The banquet sponsored by Oxfam America, which took place this past Fall (2012), mimics life; one’s status at the table comes down to the luck of the draw.
This was my ticket:
My name is Ngongo. I am a 30-year old Senegalese woman. I have been seeking a divorce from my husband, who beats me. Laws and customs discriminate against women in my country, so it is very hard to find work to support a family. I am getting help from APROFES, a local group supported my Oxfam America that gives women credit to start small businesses and promotes fair treatment of women.
In accordance with my ticket above, the large majority of guests were in the low-income bracket, their stories similar to mine. We sat on the floor in herds, and awaited our fate. We stood in line and for our dinner of meager white rice served in small quantities. Men were served first (to my Colombian compatriot’s great discomfort :p). For water, we were directed to the hallway. There was a drinking fountain with a stack of small plastic cups. The line was so long it stretched out the doorway.
The middle class guests represented a third of the total banquet attendees. They sat in comfortable wooden chairs with bare tabletops, and helped themselves to a country style buffet. If this personified the middle-income trap, I would have traded in an instant.
The wealthy patrons of the evening sat at a dining table with a white tablecloth (my grandmother’s marker of a proper table). A wait staff served them a three-course meal, including beverages of their choice. Their table was even situated against the farthest wall from the poor (aka myself), the large glass windows illuminating Boston’s skyline in a beautiful 14th story view only accessible to the top ten percent.
Why was this my Friday night you ask?
Oxfam America hosted the event at Boston University’s School of Public Health to actively demonstrate the global disparities between industrialized and developing countries.
I was familiar with British based Oxfam in the context of its charity shops from my time as a university student in the United Kingdom. However this British NGO is rapidly expanding, and its North American headquarters are stationed in Boston, MA. They concluded the evening with a provocative presentation about food security in the world’s poorest countries, and widely inquired about the motivation for becoming involved in international health for the participants of the evening.
The event was efficient, and did effectively orchestrate its goals. However, due to the limited guest list (open to the IH concentration), they mainly succeeded in reinforcing material most of the participants had already encountered.
As some fellow low-income attendees and I treated ourselves to a real dinner after the culmination of the banquet (a privilege the Ngongo’s of the world do not have), we pondered the situation. We tended to agree that the hunger banquet could have been even more effective and informative if it targeted unsuspecting people who didn’t already have a background in global development.
One suggestion included commandeering a Freshman dining hall one night, making each person choose from the income lottery. That would certainly go over well with the parents of the “starving” low-income!
Want more information? Plan your Hunger Banquet here.☼