April 27, 2009:
I can think of a lot of different ways to spend the precious hours I have to myself each weekend. Maybe a bed-and-breakfast getaway with my husband to the snowy moutains of Vermont? Or a girls night complete with pedicures, popcorn, and “Pretty In Pink?” But starving myself for a full 30 hours wasn’t really on the top of that list. Until I heard about a program called “30 Hour Famine.”
This international youth movement is in nearly 20 different countries around the world, and each year, teens willingly give up food for 30 hours to raise money to help fight world hunger. Last year, in the United States alone, nearly 500,000 teens raised $12.2 million dollars for Famine, and since 1992, they have raised close to $120 million dollars. All of the proceeds go to World Vision, an international humanitarian aid organization, that uses the money to help feed hungry children and their families.
Full disclosure: this was more than just a personal challenge for me. I work for World Vision, and I’ve met dozens of young people – far younger than me – who were willing to give up Friday night pizza and popcorn at the movies to participate in 30 Hour Famine. I was challenged by their selflessness to help people that they would most likely never meet – and I vowed that I would give it a go next year.
So, when 2009 rolled around, I knew that this year 500,001 people would do the Famine, and I signed myself up. After all, I had done 24-hour fasts before and I was nearly twice the age of most of the kids who do Famine every year. This couldn’t be as hard as it sounded – could it?Friday, 7:30 p.m.
I cook my last meal before the fast begins. Grilled fish with a coconut red curry sauce and baby bok choy with rice. I wonder if it’s wise to eat such a small meal. Maybe I should’ve eaten more like Michael Phelps’ and his famous 12,000 calorie-a-day diet, cramming in enough food in my 5’2” frame to hold me over for the next 30 hours?Saturday, 8:30 a.m.
My weekend mornings usually involve hearty breakfasts and a cup or two of warm coffee, but as I lay in bed, dreaming of my break-the-fast breakfast on Sunday (French toast with bacon? Oatmeal and fresh fruit? An omelette with the works?), I realize I’m completely missing the point of Famine, and I’m barely 9 hours into the fast.
This isn’t about a test of physical endurance. It’s about making a tangible sacrifice to learn a little bit more about what it’s like for the nearly 850 million people around the world who live every day with that gnawing feeling of hunger. For those families, their next meal isn’t about what tastes good. It’s about sustenance.
I decide that I’ll break the fast with something known as UNIMIX, a porridge-type meal that’s often fed to extremely malnourished children around the world. It’s a mixture of corn meal, oil, mashed beans, sugar, and milk powder. Not exactly the brunch I was imagining, but it gets me back on track as I refocus myself on the real purpose of doing Famine.Saturday, 10 a.m.
A lot of Famine groups I talked to said they try to stay as busy as possible with community service projects, educational games to learn more about poverty and hunger, and other activities to help pass the time. I decide that I should head out to the local food banks to see if they need an extra hand this morning. I head to St. James Episcopal church to see if they need any help at the Saturday morning food bank. It’s a crisp, sunny day, but as soon as I step inside, a heavy darkness and shame envelopes me. People whisper quietly as I walk in the door. Some look away, some just stare at the ground. One girl walks toward me and then continues past me to the door. She reminds me of myself – probably about the same age, dark hair pulled back, black wool coat buttoned up. But there is one big difference between us. I am standing in line to offer my time as a volunteer; she is standing in line because she can’t afford groceries this month. An hour later, I see her standing outside the grocery store. If I hadn’t seen her at the food pantry, I would’ve assumed she bought her groceries from the store. It made me wonder how many more of my neighors were in need? I’d been so focused on thinking about families in the developing world, I had forgotten about my next-door neighbors. I remind myself that participating in Famine is more than just a chance to glimpse the daily struggle for life around the world, but it’s also a tool to open our eyes to the suffering in our own neighborhoods.Saturday, 11:30 a.m.Almost 12 hours in. I take my first water break. Ice water with sugar and a slice of lime. It takes away some of the hunger, but I’m starting to get a small headache. Saturday, 5 p.m.Out of nowhere, I get sick. This is not what I was expecting to experience during Famine, but I find out that nausea can be a side affect of fasting. Lucky me. After a quick run to the store for some ginger ale, I’m back in the saddle again. I plug into www.30hourfamine.org to read some of the blog posts from teens across the country doing Famine this weekend, and I remind myself why I’m doing this. I am about 18 hours into the fast, and I need some encouragement. Imagine what 3 days without food would feel like? At least I know I’ll be eating tomorrow. For so many families who live in poverty, tomorrow doesn’t bring the assurance of food. It just brings another day for parents to worry about how they’re going to feed their children. Maybe I’ll go for a walk. Get some fresh air. And pray.Saturday, 6:15 p.m. The walk around the block is refreshing. I thank God for shelter as I was walk out of my apartment and praise him that our family is financially stable in the midst of this economic turmoil. I ask him to remind me of those in need as I continue through the fast. I pray that more people would become aware of the growing food aid crisis around the world. After about 30 minutes, I make my way back home. Less than 12 hours to go.Sunday, 6 a.m.The alarm rings, I hit snooze a couple of times and slowly get out of bed. My normal morning ritual would include coffee, but I’m thinking coffee might not be too kind on a very empty stomach.I pull out a saucepan, turn the heat on low, and start mixing together the UNIMIX. It’s easy to prepare, and a few minutes later, I’m staring at a heaping, steaming yellow bowl of porridge with beans. Gingerly, I left the spoon to my mouth, close my eyes and take a bite. Surprise! It’s actually quite sweet, and the mashed up beans just make the warm meal thicker, but they don’t overwhelm the taste. I take a few more bites and settle in to enjoy my first meal in 30 hours. Despite the hunger, the headache - even the upset stomach - I know I've done something to help someone else, and it ends up being the best weekend, and the best 30 hours, I’ve spent in a long time. For more information about how you can help fight poverty and hunger in your neighborhood and around the world, visit www.30hourfamine.org or call 1-800-7-FAMINE (1-800-732-6463). World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. We serve all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. For more information, visit www.worldvision.org/press.