One more class till graduation! That was my first thought attending the “Spirituality of Leadership” course at the Mount in May of 2006. It was the last class of a long journey to completing a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program.
The best classes are always the ones that take you down an unexpected road, and this one did just that. When I was doing the preassignments for class, there were news reports about the humanitarian tragedy in Darfur, Sudan. There were roughly three million people displaced by conflict and living in refugee camps in that part of Africa. These war victims were also facing another threat: reduced food rations. I remember specifically mentioning this in one of the class meetings when the discussion turned to Darfur.
The topic touched me, and I wanted to know more. So I contacted the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the largest food aid organization in the world. The WFP was trying to provide aid to the refugees in Darfur. I did not know anything about this organization except for seeing the executive director, James Morris, on C-Span.
I wrote to Jennifer Parmelee, the organization’s DC spokesperson, who helped me to understand how WFP operates in fighting hunger. WFP depends on voluntary donations from governments and the public around the globe to feed the hungry. WFP did not have enough of these donations and was forced to cut the rations for the refugees in Darfur.
Of course this was just one front of the war against hunger. Worldwide there are nearly one billion people who suffer from hunger. Sometimes you see this hunger widely publicized when famine strikes a country causing mass starvation. While this is the most horrific manifestation of global hunger, it is not the only one.
There is also a slower type of hunger and malnutrition that drains a person, and a society, over a period of years. This often gets very little media attention. Sometimes the hunger is not because there is lack of food in a particular country, but rather an access. If food prices become high the poor cannot obtain very much with their meager earnings.
So while doing my course work for “Spirituality of Leadership,” I opened up my own “course” on hunger issues. There was so much to learn, and people in the field for years will tell you there is always more learning needed. So I had to start slow.
I started my research by reading the book “Food for Peace.” I learned that Food for Peace has been our country’s primary tool for fighting global hunger since the Eisenhower administration. The U.S. had a surplus of food and they shared this abundance to help feed the hungry overseas. Germany, Austria, Italy, Japan, India, and Korea were some of the recipients during the 1950s and 1960s. Today Food for Peace makes donations to the UN World Food Programme’s hunger relief missions.
Then it was time to craft all this information into an article. I had been writing for the History News Service for about five years, and my articles were distributed to newspapers and news media websites.
My first article on hunger was published by The Cincinnati Enquirer on my birthday (July 3) in 2006. I then began digging deeper into both the current crisis of world hunger but also the past. Several years before, I had struck up a correspondence with one of President Dwight Eisenhower’s assistants, General Andrew Goodpaster. We talked mostly about issues of nuclear weapons proliferation. However, I do recall Goodpaster writing a New York Times op-ed in 2003 about George Marshall, the former secretary of state who crafted the European recovery program after World War II. That article belatedly served as a springboard for me to dive into the history of fighting hunger. It was food that served as the foundation of what was called the Marshall Plan.
That fall of 2006 I wrote articles featuring the Marshall Plan and fighting hunger for a number of newspapers and websites. This history angle combined with the fact that I developed so many great contacts with aid organizations made it all work. Ever since that time I have been writing about global hunger and diving into the history. At one point someone from the World Food Programme told me I was like their unofficial historian.
Tim Lynch, professor of history at the Mount, once mentioned to me how uncovering history is like pulling on a piece of yarn. You begin to uncover more and more history, or string. And that is what I have found looking into the history of food aid.
Cincinnati is rich in this history of fighting hunger. In 1908 one of the earliest school feeding programs was developed here by teacher Ella Walsh. These were called Penny Lunch programs and they helped feed many a hungry and impoverished child in Cincinnati. Other cities and countries sought to learn from Cincinnati’s example.
During World War I Cincinnati reached out to feed hungry Belgians trapped by the fighting. When a massive famine struck Russia in 1921, one of the leaders in the relief work, Boris Bogen, had ties to Cincinnati, so an appeal for help from Russia was even published in a Cincinnati newspaper.
After World War II Cincinnatians gave generously to feed the hungry overseas and help build peace. A center was set up downtown where people could make donations or buy CARE packages of food for war victims in Europe and Asia. The Friendship Train, which collected canned goods and donations for Europe after World War II, once made a stop here.
Without food aid countries could never rebuild from war. As Former Army Chief and Secretary of State George C. Marshall said, “Food is the very basis of all reconstruction. Hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.” This was the Food for Peace in its earliest form. This was a movement that anyone from President Truman or Eisenhower to a fourth grader holding a bake sale fundraiser could partake in. Everyone could be a leader.
Today everyone can do the same using technology right from your own home or while in school. The WFP runs an online computer game called Free Rice. Players answer questions about vocabulary, math, literature, art, and science. It’s a great learning tool for students or anyone seeking an academic challenge. For every correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to the World Food Programme via advertisers — you can help feed the hungry and learn at the same time with this game.
There is a Free Rice team for the Mount community. Just Google “MSJ global hunger relief” and you will find it. So far, rice earned by the Mount’s team has helped provide school meals in Haiti and Cambodia.
Recently I was named a member of Feeding America’s Blogger Council. We are utilizing Internet technology to help fight hunger in America. Technology today has created media opportunities beyond the traditional print newspaper. You can post a story or blog online about hunger within minutes. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter help spread this message. You can retweet a story or fact about hunger to your Twitter group.
The more messengers about hunger the more likely this crisis can be alleviated and hopefully solved, both here in the U.S. and abroad.
Food is essential to winning peace today. We see this unfolding before our very eyes. In the new nation of South Sudan there is conflict between the Lou Nuer and Murle tribes that is causing much suffering, hunger and displacement. Catholic Relief Services emphasizes that lack of resources like food, water, health care, and shelter is a major factor behind conflicts such as this one. These basic necessities are needed to give people hope. A hungry population is a desperate one.
That is a theme throughout the world. If children lack food in their growing years they suffer lasting physical and mental damage. When they are infants this is most dangerous as the damage is irreversible. When children reach school age, food is needed to continue to allow them to grow physically and also to enhance their education. That’s why school feeding is so critical.
The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program was started by former Senators George McGovern and Bob Dole to provide school meals to children throughout the world. Both McGovern and Dole served in World War II and were deeply influenced by the hunger and suffering they witnessed. Ever since late 2006, I have been advocating for this program as it plays such a vital role in building peace and development.
In 2008 I produced a short film, “Ending Child Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World.” It debuted in Mount Professor Jeff Hillard’s “Cincinnati Authors” class. Later that same year, with Jennifer Parmelee’s encouragement, I started an interview series on school feeding with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other aid agencies. This series was published online and later became the book, “Ending World Hunger.”
Back to Darfur to conclude. There is hope for peace in Darfur with some of the refugees leaving the camps and feeling safe enough to return home. However, there is still a long way to go. Peace will surely rest on how the world responds to the humanitarian needs unfolding in this region.
Sudan’s Minister of Agriculture reports severe food shortages in parts of North Darfur State. The famine early warning system says North and South Darfur are in a crisis stage because of drought and reduced harvests. Food prices are high. Children are at risk of sliding deeper into dangerous malnutrition.
Aid agencies will need funding to help the people through this hunger crisis. Currently though, the UN World Food Programme is short on funding for its hunger relief work throughout Sudan at a time when a potential famine is lurking. This agency depends entirely on voluntary donations. Aid agencies have warned that lack of food and other basic goods in Darfur prevents more people from leaving refugee camps and heading home.
Livelihood support and building the strength of farmers against drought is desperately needed. Safety nets like school feeding and Food for Work must be in place to ease the transition for those returning home. Hunger and want in Darfur, Sudan, or anywhere for that matter, will sink any hopes for peace.
Writing and advocating about world hunger the last six years has been an unexpected adventure, one I enjoy sharing when I go to the Mount to speak or take part in fundraisers. In fact, last September I visited the Mount’s class on the UN Millennium Development Goals. Students are working toward the same goals of eliminating hunger and malnutrition, and promoting education and opportunity worldwide.
In fact, last year I completed my 400th article on global hunger, some of these appearing locally in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Josette Sheeran, the current director of the World Food Programme, tweeted “Congratulating ‘ending world hunger’ champion@williamlambers for his 400th blog ... May there be many more Bill!” I already have a few ideas for the future.