Choosing to Love

Last night I helped my co-worker organize the annual Oxfam Hunger Banquet for students here on campus. What I was expecting to be an engaging and humbling experience left me angry and disgusted as I sat and watched the bored and apathetic students counting down the minutes until they could be dismissed and grab something deep-fried and artery-clogging as soon as they left the premises. (Disclaimer: As I'm fairly worked up about the situation, expect me to speak in extremes from here on out, but know that there were a small handful of students who did engage).

The premise of a Hunger Banquet is to gather participants for a meal together, simulating real world conditions. At one table, a small handful of people dine on a nutritious meal complete with a tablecloth, silverware and fine china. These people represent the 15% of the world's population who earn more than $9400 a year. A few tables over are a larger group who represent the 30% of the global population who may have a steady job, but no savings or anything to fall back on in case of an emergency such as a natural disaster, war or a family death/illness. These people had a cup of water and a plate full of rice and beans. The remaining participants are seated on the floor where they're given a bucket of drinking water and a large bowl of rice. These people sans bowls, plates and utensils represent the remaining 55% of the world's population- most of whom live on less than a dollar a day and frankly, don't know where their next meal is coming from.

As the evening progressed, the high class and middle class tables dined on their meals and I watched as the lower class stared at the bowl of rice placed in front of them. As the meal drew to a close and the supplementary Oxfam educational video was turned off, we opened up a discussion, hoping to allow the students an opportunity to reflect on what they had just experienced. What we got rather, were the blank aforementioned stares. At one point I was frustrated as the discussion had come to a standstill and I asked the lower class group why their meal remain untouched. I got an assortment of replies, most of which informed me that they didn't want to use their hands for reasons of sanitation. As which point I asked them, but what if you didn't know you had access to food once you left this room? They continued their same path of logic, one student was so bold as to say he would wait up to three days for food if it meant he didn't have to use his hands.

The conversation slowly dragged on as students waited for their que to leave. I was so disheartened by their collective response, that I was incredibly grateful when my supervisor, who is a full-time missionary, shared with the group a story from her year spent in Kyrgyzstan. Her time spent in Central Asia deeply resonated with me as I reflected on my own experiences in Uganda.

Once the group was dismissed, my co-worker and I tore down posters and packed up literature and left. On my way out I was greeted by a familiar face- a girl I had worked with in the summer- who was begging to pawn off cookies left over from a Bake Sale fundraiser. I made a very small contribution to her table and received three platefuls of cookies in return. I got into my car, heading home and I emotionally broke down. I hysterically sobbed as I recalled the bowls of uneaten rice, sure to be thrown away and glanced at the plates of unnecessary calories sitting on my passenger seat. I needed to talk with someone who understood the pain I was going through. I didn't know why I reacted as strongly as I did, but I knew how terribly unfair it was that while raising awareness for families all over the world who would have given anything for that bowl of rice I was greeted by a night full of wastefulness, arrogance and apathy. I remembered sitting in the dining hall at UCU and watching as three small children rifled through the garbage, picking out uneaten rice and putting it in dirty plastic bags to take home with them- the pain was enormous.

I texted my supervisor and asked if I could pay her a visit at her home. The time spent with her was a tremendous relief- it just felt good to be in the company of someone who had witnessed that sort of poverty firsthand and could uplift and encourage me. When I went to bed that night, I was full of hatred and disgust. When I woke up this morning, I had a fresh outlook and came to the stark realization that while I was so quick to judge the ignorance at the banquet the night before- what was I doing to combat poverty?? Now, I realize that serving with AmeriCorps does qualify, but too often I feel I use that as my "Get out of Service Free" card. So with this newfound insight and motivation, I developed a plan to start changing my lifestyle and quit living like a stereotypical American, but living like a thoughtful member of this global community, who just so happens to currently reside in the States.

Allow me to share my newfound goals:
1) I have been given the tremendous blessing of...Food Stamps. This means that every month, because of my lack of income, my government provides me with $176 to use toward the purchase of food so that I don't ever go hungry. Knowing that I have a guaranteed food allowance every month is a tremendous priviledge and so I've made the decision that at the end of every month, whatever is currently residing in my pantry (disregarding spices and baking materials) and has been left unopened will be donated to the local ministry which distributes groceries weekly to about 150 families.
2) All this coincides with the news that as of April, I am obligated to being paying back my private student loans at a rate of $540/month. Considering I live on no income, this thought absolutely terrifies me, so I've contemplated selling my assets. Well...pretty much the one asset I have- my laptop. Currently my PC serves merely as a radio when I'm in the shower or doing dishes. All of my internet surfing, job hunting and research is done on my work computer anyhow and the worth of that computer could be the equivalent of one month's student loan payment.
3) I have also been blessed with a great apartment that coincidentally is located within a 15 minute walking distance of my office. During the summer, I paid daily visits to program participants, but now that the growing season has been over for quite some time- why am I still driving to work? So this morning, I made the conscious desicion to leave my van curbside, don my Chucks and an umbrella and walk myself to work. The result was a refreshing and wonderful wake-up call and the feeling that not only was I taking part in reducing the amount of pollutants released into my environment, but I was saving money on gas that could be used elsewhere in my strict budget.
4) Today, I also made a conscious decision to fast. As a Christian, I've been taught by numerous religious leaders that fasting is a spiritual discipline in order to demonstrate faith and trust in the Lord. While that is all well and good, I'm choosing to fast beginning today on a once a week basis to be in solidarity with my global neighbors who are going days at a time without a meal, as well as saving money as I mentioned before.

This is my four-fold plan to do my part in alleviating hunger and to live more simply and sustainably. I would encourage you to ask yourselves- given my enormous position of power as a wealthy American citizen (and believe me, you ARE wealthy), what am I doing to confront hunger and poverty in this world? It's time to love as we're called to love- let's not sit on our lazy, priviledged asses while commenting on the heartbreak of a malnourished child. Let's put our priviledged asses to work in combatting the enormous disparity in global food distribution! We enter this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing- it's up to each of us individually to decide what we want to do in between- let's choose to love.

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