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Speakers put focus on global disparities at sixth annual Hunger Banquet

Apr. 3, 2014

About 150 medical students, faculty, staff and members of the community took part in an event Friday evening designed to educate participants about a difficult topic: global hunger.

The Sixth Annual Hunger Banquet -- an IUSM student-organized event supported by the IUSM Global Health Student Interest Group -- presents international performances and experts on global hunger during meals representing what people in the developing world eat every day.

"It's often hard for us to understand global hunger as a cause because you've really got to put yourself in another's shoes, and it's so different from the lives most of us lead," said Jenny Shao, a fourth-year medical student and co-chair of the Hunger Banquet. "Our goal is to simply pique people's interest in the topic so hopefully they will walk away from the event wanting to make a difference."

To encourage banquet-goers to think about global food disparities in a new way, everyone at the March 28 event in the ballroom of the IUPUI Campus Center was randomly assigned "first-, second- or third-world seating," with the most prosperous "countries" seated at tables for a hearty meal of pasta and breadsticks with salad, served by a volunteer waiter. The second- and third-world members served themselves a meal of rice and beans dining on blankets on the floor. Seating was also roughly proportionate to the socio-economic divisions in the real world, with about 40 "first-world seats"; 70 "second-world seats" and the remainder in the developing world.

"No one really goes hungry at this event, but it's an interesting social experiment to bring the issue of hunger to the forefront," Shao said.

The keynote speaker for this year's event was Betty Bugusu, M.D., managing director of the International Food Technology Center at Purdue University, which connects small farmers in places such as sub-Saharan African to global markets in order to break the cycle of subsistence farming.

All proceeds from the banquet, which raised more than $2,500 this year, went to support the IU-Kenya Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program and the Tumaini Children's Drop-In Center at Moi University Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, a part of the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare. AMPATH is a partnership between Moi University School of Medicine, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and a consortium of North American academic health centers led by the IU School of Medicine aimed at improving health care in the country.

Each year the banquet also features a silent auction to raise funds for the supported organizations. Items for auction in this year's banquet included donated art, glasswork and photographs taken by children at the Tumaini Children's Drop-In Center, which were shot as part of a project titled, "Piga Picha (Take a Picture)." The program provides children at the center the opportunity to document their lives through photography.

"I really hope we were able put a face on the issue of hunger this year," Shao said of the photos, as well as a slideshow of other images from the children shown during the dinner. "I want people to understand these are the sort of the children they're helping; that this is why they came out tonight and this is why they're donating."

Additional activities at this year's banquet included a second speaker, Bill Farrar of Fountains of Hope International, which provides safe water solutions to the developing world; a trivia game to raise awareness about global hunger issues; and a performance by HoosierRaas, a student dance troupe at IU Bloomington that tours the country performing a traditional form of Indian dance.

"My goal was to give everyone in attendance the chance to experience the culture of a country that faces many of the hunger challenges under discussion at the banquet," said IUSM student Viraj Maniar, who spent three years as a member of the troupe. "I really hope the people who came were inspired to take action on the issues of hunger not only globally but also locally, as hunger is something that is not absent from the Indianapolis area."

He added that several local organizations work to eliminate hunger in Indianapolis, including Second Helpings, Gleaner's Food Bank of Indianapolis and the Indy Hunger Network.

For Shao, the issue of hunger came into focus during a study abroad experience with Child Family Health International, a nonprofit organization that provides students, including many medical students, the opportunity to serve in areas such as China, Africa and India. Her service included time spent at an HIV/AIDS outreach clinic in Durban, South Africa, and an emergency room in Cape Town, the capital of the country.

The travel brought a number of health care experiences “you would simply never see in the U.S.,” said Shao, citing a night when the entire hospital, which was in a violent part of Cape Town, ran out of suturing kits. It’s an issue of limited resources that speaks to the larger issue of global poverty.

“The biggest generator of hunger is poverty,” she said. “Ultimately we need to change the social and economic constructs of the world in order to really eradicate these things. It’s a huge issue, but every little bit helps. Our hope is events like the Hunger Banquet inspire people to get passionate about these issues so they can go out and do good in the world.”

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