01 August 2018
Andrea Zanin contemplates hunger – and what it means (or doesn’t) to a middle class, expat mum with a tribe of five well-fed children.
Hunger is obvious in Africa. It’s on the school run, as you do your Saturday morning shopping and on your way out of town as you take a Sunday drive to some new and beautiful place. Mums, dads, children, citizens beg at most traffic lights; they proliferate cities, with their ragged clothing and malnourished physiques, and if they’re lucky enough perhaps they have a tin roof over their heads in a nearby shanty town – void of water and sanitation…no food, but a roof nonetheless. It’s difficult to escape responsibility. This is my experience as a South African – hailing from a land that is more developed than many of the other plighted countries in Africa.
It’s a different experience in England, my home of ten years – poverty is less obvious, to the point that I’ve almost forgotten what hunger looks like. Here, it’s closeted away…like that horrific vase that Aunt Annie gave you for your wedding – you know you can’t dispose of it but it’s too awkward to put on display. Like Aunt Annie’s vase, hunger might not be entirely visible but it’s there – unyielding and oppressive.
Luckily, my African heritage is rife; making us fanatical about food waste in our house. Our five children (aged 3 months, 2, 4, 6 and 8) – at least, the ones with teeth – are expected to eat the food they are dished: we expect them to present fruit pips before being thrown in the recycling bin, food left over at meal times is consumed the next day and any complaints about the dinner they’re served, well; they’re downgraded to dry bread or nothing. For real.
These rules might sound sanctimonious, harsh even – and the truth is, they are. We want our children to understand that they are privileged. We hope that the million lectures thrust at them; on being grateful, respecting the fact that they have more than others and appreciating the many blessings bestowed on them might make a difference…and yet thwarting our plans is the fact that for my tribe; the sight of hunger is something foreign. Out of sight, out of mind – right?
In reality; hundreds of thousands of children in the UK have finished school to start an epic summer holiday of more than a month but of those children, up to 3 million risk going hungry during the school holidays – as per an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on hunger, campaigning in 2017. This is a massive, scary statistic; that looks my ‘no waste’ rules in the face and laughs right at them. Children, who might sit next to my own son and daughters in class, could go to bed hungry every night this summer – and we wouldn’t even know. My rules are fine – they have intent – but right now; they mean little. It’s action that makes all the difference.
Poverty; no matter the context, no matter the continent, is unacceptable – and it takes everyone to make a difference. One organisation, which is doing exactly that is TLG Make Lunch. This charity enables and equips churches to bring hope to struggling children through holiday lunch clubs. Each club provides free, hot and healthy meals to children and families who would otherwise go hungry.
Through Make Lunch, your church can provide vital support to some of the most vulnerable children in your community and, in addition, build relationships with families in desperate need of the loving support of your compassionate church family. Kitchens are run by volunteers who believe that even just one meal for one child could make a significant difference. It also makes a difference to family life – according to researchers writing about the relationship between parenting and poverty for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation:
Parents who are stressed are less likely to be able to provide optimal home circumstances and more likely to use coercive and harsh methods of discipline.
Problems have been shown to increase when low-income families suffer stress such as absence of a supportive partner, depression or drug use, and to improve when families enjoy social support from family friends or neighbours.
It’s a big deal, for parents to have the dual-task of fighting for the most basic human needs on a daily basis (like food, warmth, clothing) and then have the grandiose task of parenting children – as highlighted in a recent blog by family transformation charity Kids Matter.
The only way to help my children understand something that they’ve never really experienced is to expose them to those who have. I’ve written this piece as a challenge to myself, more than anything: for us (my husband and I), as parents, to back our ethic at home with action. Our children will learn more from watching their mum and dad helping out, than all the lectures we have to offer.
Make Lunch offers many ways to get involved with changing lives by fighting hunger – donate, fundraise, volunteer and here’s an easy one; spread the word. Visit https://www.tlg.org.uk/get-involved to find out more about how you can make a difference. Also check out http://kidsmatter.org.uk/ for more about family support with a parenting programme that truly makes a difference.
Andrea Zanin is a freelance writer and also a member of the comms team for Kids Matter. She’s always up for a chat so do contact her (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like to know more about how Kids Matter is
hoping going to change the world with its parenting programme.