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Monday, Nov. 24, 11:36 a.m.
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Hunger Banquet raises awareness for issues of poverty

Multicultural Student Affairs hosts seminar of 250-plus in Wells Conference Center

Christie Edwards

On Wednesday Nov. 7, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs hosted the second annual Hunger Banquet, an evening charity event that aims to raise awareness concerning the issues of hunger and poverty.

Over 250 people attended the event at the Wells Conference Center, which featured a three-course meal, speakers and a special performance by Maine Masque. There was also a raffle drawing for gift certificates donated by various local businesses.

Tickets to the event were available to the public for a fee and were free to UMaine students. A number of organizations, groups, fraternities and sororities hosted tables at the banquet.

All proceeds from the event will be divided between the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Save the Children, an organization that works to provide relief and support to children in developing countries.

Guest speakers, OMSA faculty and students discussed various aspects of poverty and hunger from Maine and around the world.

“We’re not selfish, we’re not insular, because we recognize that beyond our borders there are lots of children and adults who go to sleep every night without food,” said Judith Josiah-Martin, director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and the Multicultural Center. “We, who sit here tonight, are the privileged few.”

Abdulraheem Sbayi, a biomedical engineering student at UMaine, recited a poem that he wrote for the event. “The beauty of human nature is that we’re easily reminded that happiness, true happiness, is priceless,” Sbayi said. “And it can be as simple as providing a smile.”

Before the dinner, Brandon McLaughlin, a graduate assistant at OMSA, delivered the opening remarks and asked attendees to examine their placemats, which illustrated accounts of people from different countries who struggle daily with hunger and malnutrition.

“In the center of the table, there’s a meal that reflects a story,” McLaughlin said. He then asked attendees to remove a cloth napkin covering a plate that revealed a meager serving of rice. “These are meals that people are eating. This is their food; this is their sustenance.”

Attendees were then directed to a buffet line, which presented generous amounts of food.

While serving, the Black Bear Catering staff wore t-shirts that stated various facts and statistics about poverty and world hunger.

Cheryl Robertson, director of the UMaine Master of Arts in Teaching program, delivered an address that focused on poverty issues through the eyes of a teacher who has been working in education for over two decades.

“Ending hunger means solving these systemic problems, while at the same time doing everything we can on a daily basis to feed hungry people,” Robertson said.

The second address was given by Kate Kirby, a UMaine graduate student who spoke of her experience interning with Mercy Corps in Timor-Leste, where she worked in aquaculture development to increase food security.

Maine Masque prepared a short skit for the event that highlighted the issue of misplaced responsibility in helping the needy.

In the performance, a young couple quarrels over giving money to a panhandler. They both justify their own reasons for not helping the girl in tattered clothes, but criticize each other for not doing his or her part. In the end, the couple leaves the girl who has nothing but an empty cup and a cardboard sign that says, “I’m Hungry.”

Muna Abdullahi, a UMaine graduate student whose research focuses on refugee studies, food security and community development, delivered the final address.

Abdullahi spoke from her own personal experience with hunger and poverty, speaking of her beginnings in Somalia and the struggle her family and community faced after the Somali Civil War began in 1991.

“The display plate with the typical meal of a poor and impoverished person living in a developing world is more than a visualization, it’s more than a reflection piece,” Abdullahi said, referring to the plates of rice on every table, “This was the typical and almost daily meal for my family and many others alike.”

She moved with her family from one refugee camp to another, coping with long ration

lines, scarce water supplies and resounding despair among refugees within the camps.

Somehow she was able to find hope in the faces of those in the camps and pledged to herself that she would help end world hunger.

“I — standing before you today — was able to escape this circumstance,” Abdullahi said. “And that was with the help of a lot of people, people who took time out of their day to listen to my family’s story.”

This past summer, Abdullahi worked in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya conducting research on women’s security. She spoke extensively of the effects of hunger and malnourishment in the camps and how it affected her.

“This past summer, I saw infants and small children that were severely underweight — only skin and bones,” Abdullahi said. “Seeing infants in this fragile state put me in a very unpleasant and painful position, because I was once a child staring up at me.”

Abdullahi then stressed the need for members of the community to take action through raising awareness and human rights advocacy.

“So today, I stand before you, having once been in their shoes, to tell you, after a lot of soul searching and a lot of reflecting,” Abdullahi said, “that there is so much each one of us in this room tonight can do.”

Throughout the school year, OMSA organizes a number of events at UMaine. Their next project is the One Million Bones project, a social art piece that aims to raise awareness of genocide. Students will travel to Washington, D.C., in the spring to place handmade “bones” along the National Mall to represent those who lost their lives or suffered abuse.