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Take a look at our event calendar right now, and you’ll notice Oxfam events coming up at schools and universities around the country. Many respond to the current drought and famine in East Africa, whether by raising funds or raising awareness about the underlying issues. “[At] a huge school like Arizona State University, it’s very common to see students who have no knowledge of the global food crisis,” said Neekta Hamidi, a junior and Oxfam CHANGE Leader. “Usually, the only students who attend events are already aware of the problems.”
Hamidi and the ASU Oxfam Club plan to spread the word with an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet—an event that’s been the heart of Oxfam’s fall campaign against hunger for nearly four decades. Guests at a Hunger Banquet are randomly assigned to one of three different income levels; each group eats a corresponding meal, from lavish to sparse. Participants can also take on the roles of different people from around world and share their experiences with others.
Because of its interactive nature, “the Hunger Banquet appeals to students with all types of interests, majors, and backgrounds … anyone who just wants to learn something new,” said Hamidi. “And it’s easy to promote via Facebook or Twitter.” She noted that last fall’s event drew even more students than they expected, and that this year they hope to surpass those numbers.
So why does an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet inspire people to take action? Tsesa Monaghan, an Oxfam CHANGE Leader from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, said the answer lies in challenging preconceptions about hunger.
“Our minds are wired to think on individual levels, not statistics of billions or millions or even hundreds. So while you can know the numbers, they’re pretty abstract,” said Monaghan. “But when you’re in a room and see your friends and peers sitting on the floor, representing those in poverty, it makes the matter so much more personal.”
Carleen Roy-Butler, an administrator at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, said the Hunger Banquet can be a powerful motivator. “It gets [students] to the place where they do believe they can make a difference,” said Roy-Butler. “Compassion for others, taking action, and issues of social justice are interwoven throughout … That’s what we as educators are trying to get across.”
Oxfam community organizer Rasa Dawson said that all kinds of groups can—and do—host Hunger Banquets during the Thanksgiving season. But for students and educators, the event is particularly meaningful.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who attended a Hunger Banquet in high school or college and still remember it 10 or 15 years later,” said Dawson. “It’s an experience of hunger and poverty that you can’t get in a classroom.”