Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Tale of Hunger

I do not have all the answers to the questions raised by this story, but I will share it anyway. For it is a true story.

If there is one world problem I would like to solve, it is hunger. I know it is linked to poverty, but for me, specifically, it is hunger. Maybe this is my road to creating my own Soup Kitchen. So whenever I hear of people unable to eat, whether women, children, businessmen, or laymen, I cringe and I want to give them a sandwich. Immediately.

I guess I take this from my father, who is celebrating his 74th birthday today. He taught us the value of a full stomach, and this in turn made me want to share it to the whole wide world. I know. It sounds like my head is up in the clouds.

There are times when I am faced with reality and I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach. Last night, I had such an experience.

My young friends from the parish were given tickets to the Kerygma Conference being held this weekend at the Araneta Coliseum by our parish priest, Fr Steve Tynan, mgl. I sent one of them a sandwich, although I later found out that six young people attended. My regret is that I did not plan ahead about the meal aspect of their day.

I watched the conference online via video streaming while puttering around the house. I overheard an announcement that meal stubs were being sold so people could get affordable food. I said to myself, "There you go. Food will be available for the 10,000 people in attendance." And I went about cleaning the house, updating my Christmas list, and planning my holiday menu.

One of the youth leaders who is now a single professional is staying with me while my parents are away. When she got home, I asked her how the day went. She excitedly told me about the inspiring speakers, the beautiful songs, and the nice giveaways. True to form, I asked her what they had for lunch. Being one of the first to start working, Jobelle always ends up spending for her younger friends, a practice that Fr. Steve and I warned her, and Julie, another working member of the youth group, against. They should know how and when to say No, and to start saving for themselves.

Before answering me, Jobelle's face fell and she said, "Ate, we didn't have proper lunch."

My heart sank. I asked why. She said, "We thought we could go out to buy lunch. But the guards would not let us out. It was allegedly 'Araneta policy' that people had to buy lunch from the vendors. But we could not afford the food. Not for six people. So we pooled our money together and bought hotdogs and fries, the only food we could afford. We just ignored our hunger and concentrated on dreaming BIG, as the conference emphasized."

A thousand thoughts raced through my mind. How could this have happened? I had been to the Araneta before with a water bottle and I remembered being required to leave it at the baggage counter. It was Araneta policy that spectators could only buy water, necessary for man's survival, from their authorized vendors.

It was frustrating to hear that. Since the young people could not bring food in, they would be forced to spend P495 on a pan of pizza that would not appease their hunger, as for them lunch would not be complete without rice. Jobelle said they were prepared not to eat again today, and it was not a problem.

I had a problem with that, however. How many among the 10,000 people in attendance knew beforehand that they could not: 1) bring their own food and drinks; 2) choose where to buy their food and drinks? It would have been more acceptable had the vendors carried lunch items on the P50 below range, which was all Jobelle and her group expected.

I hurriedly packed whatever food I could into a bag and firmly told Jobelle to bring it. They were to eat it before entering the Araneta Coliseum. I woke up this morning and found that Jobelle had left to attend the morning mass at their chapel before going to the conference.

I know it is the Kerygma brothers and sisters' dream to gather tens of thousands of people to worship and praise God, and to be inspired to surrender their dreams to God. But. I would rather that they had arranged for decent, affordable food for everyone with the owners of the venue first; and if that venue is strict, they should have chosen another venue.

I have nothing against the Aranetas, the Araneta Coliseum, or the Araneta Center. I grew up with fond memories of Fiesta Carnival, Ali Mall, SM the one and only ShoeMart, National Book Store, and Rustans. As an adult, I frequent Gateway Mall and am a fan of Cafe Bola. I bring my nephews to Disney on Ice and watch concerts with my friends at the Coliseum. Once, I joined my Lingkod brothers and sisters for a dance performance on stage, loved it, and vowed that "I will be back, Araneta."

I think, however, that somebody ought to give them feedback of the impact of their "no food and drinks allowed" policy. People should be allowed to go out for lunch. Otherwise it is almost criminal, detaining people against their will, and curtailing their freedom to choose. And their right to eat.

Hunger of these particular people may be a personal concern for me, and I will take steps to correct it. I told Jobelle to bring the young people here after the conference and I will feed them again. I have seen them grow into mature, responsible, and generous people, and it makes me happy to be part of that growth. I am not giving them fish, but I am also teaching them how to fish. I am part of a group of "older" people who support the youth ministry of our parish and the MGL in Manila. This is the new ministry that God led me to, after the single young professionals, and I have grown to love it.

I cannot help God solve world hunger instantly and permanently. But I can do whatever I can, whenever I can, wherever I can, to keep some people from being hungry. One meal at a time. For we are called to be God's hands.

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