By Celine Klosterman
IOWA CITY — Shortly before lunchtime on Holy Thursday, sophomore Nolan Burns sat down with dozens of other Regina Junior/Senior High School students to a small dish of rice and beans. Nearby, about 20 students enjoyed hot pizza and brownies, but he voiced gratitude for his simple meal — for it was more than the spoonfuls of plain, leftover rice that a third group of students received.
The students were participating in a Hunger Banquet designed to educate them on global inequality and poverty. The April 21 banquet was a project of Oxfam America, an international relief and development organization, and served as the capstone of Regina’s first, Lenten Hunger Happens effort to raise awareness of hunger.
Worldwide, 842 million people suffer from chronic hunger, and a child dies from hunger or a preventable disease every 2.9 seconds, sophomore Kim Shiu told students, using Oxfam-provided statistics.
Hunger’s roots “lie in inequalities in access to education and resources,” junior David Rudolph said. “The results are illiteracy, poverty, war and the inability of families to grow or buy food.”
The Hunger Banquet offered a metaphor for unequal access to the world’s resources, Shiu said. As students entered a room for the exercise, they drew tickets assigning them to a high-, middle- or low-income group.
About 15 percent of students — representing the portion of the world’s population with a per capita income of at least $9,076 — sat at tables where they were served pizza and dessert. A second group of students — representing the 25 percent of people worldwide who earn between $912 and $9,075 annually — sat on folding chairs and helped themselves to rice and beans. The third cluster of students — representing 60 percent of the world’s people, who earn about $2.50 a day — sat on the floor and served themselves a scoop of plain rice.
During the activity, Shiu, Rudolph and religion and social studies teacher Andy Shea read information describing the drastic differences in quality of life among people of different economic classes. Before students left for their scheduled lunch periods in Regina’s cafeteria, they received information on how to assist various hunger- and poverty-fighting organizations.
“It shocks me to see how many people lack things we take for granted — food, education, utilities,” Burns said afterward.
“Many of us in the lower class took only a scoop of rice because we knew we would get to eat later. Many people don’t have that luxury,” said senior Emily Walsh. “It made me realize how wasteful we are.” She made a service trip in summer 2010 to Guatemala, a poor country where 43 percent of children younger than 5 are chronically malnourished, “but I don’t think I ever completely comprehended how little that people there had to eat.”
Hunger Happens “was really eye-opening for me,” said sophomore Anna Kron. “I sit down to three meals a day and can have as much food as I want, while so many people are going hungry.”
Kron and Shiu were among about 20 students who led Hunger Happens. Efforts included prayer services; a canned food drive that brought in about a ton of food; and packing 10,000 meals of dried food to send to Haiti and Nicaragua through Kids Against Hunger, a U.S.-based, food-aid organization.
The Lenten projects were inspired partly by Shiu. In October 2010, she attended the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, where she presented an essay she wrote on improving humanitarian aid after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. After taking part in the Hunger Banquet at the symposium, she suggested bringing the activity to Regina. Kathy McCue, religion and social studies teacher and campus minister, expanded on the idea, proposing a hunger awareness effort for all of Lent.
“It’s hard for people of our standing to appreciate hunger,” McCue said. “People tend to think of it as the feeling they get five minutes before lunch.”
There’s enough food for everyone, yet so many people are deprived, she noted.
Shiu said that she and her peers, as future leaders, must learn about and start taking responsibility for relieving social problems such as hunger. “We need to realize how fortunate we are.”