Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Drama of Hunger

Originally published in the Bread blog, May 3, 2008

Machine1blogI am convinced
That if all mankind
Could only gather together
In one circle
Arms around each other's shoulders
And dance, laugh and cry
Then much
of the tension and burden
of life
Would fall away
-Leonard Nimoy
How many times have we thought to ourselves that ending hunger and poverty is an insurmountable problem? And how many times have we countered that thought by considering the possibilities if we all put our hearts and minds together to address this problem.
And then you're faced with considering a wide range of emotions.
Do you cry because the suffering is so real? Consider the example of a mother (anywhere in the world) having to choose between feeding her children and getting enough to eat.
Do you laugh because we want to make fun of some of the situations that cause the suffering? For example, any clown can tell you that that the amount of money we spend on some goods and services (ice cream, perfume, ocean cruises, pet services) every year far exceeds what it would cost hunger and malnutrition at the global level.
Laugh? or Cry? or Both?
That's what the students enrolled in the class Hunger: A Theatrical Expression considered as part of a class project. This was one of more than a dozen classes offered through the Research Service Learning Program at the University of New Mexico during the spring semester 2008.
The class involved many aspects of theater, from writing the script to designing the set and costumes to acting out the various roles that they created in a play entitled Hungry Machine. Before the students wrote the script, they had to do extensive research to ensure that their play was not a superficial look at hunger. The looked at a wide range of resources (including several copies of the Bread for the World Institute's annual hunger reports) and held dialogues with a couple of guest speakers. "They spent the entire first month of the semester doing research," said Anna Saggese, one of two instructors Anna and fellow instructor Riti Sachdeva also directed the play.
Here's an excerpt from the program:
"One in three New Mexicans face food insecurities"
With this sentence, the class began a journey of discovery. We wanted to know what food insecurity is, who feels it, what it looks like, tastes like, where it begins and how to combat it. Through the research process, we started to unearth our personal relationships with food. We saw how food is an integral part of family, culture, survival and saiety. We looked at a lack of food and its impact on the individual and our larger communities.
The students then proceeded to put together the play, which consisted of about 10 vignettes involving many topics related to hunger, poverty and food. Some were monologues, others involved mimes and clowns. There was even a humorous sketch where a schoolteacher-type nun (with a German accent!) spoke about the impact of genetic engineering on the food supply. Underlying the various topics were what the students determined were six causes or effects of hunger: gender discrimination, vulnerability of children and the elderly, population growth and consumption, poverty and powerlessness, violence and militarism, and racism and ethnocentricity.
Here's what they said:
As we shared our writing we noticed interesting connections. Most of our main characters are women. A few are pregnant women. We realize a definite connection between food and mothers. Most of the monologues address topics that evoke a multitude of responses: anger, grief, fear, and even laughter. This performance is testimony to our process of uncovering the very complex truths about hunger in our state and in our world.
The resulting product was a very powerful play that spoke to the audience at many levels, with the message that hunger, while complex, is a problem that can be solved if we take time to learn about its underlying causes. Click here for program and cast information
To express their commitment to addressing the problem, the students in the class decided to include the opportunity for the audience to write letters as part of Bread for the World's 2008 Offering of Letters campaign, which asks Congress to increase funding for poverty-focused development assistance by at least $5 billion.

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