WASHINGTON – Under the high majestic ceiling of a room near the U.S. Senate building's marble-columned rotunda flashed the faces of the world's hungry children as the voices of American youths brought life to their struggle between food and prostitution.
Stories of young girls pressured to sell their body in order to feed and educate their siblings were read during Tuesday's Broken Bread event in observation of World Food Day. The event was the first time the international Christian humanitarian organization World Vision, the North American Millers' Association and the Senate Hunger Caucus worked together to bring the event to the U.S. Capitol.
As participants listened to the stories, they ate a simple meal of porridge, made from the same mix provided overseas for relief, to help them experience and identify with families affected by hunger and AIDS.
"My name is Fiona and I am 13 years old," read a student with World Vision's Acting on AIDS movement, narrating the real-life story of a young girl from a small village in Kenya. Both Fiona's parents and her grandmother died leaving her to care for her four younger brothers and sisters.
"Now I am alone in my struggle to provide for my siblings," read the student. Fiona had dropped out of school, worked a few odd jobs, and on many days gives up her own food to feed her siblings.
Fiona met an older man at the local market one afternoon who offered her food for a week if she slept with him.
"I am aware of the dangers I face, but I also know that my brothers and sisters are very hungry and in need of basic items," read the WV student. "Should I take this man's offer in order to feed my family?
"If not, how will my brothers and sisters eat? How will I fill their other needs? What are my alternatives?"
More than 850 million people around the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition, with those affected or orphaned by HIV and AIDS being the most vulnerable to hunger, according to World Vision. Some 820 million are in developing countries, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
"There are 24,000 people dying a day of some hunger-related illness; 18,000 of those are children," said Paul B. Green, international trade consultant of the North American Millers' Association. "The numbers don't represent individuals. You have to know the individuals in order to get the true feeling of the magnitude of the tragedy that is going on in the world today."
Students from more than 60 colleges and universities across the nation had planned to join Broken Bread events like the one on Capitol Hill on their campuses on Tuesday using the same corn-soy blend of food aid that is distributed overseas for relief.
World Food Day commemorates the founding of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945. This year, the theme is "The Right to Food," which serves as a reminder of every person's right to have regular access to sufficient, nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food.
Among the attendees of the event in Washington were Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus; advocates of World Vision's nationwide Acting on AIDS student movement; Betsy Faga, president of North American Miller's Association; Ellen Levinson, executive director of Alliance for Food Aid; and Joan Mussa, senior vice president for advocacy and communications at World Vision.
World Vision said it has not been decided if the Broken Bread Senate Hunger event will be annually observed on World Food Day.
Additional Quick Facts:
• Hunger and poverty claim 25,000 lives every day – most of those are children.
• Between 350 million and 400 million children around the world suffer from hunger, and nearly 160 million children under five are moderately or severely underweight.
• Every five seconds a child dies because of hunger.
• In AIDS-affected families, about one in five children are forced to start working to support their family, and food consumption in the household can drop by as much as 40 percent due to decreased productivity and earnings, leaving children at a higher risk of malnutrition and stunting.
• 2.5 billion people – more than a third of the world's population – live on less than $2 a day. Almost 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.