Intriguing fundraiser planned to highlight poverty

The Langley Kiwanis Club had an intriguing idea to raise awareness about child poverty.

The club had planned a fundraiser today, to raise money to help Langley’s poorest families buy food. (It was cancelled due to low ticket sales).

While it may not be obvious on the surface, there are a significant number of families in this community where children do not receive proper nutrition. A number of meal programs at schools help, but ultimately some families do need this kind of assistance.

The intriguing part of the $20 per person dinner fundraiser was this: four people were to get an elegant dinner, with the remainder to receive a bowl of rice. The four getting the elegant dinner would be determined by draw, and it is likely that’s a draw they would rather not win.

Hearing about this caused me to think about how many people around the world don’t get proper nutrition. This is particularly true in areas where agricultural prospects are poor, or where war or other conflict has made access to food difficult. Poverty is part of the problem, but based on my experience in visiting two African countries in December, it is less of a challenge than the other two factors.

In Sierra Leone, one of the world’s poorest countries, food is plentiful. The country is ideally situated for agriculture, with almost any kind of crop possible. People who live outside the capital city of Freetown have access to plenty of food, which they can grow (and most do grow at least some), or buy for a minimal amount of money.

Freetown is somewhat different. Many refugees fled there from the countryside during a brutal civil war that lasted until 2002, and haven’t left. It isn’t possible to grow a lot of food there because of overcrowding. Many people live along steep hillsides where growing crops wouldn’t be easy.

While there is no shortage of food (and clean water) available to buy on the street, it requires cash, something the poorest people in the country  have little access to.

Yet, in the time I spent in Freetown, I did not see anyone who was obviously malnourished. Most people are lean — there are almost no overweight people on the streets. But most appear to be able to get enough to eat.

One other factor is access to health care. There is no government medical program — people are on their own when it comes to health care. There are hospitals and clinics in all the larger communities, and access to antibiotics and other medicine is not a major problem. But many people simply do not have enough money to buy medicine.

Thus people who are weak — the young and the old in particular — die in far greater numbers than they do here, simply because of lack of access to medicine. Sierra Leone’s average lifespan is under 50, and this is due to the fact that many children die in the first years of life from diseases such as malaria, typhoid and yellow fever.

We do have challenges in Canada, but for the most part, they can be met much more easily than in many other parts of the world. Access to health care, and a good supply of food, make a huge difference.

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