Varayayi Pugeni knew all about hunger when he was growing up in rural Zimbabwe.
“There is nothing as depressing as when a mother has to make a choice on which child to feed, or to make a choice on which child should go to bed hungry,” Pugeni said on World Food Day Oct. 16.
“My mother had to make those decisions.”
Usually the choice was that he, the eldest of his siblings, would not eat that day and then go to bed hungry.
It made walking the 16 kilometres to school challenging, and he sometimes missed school. When he was at school, he had trouble concentrating, and his grades were poor.
That’s why he and other foreign aid workers who spoke at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on World Food Day consider hunger to be a human rights issue. If you can’t eat, you can’t do much else.
“Once people do not have food, then a lot of other human rights become affected,” said Pugeni.
Hungry people can easily be-come exploited because they will do almost anything to feed themselves or their children. Some make ruthless choices to obtain food, damaging their “ability to be a good citizen.”
Pugeni and others involved in fighting hunger told personal stories to people visiting the museum, hoping to make them aware of the challenges around the world and how Canadians can help.
Canada is home to two highly respected international food aid organizations, something many Canadians and Manitobans don’t realize. Pugeni praised both the Mennonite Central Committee, for whom he works as a disaster relief co-ordinator, and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
“It is giving people the ability to have food on their table,” Pugeni said about the organizations.
“They are also helping them restore their dignity by giving them skills for them to be able to produce food for themselves.”
Local food issues were also discussed with involvement from small scale agriculture promoter Food Matters Manitoba and local food bank Winnipeg Harvest.
Pugeni said he was struck by two features of farmer-based food aid projects organized by farmers in Western Canada:
- There are so many.
- The farmers who do them are humble and uncomfortable with praise.
However, Pugeni said in a later interview that they deserve praise.
“I really want to thank Canadian farmers for their generosity and providing the much needed support to people who are hungry all over the world through their growing projects and through the generous donations they make to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the Mennonite Central Committee.”