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Forgetting Famine

Famine has plagued the world since the beginning of time. The citizens of every country experience it or know About it in some form, through some source of information or situation. In my lifetime, a time saturated with television and other visual media, famine has become an extremely political issue that everyone recognizes but seldom talks about.

As a child growing up in the United States, I watched a lot of television, and with that came a lot of commercials. My earliest memory of knowing that there were starving people in the world is from when I was seven. I did not know what the word famine was. All I remember is the advertisements for the Christian Children's Fund, where you could help the starving children of Africa by adopting one and sending money to them. Those ads were everywhere, and it wasn't always Sally Struthers. There were many different organizations. At the age of seven, the only things I knew about famine were the things that had been briefly mentioned at school. But I thought it was great that I could help someone who looked so sad, get their picture, write some letters, and it wouldn't be much money, just pennies a day. I begged my mom for months to let me call and adopt my very own starving child. Finally I called, and in a few weeks I got the picture of a little boy, along with information on how to send money. The thing was that I really had lost interest at that point, which is a common thing for little children to do. So his picture got shoved away amongst my other knick-knacks, and I never sent any money. I found that picture years later and a feeling of guilt swept across my body, but I was still too young to really understand. My exact thought was, "What can I do by helping just one little boy."

When I found that picture years later, I was a little more educated about the issue of famine and how prevalent it was in the world. I have a vivid memory of when my second experience with famine occurred. I was in the third grade, and I attended a Catholic school that was very concerned with teaching its students the virtue of charity. One week each year was designated as Hunger Week. A lot of posters were hung on the walls, and every religion class discussed the issue. For the entire week students participated in a fasting to recognize all of the hungry people of the world. We were supposed to bring really small lunches, about half as much as usual, and we could not waste one thing. I remember being excited as a third grader to plan out what I would take, and basically driving my mom nuts. To this day I can remember that one day I had a plum, some crackers and a juice box. By the time I got home that afternoon I was ready to eat anything in sight. But now I realize that even though my lunches were smaller than usual, it was still more food than any person plagued by famine would ever see. But at that time in my life, I felt like I was really doing something good for humankind.

The first time I knew I was helping came in later years of school. I remember that every Thanksgiving my school would have a canned food drive for the poor. Maybe it was easier to conceive that I was making a difference because the food went to a local charity. Even throughout high school I remember participating in the food drives. But in grade school the class who brought in the most cans won a pizza party. At age ten, a pizza party was like winning the lottery. At the heart of it all, what we were doing was a really good thing. I realize now it was for the wrong reasons.

Another clear memory I have is of the first time I truly realized how horribly people were suffering, and I think that is when I started taking famine seriously as a problem of my world. I was watching television and I saw the video for Michael Jackson's song, Man in the Mirror. To this day that song makes me cry. The images of the starving children were all from news broadcasts, and I think I finally was mature enough to get the reality of the whole thing. It is just funny that a pop song, by Michael Jackson no less, provoked such a reaction. I was touched, but I still didn't spring to action to try and help. I think that the problem just seemed to vast to solve.

My next experience with the politics of famine made me somewhat bitter about the whole issue of helping. I was a junior in high school and my class had adopted a family to send money to so that they could eat and buy other necessities. And unlike me with my first adopted child, our class faithfully sent the money. However, it was discovered that the organization we adopted the family through, was not sending all of the money to the family, but was rather distributing it throughout an entire town. We also figured that the money was also being used for bureaucratic operations of the organization. We chose to help a different charity and I was left with a bad taste in my mouth about the whole thing.

Recently, I have not taken the time to think about famine. I also think that it has been pushed to the back burner in terms of media concern and coverage. It makes sense that, especially in the United States, people have a hard time seriously caring about starving people in other countries when there is such a large population of homeless people right out on the streets. During the 1980s, famine was the issue, and it saturated all areas of the media, including the entertainment world. As a child of the 1980s, I grew up learning about the starving people out there in the world. I always knew they needed help, but the little things I did were really not of any significance. I think my teachers and the media were trying to communicate that the littlest effort could make a difference if everyone joined together. It was a good message, nut I do not feel like I ever really learned how to help the people plagued by famine, in terms of a life long commitment. For most people it is easier to say that the problem is too big, and I am no exception. I believe I have learned to be a citizen of the United States, but not of the world.

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