I am hungry- Hear my call!

in hunger

"Could you get me a plate of rice? Oh, God. That wouldn't be enough. I would be too hungry. 

I know what hunger is. I have known hunger since the last drought. The pangs have been my friends since the last untimed, uncalled rain.   

I am so empty at times- times when I end up in piles of damp, unripened grains, completely devastated by hail stones."

I am speechless at the poor farmer's reply to my question. I barely find a space to squeeze in the unfathomable pain and the feeling of having been cheated in a questionnaire printed by a machine none of them has ever before seen in a script that makes no sense to any of them. 

I am carried back to my library- my sister buried in books for her term paper on the Millennium Development Goals. I recall my taking the questionnaire from her hands as I volunteered to be an enumerator for the research and my venturing into the field to get a real glimpse of poverty.   

Hunger is not just hunger; hunger is scarcity; hunger is ill-being. Hunger is more than just about food productions and meeting demands. When appetite extends beyond the stomach, it limits an individual's access to health, to education, to opportunities. Hunger is poverty. The lines on the poor farmer's face, the sweat beads on his wife's forehead and the hopelessness in their children's eyes are the greatest indicators of poverty.

I move on to the next question- "Why are people poor?"

"Do you think I chose to remain hungry? Do you think I chose scarcity over abundance? Do you think I chose to be poor? 

I was not born poor. A piece of inherited land- the only thing that ever came into my possession- could produce enough food for the family to survive ten years back. 

Gradually, the family started growing. The food that lasted a year would dry out in nine months.

It was then the nature's turn to show her wrath. 

Every year before monsoon, we sow seeds on muddy pools before transferring the seedlings to fields. Without rains, the seedlings never reach the fields. When there are rains, we are thankful. But then floods sweep away the healthy saplings leaving us with an amount of paddy so little that we are unable even to pay for the seeds and the fertilizers. 

After a sleepless winter night of thunderstorm under a leaking roof, I run to the fields to check the devastation nature has caused. I see the scene in fragments; everything in front of me completely devastated. The wheat I planted is only stalk and hay- no grain. 

How do I make do for a year with a spring harvest of maize for my family?"  

"Has the government not helped?" I ask. 

"The government has helped and not helped as well. The government provides fertilizers for the fields but the same fertilizer which doubles harvest in one plot reduces the harvest to below half in another. We fail to understand why. 

Similar is the case with the blue-plate officers (referring to vehicles of donor agencies which bear blue number plates). They give a family of ten a pair of goats to survive upon. When shall the goats grow up so that I shall be able to sell them to the butcher or when shall they bear a kid which shall grow into another goat? Shall my family survive until I derive some money from a pair of goats? ", he adds with a hint of sarcasm.

It's not always that governments of poor countries don't want to help; they don't just have enough resources- physical or monetary- to support the exponentially growing population. International agencies on the other hand, at times, fail to live up to their objectives. In cases like the one above, overhead costs overshoot the actual investment that reaches the people. 

My last question- "How do we break the cycle of poverty?"

"There is nothing such as cycle of poverty or circle of poverty. If you've known it close, poverty doesn't run in circles; it spirals- downwards unless it buries you so deep that you lose your identity. " 

The answer- a gaping hole in our proclaimed understanding of the lives of the poor- showed a clear picture of how the poorest are typically marginalized from the society and have little representation in public and political debates which makes it even harder for them to escape poverty.

The farmer was true- The poor is faceless. 

Then I ask myself a question, "Does the responsibility of shouldering their burden lie upon us?" 

Well, the answer is no if fumes of our automobiles and emissions of the industries that produce goods for us were not least responsible for the untimed rains. The answer is no if we have never bargained for cheaper produces despite the weather.  

Have these people been lazy, made poor decisions, and been solely responsible for their plight? The answer is no if the answer to this is yes. 

You can take a horse to a river but you can't make it drink the water- truly said. But what if these people have been deprived of opportunities simply because they were born in a particular place, something they could not have chosen, neither could we have, had we been in their place?

The village I visited was a representative of hundreds of thousands of such other villages across the globe. It's not just HIM- more than a quarter of the world population earns less than a dollar a day. It's not just HER- nearly a billion people entered the twenty first century unable to read a book or even sign their names. It's not just THEIR CHILDREN- everyday hundreds of thousands of such children die quietly in some of the poorest villages on Earth, far from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. A child dies every 3.5 seconds- a child dies every time I breathe. The silent killers are poverty, easily preventable diseases and illnesses and related causes.

These villages will not have to struggle with poverty forever only if we think more pragmatically. Funds might seem like an easy way for tackling poverty. But it's not just investment, it's wise investment that does away with poverty.

Investment in a school does not just guarantee education for the farmer's children- it also guarantees financial security for at least five families whose members the school provides employment to; it guarantees a generation of educated farmers who employ scientific measures for production; it guarantees a young cohort who recognize their capacities and create opportunities for themselves. 

Rather than paying an officer a thousand dollar for an animal husbandry program, a donor agency can train 10 locals and outsource the task to them at a much cheaper remuneration. The agency can rather use the surplus fund to help develop irrigation system in the village. 

If the government replaces an administrative officer with a technician, the government can see the results of its investments. 

Development is for the people and we can make the people feel it by involving them. We don't always need a huge amount of investment- the concept of co-operatives is the best possible way to utilize the funds available in a community for the welfare of its members and the community at large.

Knowing the poor and poverty is the best way to alleviate poverty.


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