I recently met with Sophie Noonan, the UK Country Director of The Hunger Project, a global organisation that 30 years ago created the possibility that world hunger could be eliminated. It is active in many developing countries and now has a presence in the UK. It’s underlying approach – local people creating a vision, actions and commitments to resolve their own problems – does not mean that there aren’t ways of getting involved with The Hunger Project and its distinctive approach to dismantling world hunger and the issues associated with it. We talked about ways to get involved during our conversation.
Sophie, how would you describe ‘The Hunger Project’s approach? Despite our name we are actually concerned with all the Millennium Development Goals, not just those that concern hunger specifically. To do this we look to build capacity in rural communities. We worked with over 17.000 communities across Africa, India, Bangladesh and Latin America who we mobilise to establish what we call ‘epicentres’. These are buildings that serve as the base for the range of activities local people want to conduct. So far we have over 121 such epicentres with the aim of moving those that do exist towards self-sustainability.
The epicenter strategy has four phases that take up to eight years. Firstly, there is an initial mobilisation practice to break any mindsets of resignation, dependency and gender discrimination. In this first phase we are looking for key local individuals who will be the dynamic, responsive volunteer leaders – we call them ‘animators’- who can help develop self-reliant action projects. Local animators become specialised in areas such as nutrition, health, agriculture or women’s empowerment. The aim is to have clusters of villages overcoming any barriers and working together; this gives them the weight and size to work effectively which ultimately attract resources and gets them on the radar of district governments.
During the second phase, local villages contribute the labour and materials to build a multiroom building, the epicentre. This houses the clinic, food bank, microfinance facility that will be the engine of growth eventually, and a three acre demonstration farm as well as other facilities that a specific village might need. When completed, the epicentre becomes the seat of literacy, education and food processing in the community.
Phase Three is about the community developing the skill to run these programmes and track progress in health, education, water, sanitation and women’s economic empowerment.
Finally, in phase four, the epicentre develops income generating and democratic practices in order to achieve sustainable self-reliance.
The role of women is given particular prominence in the programmes. Why is that? Despite the fact that women in developing countries provide nearly 70 percent of the agricultural labour, they continue to account for over 60 percent of the world’s hungry. Given the opportunity to generate and control an income, women routinely invest significant portions of their income in food, healthcare and education for their families. Unfortunately, at the moment, the majority of women in developing countries lack economic power, resulting in a higher rate of girls kept out of school, minimal access to basic health care, increased HIV/AIDS prevalence and higher maternal mortality rates. Yet women continue to bear almost all responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the family. To break the cycle of hunger and poverty sustainably we start with women, mobilise everyone and engage government
Consequently, where we are supporting projects, we insist, for example, that the local committees have equal gender representation. In fact the only exception is for organisations involved with micro-finance where the committees are comprised wholly of women. The economic empowerment of women is a key part of our strategy and the financial influence they gain, the reading and writing skills, the social confidence and pride means they are having a greater say in the direction of their communities. In the area of nutrition and children the 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s 2nd birthday offer a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures. By focusing on improving nutrition for mothers and children in the 1,000 day window, we can help ensure a child can live a healthy and productive life.
How can people in the UK get involved? Wherever you are we can get you involved in our army of highly committed supporters. At one level you can take part in a challenge such as the cycle, walking or running events, or create one of your own. ‘Live Below the Line’, one of the challenges involves living on £1 day and we have now developed a ‘Come Dine Below The Line’event. Raising money needn’t be miserable!
One of our supporters has taken on the challenge of raising a £1 million in 2015 (visit the 1000 by 1000 to End Hunger campaign page here http://bit.ly/1uvM39I)
We also regularly have opportunities for volunteers to help us organise events, conduct advocacy work, expand our presence on social media and, in the longer term, we would look to develop policy opportunities. Ideally we would like two days a week but the most important things is your alignment with what we are trying to do and an engagement over a longer period of time. If you are interested in these roles then please send an email with a little information on what area you might like to be involved in to email@example.com
* Jeff Riley, the author of this post, is proud to be taking part in the 1000 by a 1000 to End Hunger Campaign.