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As the sun rises, emaciated bodies shifting back and forth are vaguely visible in the dim light. The ground is a barren wasteland yet thousands of people have gathered from miles around to wait. They wait for hope. They wait for deliverance. They wait for food. Patient and exhausted, the people of Ethiopia have gathered near a rural relief station in Dongordo to receive any form of aid that might decrease their hunger. Hollow looks and sunken eyes disfigure the faces of these victims of a treatable “disease.” Time Magazine paints this sobering picture of a nation currently in the midst of a famine. Scenes like this play out across the country as people seek to ward off starvation and stay alive. Meanwhile, around the world in affluent, gluttonous America, being “hungry” holds an opposing definition. In the United States, “hunger” is a daily occurrence between breakfast and noon, but to those suffering from famine in Ethiopia, hunger takes on a persona of hopelessness as people struggle to get nutrition while facing the possibility of starving to death.
A person’s concept of hunger is defined by his location in the world. In the mind of an American citizen, skipping a meal produces stomach aches which signify hunger. While for an Ethiopian, hunger results from going days without food causing severe physical torment, not just several hours of mild discomfort . True hunger is wondering where the next meal is coming from. It is not when a person asks “What will I eat?” when presented with superfluous options in a pantry, but is instead when a person is forced to ask the question, “Will I get to eat?” The bloated bellies of Ethiopian children who have no place to go to get food contrast sharply with the choosy US teens who refuse to eat family leftovers. Both bodies are designed to desire food, which provides fuel for survival, but to Ethiopians, this is a need that is constantly present. To them, hunger is the enemy. They constantly wage war against this adversary who doesn’t just attack their physical needs but also steals the Ethiopians’ lives and the lives of the ones they love. According to the UN World Food Programme, hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, making it a leading cause of death. Daily, Ethiopians continue to fight hunger but it is relentless and cannot be satisfied. The people grow increasingly weak as their bodies don’t receive the minimum 2,100 calories needed to function and grow and as time passes, surrendering seems to be the only way to escape its presence (UN World Food Programme).
Hunger has come to define the people of Ethiopia because it has consumed all of their thoughts and has become their number one struggle. 14 million Ethiopians, over 20% of the population, are having difficulty finding something to eat (Time Magazine). A lack of substantial rain last February and March as well as untimely rain in May, have decreased the number of harvestable crops (CNN World). An Ethiopian woman relayed, “We’ve already been forced to eat our maize seed. Those seeds were our future. There’s nothing to harvest” (CNN World). Zero resources are available to ease hunger pains, since crop failure exceeded 80%, and no help can be found except the small amounts of grain passed out at relief stations (Time Magazine). These aid stations provide the only chance of survival, so people have abandoned their homes and former way of life in search of food, some traveling over 30 miles hoping to be rewarded with a full stomach at the end of their journey (Time Magazine). This need for food from outside sources is due to a lack in job availability. Pieter Serneels, an expert on economics in Ethiopia recorded that the current rate of unemployment for middle aged men stands at 50%. Consequently, money is nonexistent. Typical daily income for a worker in Ethiopia is $0.33 and with this kind of profit, the small amounts of food available can’t even be purchased (Time Magazine). Additionally, farmers who succeed in planting crops end up making less than what it costs to produce the goods which leads back to unemployment (Time Magazine). This cyclical pattern proves to be endless as it continues to push Ethiopia into a downward spiral, leaving no way out.
Americans don’t understand the concept of hunger and can’t relate to those who have experienced its effects, so my church, in an effort to enlighten it’s congregation, presented an opportunity to enter into a 30 hour famine to get a small taste of what those in Africa go through everyday. Feeling ambitious, I eagerly volunteered. I ate a hearty breakfast and began to prepare myself for the challenge ahead of me. Lunch time ticked by and my stomach angrily growled, begging me to satisfy its desires but determined, I resisted and tried to distract myself. Thirty minutes ticked by and pathetically I couldn’t take it any more. I shamefully surrendered. My spoiled lifestyle has given me a false sense of what genuine hunger is. Doesn’t it begin with a slight twinge in my abdomen? A haggard Ethiopian would strongly disagree.
Many factors contribute to causing hunger to become a pressing issue to Ethiopians. To begin with, it threatens to end their existence. This famine has drastically affected the impoverished nation and caused 49% of the population to be considered malnourished (UN World Food Programme). Lack of rain played a key role in producing this unsettling percentage but other factors were also involved. Terror has spread throughout the land, and greed has caused a power struggle to unfold. Rebels have attacked the food trucks and have further delayed the help people so desperately need (Time Magazine). Those patiently waiting are dying. Images with tears streaked faces of family members who’ve lost a loved one circulate through the internet as hunger continues to claim more victims. Can it be stopped? Can it be pacified? No forward progress can be made without the help of foreign aid. Parts of America’s extravagant wealth could be donated and used to bring hope to people in Ethiopia by meeting a basic need: providing food to eat.
Senait, an Ethiopian woman who has felt the pains of hunger told a reporter for the UN World Food Programme, “People don’t care about us, when you’ve eaten a good lunch today, why would you think about the poor?” Perhaps Senait is right in assuming that Americans choose to turn away from engaging with those who are suffering on the other side of the world. But, perhaps she is wrong and Americans aren’t maliciously ignoring their neighbors, but instead simply have no concept of hunger and the suffering it brings because they have never been forced to experience what the Ethiopians have. The ignorance of the American people has prevented them from doing good in the world and taking a stand; for only when faced with these tribulations can a person honestly say they understand the meaning of hunger.