Bringing hunger homeBY SHIN YUN
Feeding a hungry person is only a temporary solution. That's why Oxfam America works to empower poor people around the world to organize and overcome economic and social inequities. And they don't want government money to do it.
Oxfam America is a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency that relies on contributions to fund 267 small scale projects in 28 countries. The name Oxfam comes from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, founded in England in 1942. Oxfam projects are developed, implemented and managed by local people.
An Oxfam grant is helping Tirso Moreno, founder of Farmworker Association of Central Florida (FACF), continue his member-run labor cooperative. Migrant farmworkers who have been exploited by labor contractors in the past have the chance to secure their own job contracts, and negotiate wages and benefits. The co-op members are covered under workers' compensation and social security and make decisions as a group.
Oxfam grants also help women around the world to help themselves and provide for their families. In India, Oxfam helps women artisans market their work. In Ecuador, Oxfam supports indigenous women in becoming leaders.
Nov. 16 is the national day of the Oxfam Hunger Fast. Thousands of people around the country will be involved in a day of fasting, giving up cigarettes and junk food, and they are encouraged to donate the money saved thereby to Oxfam.
Stephen Harms, president of Oxfam Carolina, and an international studies major at the University of South Carolina, is involved in organizing a hunger banquet at the university.
Oxfam Carolina promotes mainly on campus because it's cheap and there is a diverse group of people to engage.
"We're inviting everyone to an interfaith service on Nov. 14, 7 p.m. at St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel, 1610 Greene Street," Harms said. "The service will be the kick-off for the day of fasting. The next night there will be a Hunger Banquet at 6 p.m. at Baptist Student Union, 700 Pickens Street. Everyone's invited. We don't discriminate."
The interfaith service is a time of prayer and of sharing concerns about poverty with people of different faiths.
Fasting is an ancient discipline that liberates the spirit and encourages humanity and sacrifice. Rev. Tom H.B. Walls of the United Methodist Campus Ministries regards fasting as a religious tradition and, as the advisor of Oxfam Carolina, he recognizes the importance of fasting for people who are not familiar with the hunger problem.
"Fasting makes us feel the emptiness that one-fifth of the population feels every day. Sometimes people get overwhelmed by the gravity of the issue but we want to give people hope and empowerment," Wall said.
After the fast, participants will be able to eat at the banquet, but they might not get a good meal. The Hunger Banquet is a dramatization of the unequal distribution of food. A large meal is prepared and divided among guests in proportions that represent the earnings of people who live in the world's (15 percent) high-, (25 percent) middle-, and (60 percent) low-income countries. By random drawing, guests end up eating rice, rice and beans, or a full-course meal.
Activities are planned for that night. Low-income people sit on the floor away from the high-income people. The meals and the service get better as the income rises.
Wall said, "People are surprised at their reactions, how they feel. Some people who get good meals feel guilty."
An activity called "Move Up/Move Down" may allow some low-income guests to move to a higher income status and receive the benefits, or vice versa.
Different scenario are read to challenge guests' perception of their security and expectations. In the middle of the meal a scenario might be read for a high-income guest who worked as a machinist but lost his job due to the plant shutting down. The guest doesn't have any savings so he has to move down to the low-income group.
"I think walks are popular," Wall said, referring to the various marches to support awareness of hunger issues, "but the hunger banquet is a different experience. It asks you to identify with people's experience more than walking. This banquet isn't the answer but we can give money and try to understand and feel with people whose fate we don't understand.
"There are lots of good causes and the demands are endless, but food is a basic human right. If you give people sustenance, nourishment, then they can fulfill their lives," Wall said.
This is the third year of the fast and banquet. Tickets for the banquet are $3 for students and $5 for faculty and the public. All the money raised goes to Oxfam. For details on the banquet or about Oxfam Carolina, call 799-7363.
Shin Yun is a free-lance writer and activist who lives in Columbia.
"Fasting makes us feel the emptiness that one-fifth of the population feels every day. Sometimes people get overwhelmed by the gravity of the issue, but we want to give people hope and empowerment."
Rev. Tom H.B. Walls