stems from living in a fallen world. I'm not going to get too deep into theology, but everyone should be able to agree that this world and the people in it are not inherently good in the sense that we think of good. The world is good, but not good, if you know what I mean. We think good means good-to-us, when it actually means good-for-us. Big difference.

People are not good, deep down, in any sense of the word. We all have feelings that we refer to as base, base instincts and base emotions. Ever wonder why we use that term in the connotation of bad? We sense that we are imperfect, flawed creatures at heart.

So hunger exists. Some people live in plenty while others suffer in need. Thus it was and ever shall be. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do something about it, just that we need to know that we can't ever completely fix it. I joke that my career goal is to end world hunger, but I have to admit that making a small dent is all I can reasonably hope for.

But that small dent is worth it.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hunger: participation

If you couldn't tell in my earlier posts, I consider participation to be crucial in any development plan. In particular, participation from the people who are going to benefit. It's good to have the local, regional, and national governments involved, it's nice to have the help of other agencies in the area and in the field, but it's absolutely crucial to have the input, agreement, and active participation of the people you're trying to help.

Otherwise, you do dumb things, spending lots of money on projects that everyone will ignore. Examples I've been told: irrigation projects with pipes that no one knows how to fix (it breaks, it's useless), training in modern surgery techniques (castration, in the case I heard of) when the supplies in the area are limited (a rope and a knife), providing improved chickens when people don't like the taste of birds with white feathers.

How do you get participation? Start at the beginning: do a needs assessment. The best way I've heard of to do that is the bean method. Draw up a list of projects your organization would be willing to work on. Have a big meeting in the community, with all the people who might possibly be involved there (you might think that would be difficult, but in my experience people will drop everything for a meeting, especially if the elders get to make speeches). Explain the different projects: who would be involved, what they would entail, what the benefits might be. Put a symbol on the ground to represent each project (i.e. a hammer for a building project). Give every person in attendance a number of dried beans (10 may be best). Tell them to put as many beans as they want in a pile in front of the projects they most like, with more going to the better projects and none to the worst. That way, the people vote, anonymously, with the understanding that people may want more than one of your options. The projects with the most beans in their piles win your support.

Once you've chosen a project, work with the community leaders. Make sure that people in the community support your project in action, not just words: find volunteers to help or hire locals to do some of the work. Teach people as you go the basics of repair, continuation, whatever is appropriate. Invite the elders to your meetings, at least before making any major decisions. You should spend as much time on teaching as on your 'official' job.

Above all, you are not an expert in their way of life. They are. Listen to them, learn from them, and make no assumptions about them.