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Putting your money where your mouth is

 Street News Service 04 October 2019

Despite the fact that there is enough food on earth to feed the global population, mankind has been unable to solve one of its most basic challenges: hunger. Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa hopes to change that – one meal at a time. (974 Words) - By Rebekah Kendal


SNS(EU)_Combating hunger one pre-packed meal at a time

 Volunteers at the Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa packaging event fill plastic bags with dry ingredients. Photo: Rebekah Kendal

The church hall is abuzz with excitement - sixty volunteers decked out in hairnetsand plastic gloves cheer enthusiastically as those gathered around tables full of dry ingredients compete to pack a box of pre-packed meals in the shortest time possible.

It is a Stop Hunger Now packaging event, where an efficient human production line sees buckets of dry ingredients carried to tables where they are swiftly shovelled into individual plastic packets, heat sealed, labelled, and packed neatly into boxes.

"It's a great initiative," says volunteer Sue-Ellen as she packs neatly sealed bags into a big box. "You think about what you have and you have such a lot. You think about those who don't have so much and you just want to give back. It's not just about money; it's about donating your time."

Over the next two hours, the team of volunteers will package 15 000 meals. Each meal, which will feed six people and costs R2 (approximately 15 pence), contains dehydrated beef mince, dried vegetable soup mix, rice, and a vitamin fortification powder. The meals that they pack today will feed 500 schoolchildren one meal a day for a month.

It's a good start. But in South Africa, where, according to the University of Cape Town's Children's Institute, 3.3-million children do not have enough to eat, it is only a start. Hunger is not, however, a problem that is confined to South Africa. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, 25 000 people die of hunger and related causes every day. Not surprisingly then, halving worldwide hunger by 2015 is the first Millennium Development Goal.

Stop Hunger Now Southern Africa (SHN SA) is a little more realistic about its goals. According to the programme director, Barry Mey, SHN SA hopes to pack 12 million meals a year by 2015.

"If we are to pack enough food for the 3.3 million children, we would need to raise at least R60-million a month to package 30 million meals a month," says Mey outlining the sheer magnitude of the problem. And those figures would only cover the hungry in South Africa - the economic powerhouse of the African continent.

Clearly this is not a sustainable endeavour, which is, in part, why SHN SA focuses on transformational development. The idea is that by giving 'hand-ups' rather than 'hand- outs' the programme will help to build a society which can feed itself.

Nathan Van Niekerk, coordinator for the programme in the Western Cape, explains the difference: "The 'hand out' model was used when the first missionaries arrived in the Cape. It was a model that made the 'have nots' dependent entirely on the 'haves' for their survival."

"A 'hand-up,' on the other hand, is a method in which the 'have nots' receive, but in return they need to do something. This allows them to understand that when the supply is gone they can still carry on. In this method the mindset is changed to one which says 'I can do something', dignity is restored, and there is independence."

In South Africa, the trade off for the food is the creation and upkeep of a vegetable garden. The vegetables grown in the garden will then be used to supplement the basic meals provided by SHN SA. Obviously, SHN SA plays a part in helping to set up the gardens and to transfer the requisite skills so that the communities involved can run their own gardens.

Although a percentage of the meals packaged are set aside for disaster relief, SHN SA is primarily concerned with school feeding schemes. This is in line with the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015.

"We focus on school feeding schemes because you cannot teach a hungry child," explains Van Niekerk. "Education is important to us. With education comes dignity, self-worth and you become employable."

In South Africa, the national school nutrition programme does not cater for children from Grade 8 (age 13) upwards. SHN SA hopes to plug the gaps so that children from poor households do not drop out of school when they reach high school. Transformational development does not end with those receiving the meals. SHN SA hopes that by involving volunteers from more resourced communities in every step of the programme - from the packaging of meals to the creation of vegetable gardens - it will be able to help create a more caring and compassionate society.

Gabbi Norkett, who volunteers for the programme, says that for her the most rewarding aspect has been the coming together of strangers and the appreciation on the faces of those receiving the food.

"It has created a feeling of inner satisfaction and I have grown to appreciate what really matters," says Norkett. "Basically, I am grateful that I can make a difference in someone's life, even if it is just one person."

While Norkett may be content to make a difference in just one person's life, SHN SA has slightly more ambitious plans. Launched in South Africa at the beginning of the year (Stop Hunger Now is already a very well establish NGO in the United States), SHN SA hopes to expand into the rest of Africa as soon as local structures are properly set up.

Currently, SHN SA sends meals packed in South Africa to Mozambique and Zimbabwe, largely through missionaries. Meeting its goals, however, is going to take more than just the much-needed corporate sponsorships. It's is going to take ordinary South Africans who are willing to set aside their time to make sure that others don't go hungry.


"We need both ordinary people and corporations," says Van Niekerk. "But the difference is that instead of writing out a cheque or giving money and then turning your back on the problem, we want people to engage with the community so that together we can make a difference."



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