With Dr. A.K. Enamul Haque
I get enough to eat. In fact, like many people in western countries it is always a tremendous battle to control my weight. I am not necessarily winning the battle, but I certainly try hard, exercising every day and watching what I eat. However, in my society food is ubiquitous, it is everywhere and it is cheap. That is the single greatest reason that Western society has trouble with obesity. I think about it hard, especially when I visit far-off lands like Bangladesh.
It has always bothered me that there are empty stomachs in this world. Of course growing up in southwestern Ontario I did not have much idea what that meant. It was only when I visited Bangladesh in 1993 that I first saw the true face of real hunger. For instance I saw adults and kids on the streets and in the countryside thatwere hungry. So it was a tough adjustment in 1993, something that has always stayed with me.
Over the years I have had many discussions with my colleague Enamul about why this is. He is a true expert on the subject because he stares into its face every day and has all his life. Growing up in Bangladesh and living with the poverty and hungry people surely must harden you up. I have always been told that you have to mentally adjust to it when you come to Bangladesh and I can honestly say that in over 4 trips there in 17 years I was able to do that. The last time I was in Bangladesh in 2009, I noticed it, but it didn’t bother me like you did before. I mentally adjusted to looking over the top of hungry people.
Of course there’s lots of food in Bangladesh. Over the 20 years since I started going there incomes have risen significantly. This is palpable each time I visit there. Every time that I go I see progress, bigger buildings, bigger signs and surely bigger dreams. It is entirely obvious the country is getting richer and it must be rubbing off on the people somewhere. Despite that, there are still empty stomachs. There are still hungry children. It tells me that the world is not fair.
In the United States and Canada over the past few days McDonald’s Corporation has announced that they will no longer serve pork where female pigs (sows) have been kept in gestation stalls. The stalls were set up many years ago so the large sows would not lie on their piglets killing them. Of course it raised efficiency in pork production. However some extremists in western society commonly referred to, as animal welfare people didn’t think that was fair to the pigs. They feel that the pigs should run free and clear. It’s preposterous to any good North American farmer, but these people are winning that war. The purveyors of Western obesity, namely our fast food restaurants are now dictating how this meat must be raised. Meanwhile, in most of this world there are empty stomachs crying to be fed. Sometimes I think the world is crazy.
Of course we all like food. I often visit the Canadian fast food restaurant called Tim Hortons. Canadians love to drink their coffee, but they also serve doughnuts and all kinds of pastries soups and sandwiches. When Enamul first arrived in Canada over 25 years ago he survived by eating Maple Dip doughnuts from one of these fast food outlets. In fact, I think for at least a month he thought that’s all Canadians ate. Every time I go into a Tim Horton’s outlet now, I show my kids the Maple Dip donuts. I tell them that Enamul survived on them for at least a month and they laugh.
When I go back to Bangladesh, which I plan to do in January of 2013, I would love to pack a Maple Dip doughnut for Enamul. However, I think it would not survive the trip. Needless to say, if I could I would bring Maple Dip doughnuts back for everybody who is hungry there. I would bring back a maple dip doughnut for every little child that is hungry. Of course that cannot be done but I do feel the need to do something and I’m sure Enamul can help me with that.
The last time I was Dhaka, I visited UTSHO Bangladesh, which is a school run for kids of sex workers in Bangladesh. (www.utshobangladesh.org). You could imagine where they came from and how hungry they must’ve been. As a listened to the children sing, that morning in 2009, I thought it was one of the most wonderful sounds I had ever heard. Here, in this poor country, good people were fighting the good fight and feeding empty stomachs and giving children hope for the future. I want to do that too. Empty stomachs are a tough problem. Clearly, there has to be a better way.
Children of the God and Food
Dr. A.K. Enamul Haque PhD
Food is a major problem in many countries around the world. Last year I was working with a famous professor of Economics from Boston University. He is old now and has been to Bangladesh many times including once in 1974, when he came to advise the newly independent government of Bangladesh. He was lucky that he had several of his students working as the top bureaucrats of the country’s civil administration. 1974 was the famine year for Bangladesh. He told me that when he was going for an evening dinner with one of his student (a Secretary to the Government) to a nearby restaurant across the Hotel Intercontinental, he saw line up of people who were hungry, skinny and begging for one piece of food. His student was totally indifferent to their presence but more importantly physically pushed them aside to clear the entrance (of course for his Professor) of the restaurant as they were entering for a feast. The professor said even today he remembers that day and realized that the civil administration of the country did not care about them.
Last week something else happened in Bangladesh. A magistrate court in Dhaka ordered the government of Bangladesh to evict a local slum from its location where nearly 2000-5000 households were living for the past 20 years. You can read on this story in http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=229335. The order was a surprise for the slum dwellers. Accordingly, police demolished the houses leaving some 20,000-50,000 people without a roof. The slum dwellers, this time smartly protested, blocked the road and created a traffic fiasco in the city. The result was that police finally stopped the demolition. Thousands of the slum dwellers went back to their place but no roof, no bed, no kitchen, no water. On the top of this, rain began right after the eviction. In the past two days, one baby died, two were born in open air make shift delivery station, 11 more pregnant mothers are expecting babies in this place. According to the press because of the court verdict they cannot build any structure now on this land.
The only good news is that a younger generation of students decided to use facebook to collect resources and started feeding these people voluntarily once a day. You can find it here – https://www.facebook.com/VolunteerforBangladesh . None of the political leaders went to see them. The judiciary also did not use their good sense and reverted their decision. It is totally frustrating.
Finally, despite the fact that Dhaka is bustling with construction of new buildings, sky-scrappers, the poverty is also Omni-present here. Many groups, many individuals work day and night to ensure that humanity does not fail in this busy city. As Phil has said, Utsho Bangladesh was organized by a group of brave ladies who thought to work with the children who cannot stay with their parents for many reasons. Their mothers being a sex worker (although illegal in Bangladesh) is one of them. I know one case where a mother came to Utsho to leave her 2 years old daughter. The school was reluctant to admit her because she was too young to live in a hostel. The mother cried and begged for a place. She was ready to pay for this but needed a space for her daughter. Upon enquiry it was found out that she is a divorced lady who works in a local garment factory. Working hours are long; she cannot come to feed her during her 12 hours shift. So she locked the door, chained her and left food on plate for the little baby. She is now afraid that if there were a fire (that time she could not think of eviction) she would lose her child as she is locked in the room. Hearing this, Utsho took the child as one of its youngest student. I know more children whose parents were murdered and are now living in Utsho. There are many like these who are with Utsho Bangladesh.
Utsho runs its operation mostly through voluntary donations from local people. They also run a catering shop, a grocery outlet and also a restaurant to generate funds for these children. This year, a private donor from Denmark came forward and paid for construction of its hostel and school building. The land, of course, was donated by a local business group in Dhaka. Myself, and many others are involved with this but it is mostly a group of dedicated women who has done it. I salute them for their courageous effort.
Having said all this, I believe, that despite abundance of food across many part of the world, despite rising economic conditions of many nations in Asia, we should not forget that many people in this world still suffer from hunger and malnutrition and that we can play a role.