Joining the Oxfam Fast for a World Harvest was suggested quite informally to me by a friend in ministry. After just a little investigation I was quickly on board with the idea of trying this program in our local parish for our junior high school eighth graders. For the next 15 years joining the Oxfam Fast for World Harvest became a regular and much anticipated part of our religious education program, an for good reason.
My initial investigation led me to discover that Oxfam America is an international aid organization dedicated to eradicating hunger, poverty and injustice in Third World nations around the world through crisis intervention and long range, grassroots development programs. To continue the work done by staffers living and working in Third World nations requires money. Annually one of the chief sources of funds is the Oxfam Fast for a World Harvest.
Across the country more than a million people participate in colleges, schools, church groups, businesses and neighborhoods. They give up a meal or a day of meals and donate the money saved to Oxfam Fast for World Harvest. This money is pooled and used in programs around the world throughout the coming year.
In our local religious education program we introduced the Oxfam Fast for a World Harvest program to parents through a letter. We asked kids in the program to participate by going without food from after lunch ( which for many was at 11:30 a.m. due to lunch schedules) until we gathered at 7 p.m. for our weekly religion class. This represented a considerable sacrifice for kids who are used to running home to a full refrigerator but when they learned about the millions of children who live on the brink of starvation not for a few hours but for every single day of the year you could see some attitudes begin to change.
We asked parents who could afford to do so to put the amount of money saved by not having to fee their son or daughter that day into an envelope and send it in to be collected at our meeting.
We began our evening session with some discussion about what we had been trying to do by our fast and then moved to a large meeting area that served as our dining room for the evening. Children sat in groups of ten with a teacher at numbered tables. One by one we drew numbers from a hat and children at the table that corresponded with that number came to the kitchen to be served a meal that consisted of a bowl of rice and a cup of juice. We mad the point that this was similar to the kind of meal that children would be eating throughout most of the Third Word perhaps once a day – if they were lucky!
The last table to be called represented the rich nations of the world. They were waited on, a table cloth was placed on their table and either pizza or burgers and fries, apple pie and soda or milk shakes arrived. And the lesson began to teach itself. There is always a lot of discussion about how “unfair” this distribution is and the kids get the point that in fact the present global distribution of food is also amazingly unfair. Kids also talk about how the kids who had the “good food” wasted a lot. There are always kids at neighboring tables trying to strike a deal for just a few fries or a bite of pizza. The comparisons to the real world are clear and the kids learn by living the message.
At the end of the hour we announce how much money has been received in contributions. Some years the parish offered to double whatever the kids donated which made them feel quite pleased at what they had accomplished.
The word spread and each year eighth grad e students looked forward to the Oxfam Fast for World Harvest. Today years later, the Oxfam Fast for World Harvest continues to raise money to help Third World countries. I am always amazed that when I meet students today what they remember most of their grade eight year was “the night we all ate rice”
You can get information about running your own local Oxfam Fast for a World Harvest at the Oxfam website list in the resources that follow.