Schoolchildren have been doing the 40 Hour Famine since what seems forever. Guest poster Jonathan Livingstone reckons they should stop.
Going Hard Out for the Hungry?
If ever there were a reason to apply the Eternal Vigilance principle to voluntary charity, World Vision would be it.
For World Vision has cooked up the kookiest of fund-raising schemes, one where kids get to go hungry to raise money for charity. Forget the old war veteran sitting alone and forgotten in his miserable rest home, there’ll be no visit for him from these kids. Nor a helping hand for an old crippled neighbour. Not even money raised by a good old-fashioned carwash or sausage sizzle. Hell no, God forbid that kids be encouraged to do something productive, to provide a service for reward. Instead, they are sent out to shame the reluctant into sponsoring them to punish themselves. To “GO HARD OUT FOR THE HUNGRY” in the ‘40 Hour Famine.’
One teacher told me their school had rejected the ‘40 hour Famine’ for health reasons, but other schools have enthusiastically embraced it, promoting it in a quasi-curricular fashion. Some senior students even tell me that if they want to be a prefect in their school, they are “best advised” to undergo ‘the Famine.’
Apart from the flippant disregard for the physical well being of the kids, there is the sheer gutlessness of the idea. I mean, what kind of person would ask innocent children to punish themselves on account of something which is not their fault, and over which they have no control? As if someone else’s poverty is somehow their responsibility, and their suffering will cure it.
These religious cranks, who want to assuage the guilt that they obviously feel on account of hungry people, should do their own stupid fast. Don’t try to make my kids do it for them.
To top it off, and even if a kid were under some obligation to “understand” the plight of the world’s poor and hungry, it is a bloody insult to suggest that they must hurt themselves in order to do so. Just as they do not need to hurt themselves to appreciate the horror of the Holocaust. Just imagine… “Now, Children, all stick your hands in the oven to show your sympathy for the Jews.” The Department of Children would be all over you. Eventually.
The kids who do not buy into a “No Food challenge” are encouraged to endure some other form of self-deprivation instead. Some make a mockery of the farce by locking themselves in a room with their mates for 40 hours of time-wasting silliness on a pretext of “going without technology” - I can’t make up my mind whether the healthy cynicism of these kids makes up for the sheer waste of their time. Others might give up their cell phone. And just so the Trappists don’t feel left out of the self-denial fest, and just so the parents can enjoy a little suffering too, there is the option of the kid “not talking” for 40 hours (as if). Then, just when you think it can’t get any sillier, my daughter tells me one ‘famine’ suggested by the organisers is to forgo the toilet for 40 hours.
You would have to wonder, wouldn’t you? (It would be gratifying to assume that to be a joke, but I can assure you the kids took them seriously. Adios to science, eh. ).
Although the World Vision pamphlet carries an expectation that a “NO-FOOD 40 HOUR FAMINE” is exactly that, no food (sorry, NO FOOD), my kids are told at school that they can drink ‘Just Juice’ and eat barley sugar. I’ve seen someone or other’s guidelines that stipulate one barley sugar every four hours, but I’ve got my doubts that your average 14 year old will go hungry while they have barley sugars in front of them. Like that bane of parents, the sugary birthday parties, only a lot worse - at least your average party comes between regular meals. I’m picking these kids “going hard out” for the hungry will instead, when their little tummies start rumbling, go hard out on barley sugars. They will get up in the morning and have barley sugars for breakfast, then lunch, then afternoon tea and dinner.
So on through the “GO HARD OUT FOR THE HUNGRY” pamphlet, through the new-age gobbledygook, past all the tear-off tax receipt coupons and the clichés, and I get to the “HEALTH GUIDELINES FOR THE NO-FOOD 40 HOUR FAMINE.” I don’t need my magnifying glass to read that parent-friendly offering, but I surely had to get out my x10 to read the fine print that followed, which I’ve magnified for you here:
World Vision does not accept any responsibility for children’s wellbeing during a no-food 40 hour famine.
Shall we say that again? The organisation encouraging children to starve for the sake of the world “does not accept any responsibility for children’s wellbeing” during the starvation diet they’ve done so much to encourage. Yes, gutless. But then I turn the pamphlet over and suddenly it gets worse than gutless. Because World Vision isn’t just asking the kids to hurt themselves on account of someone else’s misfortune, it is asking them to do so on account of a non-existent someone else.
For this year’s ‘Famine’ is raising money for the ‘hungry’ in Bougainville. An easy sell right? That natives, by definition, must be hungry? The problem is, it is not possible to be hungry on Bougainville, not unless all you eat is polar bear meat or something.
It is no accident that Bougainville was the darling of colonial planters. It has an almost identical population density to New Zealand (around 17 people per sq km), except that its climate is many, many more times more bountiful. I worked on Bougainville for a couple of years. I lived in a remote area but travelled all around the island, and I never ever saw a hungry person. Every village had plenty of land for gardens and ready access to a sea teeming with fish. Then there are the pigs, chickens, dogs, birds and so on, the thousands of acres of edible ferns, the flying foxes and the myriad of other edible species which thrive there. My house was surrounded by an uncontrollable overgrowth of papayas from seeds which I had casually tossed out the window while I was eating breakfast. The climate is so life-friendly there is an imported vine which is said to spread a mile every year. And every mile or so there is a stand of coconut palms, whose water alone contains sufficient nutrients said to sustain human life indefinitely.
Meantime, you’ve got to hand it to World Vision, it has managed to beat even Lloyd Jones at his own game of fiction. For not even Lloyd in Mr Pip, his beautiful tale set in Bougainville during the ‘crisis’*, could conjure up hunger.
Yes indeed, were I to believe in God (as World Vision says it does), then I would say that Bougainville is His Own Tropical Paradise. Not surprisingly, Bougainvillean Helen Hakina agrees:
I think Bougainville Island is a blessed island, we have so many things, even during the crisis there was no hunger. We had enough food to eat, even if we didn't grow it, there was food in the bush that we can collect, and there was nobody that we can say was hungry during the crisis.
But it gets worse. Not content to invent just hunger, World Vision takes the cake with a teary tale about Bougainvillean children who are forced to drink seawater. Really? Excuse me, World Vision, just because they are black, doesn’t mean we think Bougainvilleans must live in the Sahara Desert. The annual rainfall of Bougainville invariably ranges from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 metres per year, and the rivers that flow from the mountain range at regular intervals along the coast never run dry. Anyone drinking seawater in Bougainville doesn’t need my children to starve themselves, they need to walk along the coast a bit to the nearest river, or collect some water next time it rains. Or drink some nutritious coconut water.
Hey, World Vision, stop giving voluntary charity a bad name, and … leave my kids alone.
* Bougainville’s tragic battle for independence from Papua New Guinea, and the civil war it engendered. Approximately 1988 - 2000