Tuesday, October 16, 2007

World Hunger

"The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist."
These were the last words of Kevin Carter, the famed ill-fated photojournalist who took this Pulitzer award winning picture of a malnourished Sudanese girl being stalked a hungry vulture. At that time, majority of the population in Sudan were experiencing extreme hunger because of a bitter civil war. In an interview, Carter said the girl was walking her way towards a food camp and later resumed her travel after taking this brief respite. He shooed away the vulture afterwards. Reportedly, after taking this photo, "he sat under a tree for a long time, smoking cigarettes and crying." Carter committed suicide two months after receiving his award.

The picture of this dying girl is simply heart and gut-wrenching. It was taken 14 years ago by Kevin Carter, a South African photojournalist who was most probably haunted by the girl's image so much so that it contributed to his suicide. More than a decade had passed and yet this picture still evokes the same amount of emotion as if it were taken yesterday. Now that I am a mother I cannot help but visualize the face of my own baby in that child's face. Carter was condemned for being a mere spectator in this instance. He was ridiculed for not actively helping the child and for choosing to just take this stark image. But how many of us can honestly say that we would have done otherwise? That we would not have turned a blind eye and instead be moved to action given the same circumstance?

Not everybody knows this, myself included, but there is an event called as World Food Day celebrated last Oct 16. Accordingly, at present times, "some 854 million people, or about one in seven, lack sufficient food." If you put it this way, in cold mathematical and logical terms, it fails to have the same agonizing effect as evinced by one girl's dying image. This little girl represents the "50,000 people dying every day because of extreme poverty." It is appalling to think that in this modern day and age of technology and advancement, literally millions are still dying out there for the want of proper food. In the Philippines alone, it is reported that 17% of Filipinos live in extreme poverty. That figure sounds and looks innocuous and doesn't seem reflective of the child beggars I see dangerously plying the streets of the metro on a daily basis.

There is no stopgap solution to world hunger or local hunger for that matter. It is not simply a matter of giving away excess food and money to the needy. The Philippine government's solution to the country's own hunger problem is to allocate a Php 1 billion peso fund to finance temporary feeding centers and projects for the extremely impoverished sector of the society. But this barely scratches the surface of the problem. Like terrorism, communism and other ideological conflicts this world is currently experiencing, the problem of hunger is deeply rooted and cannot be resolved overnight. But unlike ideological, political and philosophical issues, the problem of poverty speaks to us in a universal language, one that cuts through cultural differences and demands our immediate attention and action regardless of our race, religion and skin color. Hunger knows no boundaries. Hunger is the same for all, it is one of humanity's great equalizer, just like death.
We are touched by this dying girl's image because it speaks to us in this universal language. It is the same language that reminds us all of our humanity. It speaks to our hearts and awakens our soul. We remember that we are human because we all grieve and cry over this. We grieve and cry for the little girl, but we grieve and cry also for ourselves.

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