Aqila - Bridging the Divide in Quetta
Mercy Corps is proud to name Aqila Khadim of Pakistan as the Global Citizen Corps leader of the month.
Her work this year bringing together ethnic groups in her community serves as an extraordinary example of young people bridging social divides despite huge barriers.
Aqila and her family are a middle class family from the Hazara community in Quetta, a city near the Afghan border. The Hazara are a Shiite minority group which fled Afghanistan in the late 1800’s due to ethnic violence. Recently, they have again become the targets of violence and discrimination. Riots and shootings this year have left dozens dead and shaken the community.
It has also driven those like 24 year old Aqila into action.
Working as a leader for Mercy Corps’ Pakistani affiliate, The College of Youth Activism and Development, Aqila helped organize a march in solidarity with those who have died in the violence. More than 80 youth from both Hazara and Sunni groups took part in the event this January. They marched through a heavily targeted Hazara neighborhood called Murrie Abad. Their route took them to a neighborhood cemetery where recent victims had been buried. There they recited prayers and tied ribbons with messages of peace to the branches of a tree.
In a recent interview Aqila told us, “This project had a very good impact on my community, especially on the youth. It got young people to start thinking about steps to change the situation in Quetta and play a role in bringing peace to the area.”
Aqila plans to continue working in her community to help alleviate ethnic tension and reduce discrimination against the Hazara community. She told us, “I cannot stand the ongoing situation in my community anymore. I believe our actions can bring change and together we will make this world a better place to live in.”
Best of luck Aqila.
Connor - Web Access in Uganda and Iron Chef Fundraising
Connor’s an 18 years old senior at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon. In addition to participating as a GCC Leader for over a year, Connor enjoys hanging out with friends, reading, and learning to rock climb. We’re happy to feature him as our GCC Leader of the Month.
In 2010 Connor attended the Global Citizen Corps Leadership Program. When given the chance to focus on a particular aspect of international development, he chose a field called Appropriate Technologies. He joined a discussion group led by a guest speaker from a local non-profit called Green Empowerment. The workshop focused on his organization’s experiences designing and installing off-grid water and electrical systems in developing countries. It was, according to Connor, fascinating.
As his service project, Connor helped lead a fundraiser for his school’s sister school in Uganda. Their goal was to raise enough money to maintain the school’s internet access and buy supplies for its science lab. They threw an event called Iron Chef, which brought in community members to cook meals from their different cultures. After dinner, followed a presentation on the situation in Central Africa. Unsurprisingly, Connor and his team (not to mention the cooks) knocked it out of the park.
After graduating this year, Connor plans to study mechanical engineering at Oregon State University. Whichever field he decides to put his expertise to use, we’re sure he’ll do a fantastic job.
When asked what it means to be a global citizen, Connor told us, “To me, being a global citizen means having respect for all other people without considering such meaningless labels as ethnicity or nationality.”
Go get em’ Connor.
Nikki - Hunger Banquet Action Report
As guests begin filtering in, Nikki flits across the kitchen, arranging forks, and putting the finishing touches on the array of dishes. She washes her hands and leans out of the kitchen door. “Thanks so much guys, come in, have a seat” she says graciously. Rushing back into the kitchen, she checks the rice, and returns to the counter where her script is lying. In a hurried voice she whispers, “Oxfam, an international organization that designed this banquet, maintains that human rights do not hinge on the country, gender... while the proportion of the world’s population living in hunger has decreased, hunger endures for millions of people...” she trails off and looks back at the guests mingling in the living room. The house’s owner steps in and says, “Nikki, I’m not sure we’re going to have enough chairs for everyone, should I go grab some more from upstairs?”
“No, no, we have enough” Nikki replies.
The guests settle in. The owner of the house glances around uncomfortably. There are certainly NOT enough chairs. Before she can get up to go find more, Nikki steps out from the kitchen and makes a little cough. The 15 or so people look up at her, waiting expectantly. “Where’s the food!?” someone blurts out. A chuckle passes across the room.
She clears her voice and says, “Welcome to the hunger banquet.We are here today because 1.3 billion people live in poverty.”
She pauses, looking out at her friends, family, and the scattering of people from high school who she’d gotten to come tonight.
“850 million of these people suffer from chronic hunger.”
She pauses again.
“Every 2.9 seconds, a child dies from hunger and other preventable diseases.”
“That’s 30,000 children a day.”
“You may think hunger is about too many people and too little food. Not true. Our rich and bountiful planet produces enough to feed every woman, man, and child on earth.
It’s about power. The roots of hunger lie in inequalities in access to education and resources. The results are illiteracy, poverty, war, and the inability of families to grow or buy food.
Today, we will join the fight against hunger.”
Nikki is one of the few students at her High School with an eye on the issue of global hunger. She is also a fine example of a Global Citizen Corps activist. Since attending the summer training session last year, she’s been creating a stir at her high school with events and fundraisers. This event in particular is called a Hunger Banquet. The idea is to raise awareness of the world’s hunger problem in a unconventional way: Make your dinner guests go hungry.
As Nikki’s speech continues, guests are passed out slips of paper dividing them up into three groups.
She seats the first group at the room’s only table, set lavishly with silverware, flowers, and a cheese platter.
“You represent the 15 percent of the world’s population with a per capita income of $9,076 or more. You consume 70 percent of all the grain grown in the world, most of it in the form of grain-fed meat. Since most of you exceed your daily requirement of calories, you face health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. But most of you don’t worry about getting health care. You have access to the best medical care in the world. It’s a given that your children will attend school; the only uncertainty is how many years they will study after high school. You and your family live in a comfortable and secure home. You own at least one car and probably two televisions.”
With that, she signals for the food to be brought in. In come steaming plates of food, giving off the aroma of what could be either roast hen, or an herb rubbed pork loin. Hard to say which. Group 1 is highly pleased.
She moves on to the second group, who she seats at a circle of assorted chairs and foot rests.
“If you are sitting here, you represent roughly 25 percent of the world’s population. You earn between $912 and $9,075 a year. The levels of access to food, and security you enjoy vary greatly. You are the folks who live on the edge. For many, it would take losing only one harvest to drought or a serious illness to throw you into poverty. You probably own no land and may work as a day laborer, which pays a minimal amount—but it’s better than nothing. Your small income allows for some use of electricity and a few years of schooling for your children.”
Appetites piqued, the guests in group 2 shoot looks at the kitchen door, waiting expectantly. Nikki gives the signal, and in come bowls filled with a modest portion of rice and beans. Group 2 stares at Nikki for a while, and then glance at each other. Is that it? A few guests at the wealthy table guiltily shift in their seats. But there really isn’t enough pork loin to go around...
Nikki moves on to the third group. Some are seated, but most stand, waiting in dread for what will come. At this rate it could be anything. Bush meat? Malaria water? A few guests eye the back door.
“If you are sitting on the floor, you represent the majority of the world’s...” she pauses. “Oh, actually I’m going to have to take your chairs.”
“Oh come on!” a guest blurts out.
“Your average income is less than $911 a year—about $2.50 a day—although many of you earn much less. Every day is a struggle to meet your family’s basic needs. Finding food, water, and shelter can consume your entire day. For many of you women, it would not be uncommon to have to walk 5 to 10 miles every day to get water, spend several more hours working in the fields, and of course take care of the children. Many of you are frequently hungry. Many of you are homeless or living in structures so flimsy that a hard rain or strong wind can cause a major catastrophe.”
Nikki plucks a guest from those sitting before her.
“Meet Adis Gemada. Adis lives in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia which has been plagued with chronic droughts. Her husband died and left her with seven children. In good times, they eat one meal a day. As a result, her children have had malaria and other illnesses related to the shortage of food. Adis had three goats but was forced to sell them in an attempt to feed her children and overcome these problems.”
The guest gives Nikki a mortified look and sits back down quickly.
After a moment, Nikki signals for the last course to be brought in. Group 3 is handed small bowls of white rice and a glass of water. No silverware. No cheese platter.
Not great, but certainly not as bad as some had suspected. A few sympathetic calls of encouragement drift down from the more fortunate attendees.
Before anyone begins eating, Nikki introduces a series of hypothetical calamities and opportunities (think hurricanes and factory openings), shifting members of the middle class in to the lower, and vise-versa. The upper class, for the most part, is spared from this process, and one fellow is even informed that his holiday bonus will be more than enough to fund a Caribbean Cruise. He grins and returns to his meal.
“This is just a small slice of life as it plays out each day around the globe,” Nikki concludes.
As the dinner winds down, she quietly ushers the unfortunate members of the lower classes into the kitchen. Waiting for them are plates filled with proper food. “Don’t worry, I wasn’t actually going to let you go hungry.”
Later, as her guests leave for home, they laugh and thank her for the night. The event was a resounding success. While the Oxfam designed event can be jarring, it does an excellent job of generating empathy among attendees towards the vast populations of people who go hungry.
Nikki, a soft spoken Junior in high school, told me that she got the idea to do a Hunger Banquet while at the Training Summit at Mercy Corps headquarters in Portland, Or. “An older friend attended the training summit, and she knew that I was super into global issues. She told me, ‘This is your thing’ so I applied. Luckily I got in, because it was probably the best experience of my life. I’m generally a pretty shy person, but something got into me and I went with it. I spent the week with 30 high school students from across the country, learning about issues related to food security. It really opened my eyes to what’s going on in the world.”
In addition to the Hunger Banquet, Nikki recently organized a fundraiser at her high school. “We decided to raise money for the non-profit group, Invisible Children Inc. They’re working to help victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa through early warning systems and a new rehabilitation center to help reunify families.”
So how much did she raise?
“Just over $200.”
Well done Nikki!
Due to Nikki’s exceptional drive and her unconventional tactics of raising awareness of global problems, we at Global Citizen Corps are happy to feature her as our activist of the month!
For more information on how to organize a Hunger Banquet in your community, check out this site:
And to see what the good people of Invisible Children Inc are up against, have a look at this video: