(Photos by Hilah Teague)
Those who attended Catawba College's Hunger Banquet on Monday, Nov. 13 were divided into three groups and served very different menus.
Sixty percent of the attendees, randomly given "identity" cards which assigned them to the Third World, sat on the floor of Crystal Lounge and were given white rice on wax paper; 25 percent, representing the Second World, sat in chairs and were handed bowls of potato corn soup; and 15 percent, representing the First World, sat at tables covered with white cloths and were served complete chicken dinners by wait staff.
The point of the event: to demonstrate to those gathered that people with both plenty and variety to eat constitute the minority of the world's population; and to commemorate Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 13-17) with a fund-raiser that heightened awareness for participating students, faculty and staff.
"Even though everyone knew it was make-believe, it brought attention to the fact that there is hunger in the world," explained Catawba College Senior Vice President and Chaplain Dr. Kenneth Clapp, who attended the banquet and found himself counted among those in the Second World.
"A number of people were emotionally moved, which oftentimes is a starting point for us to take steps to make a difference," Clapp said.
"My name is Lawrence and I'm 18 or 19 years old and I lived in Hong Kong in a 12-foot by 12-foot room. I was in the Second World, had a job and was going to study law, until I took a chance and stood up.
"I didn't know what I was standing up for and I thought I might get to move up to sit at a table with the First World people," sophomore Nathan Wrights of China Grove explained. "But instead, I got moved down to the Third World and became a guy who picked coffee beans and lived in Guatemala. Instead of soup, I got to sit on the floor and eat rice."
Senior Erica Mitchell of Wilmington, Del., also found herself in the Third World after deciding to participate "to make myself more aware of what issues are going on in the world." Her card identified her as Ismatullah of Afghanistan. She said she felt "hungry, especially walking past the high income table and watching them eat the chicken that I raised and the rice that I raised."
While participants ate, they were occasionally admonished by the event coordinator and emcee, sophomore Emily Hoffman of Tampa, Fla. "Those of you who are choosing not to eat your rice should be aware that that is usually not an option for people in the Third World," she said.
Participants also viewed a power point presentation set to music which Hoffman had prepared. It included photographs of real Third World residents, many of them children, suffering from starvation and malnutrition, interspersed with facts that seemed to shock even the most skeptical in attendance:
Every 5 second a child dies from hunger.
More than 850 million people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition globally.
More than 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 each day. This means that more than 40% of the world's population daily faces the threat or reality of extreme poverty.
Every day, 30,000 children under the age of 5 die, almost all from preventable causes, including malnutrition. That's one child ever 2.9 seconds.
Niger, the world's poorest country, has an average annual income of under $235 per person. The annual income in the U.S. is $37,648 per person. Or, in essence, the average American lives on the same amount of money as 160 Nigerians.
The U.S. has as many citizens living below the poverty line as the total resident population of Florida, Illinois, and Oregon combined. That is 36 million people.
The banquet program included remarks from teenager Kolya Baker, a native of Russia who was rescued off the streets of St. Petersburg and adopted by Dr. Paul Baker, a Catawba College mathematics professor. He spoke of his difficult childhood, of eating at a soup kitchen for children run by the Russian equivalent of the Salvation Army, of begging for money, and of his natural parents' and sister's unsuccessful struggle with alcoholism.
Senior Camille Plocinik of Baltimore, Md., one of the volunteers working at the banquet, said she was encouraged by the campus participation and the insights those participants shared about "their places in the worlds."
"This is the message I try to get across to privileged people who complain about how everything in their life is so unfair," Plocinik explained. "But, it's not just about making sure that people who are hungry get food, it's about changing the political structure. I want to get my hands dirty and get involved. I want to change the world."
Catawba College Vice President and Dean of the College Dr. Barbara Hetrick led those gathered in a debriefing before the banquet concluded. She asked them how they felt to temporarily suspend their true identities and take a new place in one of the three ‘worlds' at the banquet. The most vocal responses came from the Third World residents and ranged from "frustrated" to "I didn't know what to do."
"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, teach him to fish, and he'll eat for a lifetime, but we must also ask ourselves who controls the river," Hoffman remarked at the banquet's close. "I would encourage each of you to take a real stand on hunger in the world."
The event, planned by Volunteer Catawba, drew student participation from on-campus organizations such as the Helen Foil Beard Society, a service organization for women, the Student Government Association, and the campus chapter of Alpha Chi, a national honor society. Proceeds from Hunger Banquet tickets sales will benefit Heifer International (www.heifer.org), an organization which works to end hunger and poverty, and care for the earth by providing appropriate livestock, training and related services for small-scale farmers and communities worldwide.