Students hold fast to raise awareness about hunger
Published: Monday, October 17, 2011
Updated: Monday, October 17, 2011 23:10
Last Friday and Saturday, Positive Foundations, in partnership with the Girl Effect and the Justice League, hosted the "24-Hour Famine," a 24-hour event in which Brandeis students congregated in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium. In what the Facebook event page described as an act of "fasting solidarity for the Horn of Africa," students camped out with blankets, pillows and sleeping bags after they partook in poverty- and famine-related educational activities and heard from keynote speakers.
Highlights of the event included keynote speaker Will Fenton of Oxfam and an "Advocacy Workshop" with Cynthia Tschampl of RESULTS, a nonprofit organization and "a leading force in ending poverty in the United States and around the world," according to the Facebook event page. Among other activities, participants decorated T-shirts and united in a candlelight vigil on the front steps of the SCC for a reflection and silent meditation.
Fenton, youth coordinator of the GROW campaign, which aims to more effectively supply food for a global population, spoke of food injustice in the world and of some of the many groups involved in the prevention of world hunger. Fenton referred to key portions of Oxfam, such as Sisters on the Planet, an organization teamed with Oxfam to help women around the world fight hunger, poverty- and climate change; the Rural Resilience Initiative, a program empowering rural households with integrated risk-management tools; and Feed the Future, an initiative aimed at halving the number of poverty and hunger-ridden individuals by 2015 not only through financial commitment, but also through innovation and entrepreneurship.
At the close of his presentation, Fenton stressed that awareness is the biggest step in ending world hunger and poverty and urged participants to get involved in some way, such as through hosting a Hunger Banquet; joining the CHANGE initiative, "a highly competitive national program that trains college students to become actively engaged with Oxfam America's work"; or to join Action Corps, an offshoot of Oxfam focusing on improving life for impoverished persons on a local level.
Later in the afternoon, Positive Foundations Director of Policy Kate Alexander '12 introduced a panel that spoke on many issues pertaining to world poverty. The panel consisted of Dr. Sarita Bhalotra, associate professor in the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and Women's and Gender Studies Program; Pierrette Quintiliani, an adjunct professor with expertise in international field emergency, relief operations, conflict prevention and international humanitarian law; Heath Prince, a Ph.D. candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and an adjunct lecturer in the Heller School's Sustainable International Development Program; and Isabella Jean, an adjunct professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management who has consultant experience in international peacebuilding and development organizations primarily focusing on research and evaluation, facilitation, curriculum development and training.
Positive Foundations is the driving force behind the 24-Hour Famine, led by President Aditya Sanyal '13, and Alexander. In an interview with the Justice, Positive Foundations Director of Operations Josilyn Sacks '14 spoke of her longstanding interest in the Millennium Development Goals, a subgroup of the United Nations, which vows to end world poverty by 2015.
The U.N. describes the background of the coalition as: "The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) [range] from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015."
Alexander said, "We want to build a community of solidarity with the people suffering from extreme poverty in the Horn of Africa because the truth is that their famine was man-made. This event will broaden our understanding of extreme hunger and poverty and inspire people to take action to make the world a safer, healthier [and] better place. We can save lives in minutes. If you can do so much with so little time, why not?"
In an interview with the Justice, Positive Foundations member Caroline Duchin '13 spoke of her passion for the organization. Shortly after viewing an Invisible Children and Oxfam presentation, Caroline traveled to New York City with activists from Brandeis.
Along with 4,000 to 5,000 other young people, Caroline and her classmates slept outside and built structures reminiscent of Ugandan refugee settlements. The group congregated for a 30-minute silence in honor of those who faced poverty, oppression and death due to the war and genocide in Uganda. Commented Caroline, "It was the loneliest silence I had ever experienced."
Wesley Papiernik '14 offered some personal opinions into relevance of the 24 Hour Famine on the global situation regarding poverty and starvation. "This is a great event. It's difficult for people to understand famine when food is so abundant here. Experiencing it for a day will help spread awareness," he said.
Avi Aizenman '13, a new member of Positive Foundations, spoke of her interest in social activism and her interest in the event.
"Once I actually started learning what this event [was] for, and the starvation in the Horn of Africa, it seemed like a really important event," she said. "The fact that …  people signed up saying that they'd at least support the event on Facebook shows that the numbers are there. It is an important thing to at least become aware of."