Belfast Telegraph

A modern tragedy that one in eight of us goes hungry

Alf mcCreary

It is one thing to read or hear about world hunger but it something else entirely to experience it at first hand.

In the run-up to the G8 summit which starts in Fermanagh on Monday, the 'IF' campaign has done a good job in bringing world hunger to our attention.

The campaigners, who are holding a big concert/rally in the Botanic Gardens today, estimate that one in eight people somewhere in the world goes to bed hungry each night.

This shocking statistic represents around 900 million people who are malnourished, mainly in the developing world, and this is the kind of massive figure which most of us are incapable of taking in.

However this is even more shocking when you confront chronic hunger face to face. I have been doing this for most of my professional life, as I regularly reported for this newspaper and other media outlets on the plight of people in the developing world.

Just five months ago I was in Rwanda on behalf of Tearfund and I visited several villages where people did not have enough food or clean water to meet their daily needs.

During one visit I was feeling none too well myself in the very hot sun, because I had eaten nothing since breakfast.

I quietly removed from my rucksack an energy food bar to keep me going. This was noticed by a young mother with a baby. She pointed to her mouth, and I willingly handed over my food to her.

She ate most of it herself and left some for the baby.

Sadly this was not an isolated incident. In Kigale I visited Gikondo Presbyterian Church in a particularly poor area of the Rwandan capital.

I was there on behalf of my own church, Whitehouse Presbyterian, to find out whether it would be possible to work with the Gikondo congregation as part of the Tearfund 'Connected Church' programme in Rwanda.

Their clerk of session, who spoke excellent English, told me the vast majority of his congregation never had breakfast. He said: "Around 5% will claim that they have breakfast, but this is not much more than a cup of hot tea."

I found the same pattern in the villages I visited.

The people had only one meal a day, and they could afford meat only once a year, usually on Christmas Day.

I talked to the director of Tearfund in Kigali, the Rev Emmanuel Murangira, who told me that some people had only one decent meal a week.

He added: "They are so poor that they don't realise how badly off they are." That is the kind of statement that you cannot forget.

Coincidentally, the Rev Emmanuel is in Belfast this weekend to witness the signing of a three-year 'twinning' agreement between the Whitehouse Church in north Belfast and the congregation of the Gikondo Church in Kigale.

This is an historic step for both churches, and I am certain that we will learn much from each other, and that our mutual relationship will provide much food for thought and opportunities for action as well.

Meanwhile, I am grateful to all the people who have worked with the IF campaign to bring world hunger to our attention. Most of us here have access to too much food, and in large parts of the rest of the world, the people have far too little, or sometimes none.

This is a scandal on the face of humanity which needs to be dealt with, once and for all.

Father Wallace a shining example

The tragic and untimely death of Father Matt Wallace through suicide has been a massive blow to his family, and also to his parishioners in west Belfast.

His wonderful service for the past 40 years was greatly appreciated by people on all sides, and even the former junior Stormont minister Richard Needham described him as “extraordinary”.

At a time when the Roman Catholic Church is being criticised severely, and rightly so, for its institutional failures, it is important to pay tribute to the good men like Fr Wallace who truly live out the Gospel among the people

Dr Craig on a worthwhile journey

The Presbyterian Moderator Dr Rob Craig was present at Whitehouse Presbyterian Church this morning to witness the signing of the Connected Church agreement with the Gikondo congregation in Kigali.

Dr Craig will be visiting Rwanda in August to find out more for himself. This will be particularly appropriate because the Presbyterian World Development Committee has chosen the Moucecoure project in Rwanda as part of its next Church-wide appeal. There is nothing like being in a country to enable you to talk and write about it with authority.

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