Sunday, November 11, 2007

Free Rice

Just today, I found out about this website, funnily called Free Rice, and intriguingly ventured in to see what all the fuss is about. Pretty soon I realised that although it does present itself as a way to have some fun, the ulterior motives are anything but. It is part of a small movement which not only makes people aware of the problems of World Poverty and the everyday fight for survival the world's poor have to live through, but also tries to do its bit in letting the more gifted countries and average joes like us play a part in helping the ones who can't even aspire to a square meal a day.

Online Ration Shop

If you haven't clicked either of those hyperlinks above yet, I urge you to. Free Rice is a really innovative way they have found to help the hungry in the world get some access to food. It presents a simple website that fires vocabulary questions at you, and donates 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. It is a novel concept where you can help even as you pass time and sharpen your linguistic skills. Right now, it's only in English, but I do hope, given how the poverty problem is a world-wide phenomenon, they do support other languages too. If you are wondering why "only 10 grains" and why "do we need to play to donate", they have answers in the FAQ section. Basically, advertisers get to put their logos up next to the questions, and they in turn do the actual donations through the United Nations World Food Programme.

Hunger As A Shock
When one makes it to the parent website, the index page presents itself as a shock-effect (nothing to do with shockwave!). You should see for yourself. But, the core message is that around 25000 people die each day for want of food, and most of them, expectedly, are kids, who cannot bear the anguish long enough to wait it out for the next meal, whenever that is.

It is pathetic when I realise, I just had a plate full of rice myself. There is no corner in my belly that could hold another grain. But, there are kids out there who just don't have the same liberties. Kids who would eat cooked plain rice just like that if they got some, while I crib at Mom for only making a Daal to go with it, and no sabji. It is even more pathetic to see people waste food, throw it in the bins, eat so much more than they need to. I am always proud my Mom taught me not to waste food since I was little, and she would always give me the example of the little kid who was begging at the railway station, who for all certainty, did not get a full meal that night.

How can ONE make a difference?

We have all heard those stories about little deeds that matter, how the sea is ultimately composed of little drops (boond boond se sagar). But I, for one, have never seen it in common practice. At my college hostel, the flattering government's Human Resource Development department showered excesses on us, so that we would have tons of food present itself every day at our disposal. Hundreds of students would stuff their big plates with food, more than they could ever eat. And obviously, throw away that they couldn't eat. Every one of those plates could have fed another hungry child. When my employer started giving away free food, I saw more of the same again. I have heard all kinds of responses when I tried to rebuke them -
"Man, that food isn't any good. Those kids you are talking about, I am doing a favour so they don't eat this and fall sick."

"You talk about poverty! I myself hail from a far-off village. My parents struggle from meal to meal. I think I would know if not throwing this food away made a difference!"

"How can one person like me make a world of difference for the hungry? If I stop, there are others who still go on relentless."

It is truly ridiculous. And to think, these are once again, comments from the "cream" of the brilliant minds of the nation. It's true - when you don't have the problem, you don't realise its seriousness. The noteworthy thing is, when the food was not free, I never saw the same wastage.

Where Does The Food Go?

From individuals onto nations. Such a large part of the Western world is noted as developed, and none of their denizens (picked that word from the vocab quiz at Free Rice!) have to worry about the problem of hunger. I don't like to say this, but it is a glaring fact. I see the homeless here in Strangeland, and they are out on the streets begging, but mind you, a number of them are, to say it lightly, well-fed. I compare this to the beggars back home, and it is distinctly obvious they are begging so they can quell the burning fires in the pits of their stomachs.

I had taken a course in college on "Globalisation and the Modern World" or something like that. I don't remember the name of the course or much of its contents, which is obvious given my profession, and the fact that we were forced to take the course! But, some ideas from the course stuck. One of them was the problem of hunger. makes an important statement on its front page which I had learnt in the course too - "there is plenty of food in the world for everyone. The problem is that hungry people are trapped in severe poverty." Isn't that remarkable? Where does all that extra food go? The rich nations have more than enough food for themselves. But, they bargain to make that extra buck when exporting to the poorer nations. So, a lot of the food rots in storage warehouses. Their own citizens get food on the cheap, and the prosperity literally shows.

There is so much diplomatic politics in play at the global level, that I should really leave that for some other time. But, the bottom line is, no one cares enough for the fact that people, even in this day and age, die of hunger.

The Larger Perspective

It is obvious that the richer nations can do their bit to help erase poverty. estimates that $195 billion needs to be allocated every year to eradicate the deaths caused due to hunger. That may seem a big amount, but it really is only a fraction of the GDP of most of these prosperous nations in question. If only they cared enough about humanity, and not about less trivial issues. Oh, wait, the "Fight Against Terror" has to be more important. It frees the world of "bad people", in the words of the famous Strangeland Kid.

International Aid statistics show that while 189 members of the UN promised to dedicate 0.7% of their yearly income toward eradication of poverty and hunger, only 5 have reached the mark so far. Some of the economic superpowers, have been found to be seriously lacking in their contribution. Take Strangeland for instance. They have managed 0.17% so far. Now compare that to their Military budget - a whopping $532.8 billion. And that does not include spending on nuclear research or, even the spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Enough said.

Bottomline again. If only everyone contributed their mere 0.7% share, the world would already be a better place.

I don't claim to be doing anything myself about this. But, I can say for one, atleast I only cook as much as I can eat, and eat everything I cook. I try never to waste my food, in the hope that, the food I saved from wastage, might end up somehow in someone else's plate who needs it more than the garbage bin. Can you do your bit?