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cause of hungerThe COVID-19 pandemic is deemed a global health crisis that has resulted in an economic crisis and a hunger crisis too. In the Dominican Republic, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger.

Unemployment Due to COVID-19

Cabarete, Dominican Republic, prides itself on being one of the watersports capitals of the world. Nearly two-thirds of Cabarete’s population depends on the local tourism industry for work and income. These jobs mostly fall under the informal economy.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 60% of the world’s working population were employed in the informal economy. The informal economy is defined by hourly jobs that offer neither a salary nor employee benefits. The pandemic left many people without a regular source of income and without health insurance.

Compared with the bailout packages that the governments of wealthy nations were able to provide to their citizens, the governments of impoverished nations were unable to provide citizens with such economic support. Around the world, NGOs have attempted to assist in providing the support that impoverished governments are unable to provide.

Cabarete Sostenible Addresses the Root Cause of Hunger

Moraima Capellán Pichardo, a citizen of Cabarete, is a supporter of the concept of food sovereignty. The Borgen Project spoke with Capellán Pichardo about the origins of Cabarete Sostenible and the organization’s long-term goals. Food sovereignty, the principle that individual self-actualization is dependent on having enough to eat, is at the heart of Cabarete Sostenible’s mission.

Capellán Pichardo told The Borgen Project that individual NGOs in Cabarete were working independently of each other when the COVID-19 pandemic began. These separate organizations had a common goal so they came together to form a coalition and increase their impact. This coalition became the nonprofit organization, Cabarete Sostenible. Everyone who works with Cabarete Sostenible is a volunteer. The organization works with local food distributors and organic farms and distributes the foodstuff that it receives to struggling families and individuals in Cabarete. This forms the organization’s first response to the hunger crisis.

Although it began as a method to address an acute crisis, Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger. Capellán Pichardo indicated that food sovereignty has been on the minds of Cabarete Sostenible’s volunteers and organizers since its inception. “Very early on, we sat down to discuss where we thought Cabarete Sostenible was going in the future. For us, we wanted to make sure that we did not just stick to giving out food because that does not really address the root problem.”

The Concept of Food Sovereignty

Food insecurity means being without reliable access to sufficient and nutritious supplies of food at any given time and is a common reality for citizens of Cabarete. On the other hand, food sovereignty, organizing society in such a manner that every individual has access to producing his or her own food, is a possible solution to food insecurity. “Food sovereignty is tied to land access,” Capellán Pichardo says. “For us, it is important that the first mission that Cabarete Sostenible focuses on is food sovereignty: access to healthy and appropriate food and using the native agricultural land to provide that.”

Food Sovereignty Addresses Food Insecurity

Since COVID-19, many factors have contributed to a rise in food insecurity and extreme poverty worldwide. Mass rates of unemployment have threatened access to food as even the poorest households spend close to three-fourths of their income on food.

Widespread unemployment, combined with unexpected drops in agricultural production, has created an unprecedented crisis. Because of supply line disruptions and trade barriers, often the result of increased health precautions, citizens of the world’s poorest nations are left without access to food. Some of the suffering caused by such disruptions can be mitigated by food sovereignty policies. Perhaps, a societal approach may be modeled after Cabarete Sostenible’s efforts to address the root causes of hunger.

Sustainable Community Solutions to Hunger

Capellán Pichardo is optimistic about the road ahead as she details how the organization has worked with local landowners to collaborate on solutions. The organization has opened the first community garden and is working to partner up to create a community-style farm. All this is work toward creating a social business model. Cabarete Sostenible seeks to address the root cause of hunger by helping to create a sustainable way of living, where food shortages are less likely and future hunger crises are averted.

– Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in KenyaKenya is currently home to 46 million people. Over 35% of them suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition each year, with 2.6 million facing a food insecurity crisis. The state of food insecurity in this country is serious, with the country ranking 86 out of 117 countries on the 2019 Global Hunger Index. Children are especially at risk, with just under a third of those who are food insecure suffering from stunted growth.  This is one of the many common issues related to hunger and poor nutrition. The rampant hunger in Kenya is a dire situation. However, there are some efforts to fight this crisis.

The Farming Issue

Nearly 75% of Kenyans rely on agriculture for all or part of their incomes. The industry makes up about a third of the Kenyan economy, but only one-fifth of the land in Kenya is suitable for farming. A lack of reliable irrigation forces farmers to rely on rain as their primary water source. Reliance on nature makes planting and harvesting unpredictable and risky. This is combed with the population boom in Kenya over the past 25 years. This has left the food supply limited at best and extremely vulnerable to weather patterns and natural disasters.

Domestic farmers are the main food providers in Kenya. The industry needs a robust workforce to keep up with the heavy demands of an ever-increasing population. However, the younger generation is uninterested in farm work and current farmers are getting too old for the job. Conversely, lack of employment also perpetuates hunger in Kenya. Millions of Kenyans are unemployed or underpaid, and many can’t afford to buy food in the first place. Poor infrastructure and high domestic taxes levied on farmers for transporting their goods are the cause of such steep food prices. These exorbitant transportation fees leave much of the population hungry.

Despite all of this, the issue of hunger in Kenya has generally improved over the past decades. Further, many organizations continue to battle this crisis and expand food access to the millions of struggling Kenyans.

World Vision

The Christian nonprofit World Vision tackles child poverty and injustice worldwide. The organization first branched out to Kenya in 2017. Upon arrival, World Vision volunteers saw villages suffering from drought and hunger. They noticed people eating animals like hyenas and vultures while others mourning the loss of their livestock, the remains of which were everywhere.

In the first year of its project, World Vision reached 3.5 million individuals. The organization was able to provide clean water, health care, and nutritional support. World Vision knows that hunger in Kenya is far from solved and doesn’t plan on stopping its efforts. The nonprofit has hope in expanding water and nutrition access as a way to help alleviate the suffering in this country.

Action Against Hunger

The “world’s hunger specialist,” Action Against Hunger, is a nonprofit working to end hunger with our lifetime. It provides global aid to children and families to treat and prevent malnutrition. The organization has worked in Kenya since 2002.

Its work has included implementing programs on health, water, sanitation, refugees, and childcare. The nonprofit has been able to expand access to health treatments, screenings, and services for those suffering from malnutrition. It also supported thousands of herders by providing livestock vaccinations and training animal health experts.

In 2019, the organization reached over 1.9 million people with its nutrition and health programs and nearly 50,000 people with its water, sanitation, and hygiene initiatives. Additionally, it aided over 40,000 people with its food security and livelihood programs. This all added up to over two million people in 2019 alone, a huge effort for a team of only 43 employees.

Conclusion

Hunger in Kenya is a severe issue that has cost the lives and livelihoods of millions of individuals and families. Children are at severe risk of malnutrition and related diseases, while the farming industry is struggling to provide even a portion of the country’s necessary food supply. Aggressive and comprehensive government or international intervention to shore up farmers and expand their capacity to produce are absent. It is organizations like World Vision and Action Against Hunger that have to pick up the slack. Fortunately, they have been able to reach and save the lives of millions of Kenyans. The issue lives on, but the efforts of nonprofits continue to provide hope.

Connor Bradbury
Photo: Flickr

Indigenous PovertyGuatemala is one of Latin America’s most unequal countries, with an indigenous population that has been especially impacted by COVID-19. Indigenous groups make up more than 40% of Guatemala’s population, which equates to more than 6.5 million people. Poverty rates average 79% among indigenous groups, with 35% suffering from food insecurity.

COVID-19 Exacerbates Indigenous Poverty in Guatemala

COVID-19 has only exacerbated the suffering of indigenous Guatemalans. Not only have indigenous families been pushed further into poverty, but reports of gender-based and intrafamily violence, murders and child pregnancies have also increased during Guatemala’s stay-at-home orders, which were intended to control the spread of COVID-19. The only exception to note is that there has been a drop in violent crime since lockdowns were imposed.

Child labor rates have increased, which is a concern since a child’s education is their channel to achieve social mobility and is key to reducing poverty. At the start of the lockdown, remote learning was promoted. However, less than 30% of Guatemala’s population has internet access. Only 21% of the population has access to a computer. In effect, COVID-19 is widening the economic gap between the indigenous population and those in urban Guatemala.

OCHA, the United Nations emergency aid coordination body, reported in April 2020 that seasonal hunger rates have worsened in eastern Guatemala due to lockdown measures. Compared to a year ago, health ministry figures point out that acute malnutrition cases in the department of Chiquimula increased by roughly 56%.

Oxfam Assists Guatemala

Oxfam, a confederation working to alleviate global poverty, has been on the ground in Guatemala, delivering food, sanitary and medical products, particularly to Guatemala’s indigenous communities.  However, Oxfam is working a little differently than in the past due to COVID-19 measures. Instead of risking the spread of the virus by sending outside people in, Oxfam is employing local Guatemalans by transferring credit to their phones and having them collect and distribute two months’ worth of necessary goods to those requiring assistance.

Insufficient Governmental Support

Guatemala’s government offers little help to relieve the effects of COVID-19 in its rural zones. In 2017, a study by the Guatemalan health ministry reported that the government spends fractions of its health budget in its rural zones compared to its wealthiest, urban cities.

The United States has increased its level of deportations under COVID-19-related regulations, leading Guatemala to trace 20% of its infections to those returnees. With the lack of governmental support and social safety nets, many poor Guatemalans are looking to flee the country.

Hopes for an Inclusive Society

Although the indigenous in Guatemala are creating their own solutions, using traditional knowledge and practices to contain COVID-19, the Guatemalan government must treat its indigenous population equally and include those who have been historically excluded by implementing strategies and operations to prevent and contain COVID-19 as well as alleviate its indigenous poverty rates overall.

– Danielle Lindenbaum
Photo: Flickr

Alimenta la SolidaridadVenezuela has a convoluted political, economic and social situation. The present humanitarian crisis in Venezuela has placed the country in fourth for the largest food crisis in the world. The nonprofit organization  Alimenta la Solidaridad (Feed Solidarity) chooses to tackle this issue head-on.

The Situation in Venezuela

According to the World Food Program, one in every three Venezuelans require food assistance. Venezuela’s deteriorating situation has decreased the household’s access to food as well as the purchasing power of the people. In 2019, an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans suffered from food insecurity and approximately 9.3 million required immediate food assistance.

The current food dilemma is expected to worsen due to the current economic crisis. Already, the plight has increased childhood malnutrition and starvation. Children in Venezuela rarely obtain vital nutrients for proper growth and adequate cognitive development.

A Nonprofit to the Rescue

Alimenta la Solidaridad was determined to combat the rampant food insecurity in Venezuela. Since 2016, it has provided around 7,508,000 meals to Venezuelan children in need. The program started mainly in Distrito Capital, the capital’s state, but it has gradually expanded nationwide. It now operates in 14 additional states, has a total of 188 dining rooms across the national territory and gives food assistance to over 14,000 children.

The nonprofit recognizes the necessity to contribute their part to society. Alimenta la Solidaridad aims to find sustainable solutions to the food-related challenges that plague many low-income Venezuelan families. This organization works exhaustively to soften the effect of the nutritional deficiencies that many children in this program possess.

How Alimenta la Solidaridad Works

Alimenta la Solidaridad operates through donors with the help of mothers and fathers from the communities. The nonprofit gathers people willing to share their home to provide the space for community kitchens. Volunteers cook, organize the children, clean and manage the daily operations of this effort. The organization is “more than a plate of food.” When people with Alimenta la Solidaridad get together, they create a place of transformation.  Sometimes, they create activities that turn into opportunities for the development and empowerment of children. Mothers in the program also receive growth opportunities.

Alimenta la Solidaridad provides training courses that will empower the mothers. The new skills are then put right back into the organization. These mothers often end up taking one of the most important roles within the organization. They don’t only make the initiative possible, they also teach the children to grow in the values of co-responsibility, involvement and service.

Alimenta la Solidaridad aids the outside communities as well. The initiative contributes to the reduction of criminal indexes within the surrounding areas. Further, the organization promotes community organizations and volunteer work. They uplift these avenues of aid as a way to fulfill their mission of providing daily meals to children with food insecurity in Venezuela.

Hope for the Fight

Despite the painful reality in Venezuela, many efforts across the territory keep trying to find ways to help. Alimenta la Solidaridad is the perfect example of an organization that managed to provide aid despite the bleak circumstances. The nonprofit’s dedication and goodwill has developed a model based on responsibility and empowerment. This method boosts the sense of involvement and amount of voluntary service within Venezuelan communities in need. Food insecurity has met its match with the hopeful spirit of the resilient Venezuelan people.

Isabella León Graticola
Photo: Pixabay

Open Heart OrphanageIn the midst of COVID-19 sweeping through Uganda, six children at Open Heart Orphanage have died. However, it was not the virus that claimed their lives. The tragic deaths were a result of hunger and fever, collateral effects of the pandemic.

Food Struggles During the Pandemic

The people of Uganda must fight to stay healthy during the pandemic as well as combat food insecurity. The issue of food affordability is not only an organic result of the pandemic. Back in April, four Ugandan government officials were arrested for conspiring to inflate COVID-19 relief food prices. The effects are far-reaching. According to UNICEF, 6.7 million children under the age of five could suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in 2020.

The Hidden Victims

Uganda has consistently ranked among the countries with the greatest number of orphaned children in the world, and it has not gone without its controversy. Last year, VICE reported that there are at least 300 “children’s homes” operating without government oversight. Four out of five of these orphans have at least one living parent. Questions arise over the exploitation of these children and the quality of the care they receive. During the coronavirus pandemic, the children are even more vulnerable. Orphans are oftentimes the faces of Facebook scams targeting donors from Western countries.

Children are the “hidden victims” of the virus. They are not particularly susceptible to contracting the disease, but they will be the ones to bear its effects on the social and economic systems. Domestic struggles within the family, surging food prices and a shortage of available medical care have led to malnutrition and displacement, especially in developing countries like Uganda. The result is many children are being left in orphanages.

Open Heart Orphanage

The Borgen Project interviewed Hassan Mubiru, a pastor at Open Heart Orphanage in Bulenga, Kampala, Uganda. Its mission is to help orphans experience a full and productive life. Currently, the organization serves 175 “needy” or orphaned children. The Christian nonprofit aims to provide these children with education, medical assistance, housing, clothing, food and water and the love of God. Due to the pandemic, there have been some obstacles in achieving these goals.

“Coronavirus has crippled most of our activities because we were absolutely unprepared when the lockdown was announced,” said Mubiru. The pastor explains that the organization has always worked below its budget and did not store supplies ahead of time. When COVID-19 hit, they did not have enough resources to sustain themselves.

Even more challenging was the shortage of volunteers. Mubiru stated, “Those who used to individually help are no longer helping. We cannot guarantee salary or their payments.” Unstable payments met with mandates to stay in quarantine have deterred many volunteers from coming to Open Heart Orphanage.

Mubiru says that the biggest issue for Open Heart Orphanage is the lack of available food. “It is extremely difficult or impossible to get food as prices went higher and almost nothing was coming into us. We have so far lost six children due to hunger and fever since the pandemic started. These are things we would have prevented if we had enough food and means of getting treatment in time.”

Open Heart Orphanage strives to help children reach their fullest potential. The nonprofit is a stepping stone for the children and not a final destination. Mubiru believes that children are better off in a home than an orphanage, especially in these times. Mubiru emphasized, “We encourage families to adopt even if this is another crisis because the law governing adoption is tough and high fees.”

Miska Salemann
Photo: Flickr

hunger in swazilandIn 2017, it was recorded that 58.9% of people in Swaziland were living below the poverty line. Despite the country’s lower-middle-class status, the poverty rate continues to persist. Challenges such as low economic growth, severe weather patterns, high unemployment, high cases of HIV/AIDS and a high amount of malnutrition, the Swaziland population is struggling with an immense amount of poverty. A whole 42% of the population lives on less than $1.90 a day. With people in Swaziland struggling to make ends meet, hunger in Swaziland continues to be prevalent.

Food Insecurity in Swaziland

Many Swazis are chronically food insecure. One out of three people face severe hunger, and with the COVID-19 pandemic, hunger is only increasing. With severe weather conditions, Swaziland faces poor harvest years, decreasing the amount of food that can be produced. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a tool used to improve food security, reported that 32% of the population will experience “high acute food insecurity” within the coming months due to the pandemic. COVID-19 has compounded the food insecurity situation, causing restrictions that disrupt the already limited food supply for Swazi households.

Rise Against Hunger

Humanitarian assistance programs have been a huge support system for the lack of food supplies in Swaziland during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rise Against Hunger is a movement that mobilizes resources to improve poverty and create solutions for hunger in Swaziland. This movement provides life-saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable, Swaziland being one of the most vulnerable countries. Rise Against Hunger now partners with Salesian Missions, a humanitarian organization that gives hope to millions of youth globally, to provide food and aid to those living in poverty in Swaziland. Together, these organizations provide meals for the hungry. Beginning in 2011, this partnership has been successful, providing food and life-saving aid to malnourished individuals in Swaziland.

USAID Food Relief

As the Swaziland government struggles to deliver aid and food relief, USAID has partnered with World Vision to provide emergency food assistance. USAID is making an effort to reach 45,000 food insecure people in Swaziland by providing monthly food rations. These food rations include cornmeal and beans and vegetable oil.  Not only are USAID and World Vision providing food rations to decrease the percentage of hunger in Swaziland, but they are also working to increase the agricultural production of families that need assistance in recovering from previous droughts. With USAID stepping in to provide as much relief as possible, these efforts will produce longer-term resilience.

Hunger in Swaziland has caused many to succumb to hunger at a faster rate since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, making hunger a widespread issue. Organizations and charities are working together to provide the necessary aid essential to eradicate hunger in Swaziland.

Kendra Anderson
Photo: Flickr

Hunger in SpainSpain is considered to be a developed country, however, some people in Spain still do not have access to adequate food and nutritional needs. In numbers, 26.1% of people were reported as being at risk of poverty in January 2020. The number can be linked to the direct and indirect effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past 20 years, Spain has shown remarkable resilience as a country, by weathering the 2008 recession and economic difficulties. Hunger in Spain is an issue that has been exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19 but initiatives are helping to address the problem.

3 Initiatives Addressing Hunger in Spain

  1. Minimum Vital Income. In the second quarter of 2020, Spain’s unemployment rate rose to 15.33%. Due to COVID-19, many people in Spain lost their jobs. A direct result of reduced employment in Spain has been a rise in food insecurity, which means that more people are struggling to put food on the table. To combat these difficult conditions, Spain’s government is proposing the introduction of ingreso mínimo vital (minimum vital income). This long-considered program has been kickstarted by need due to COVID-19. According to Spanish records shared with the EU, requests for government assistance due to COVID-19 reached seven million people. A national minimum income was introduced to provide people living in poverty with monthly assistance payments, allowing them access to food and other vital resources, much like the function of unemployment benefits in the United States. The money will provide financial aid to 2.5 million people.

  2. Colas del Hambre (Hunger Queues). In many areas across Spain, like Madrid’s suburb of Cuzco, lines of up to 700 people form around the blocks every day in order to receive food aid from food banks. This has become the daily reality for many people during the lockdown as people struggle to get enough food to eat. These food banks are widely distributed throughout the country, allowing people from many different areas and backgrounds access to assistance. Alba Díez works for the Neighbourhood Association of Aluche (NAA) in Madrid and reported that the organization had needed to quadruple the number of food packages it delivers to those in need in the space of just one month due to the pandemic.

  3. Solidarity Fridge. Another solution to the problem of hunger in Spain is the Solidarity Fridge. It both cuts down on food waste as well as helps people experiencing food insecurity to get enough food. The Basque town of Galdakao spearheaded the project, creating a communal refrigerator. Food can be either deposited or taken from the fridge, allowing those who would otherwise scavenge through trashcans for food, to eat perfectly good food that would otherwise be thrown away by restaurants, other people or grocery stores. There are rules and food safety protocols that must be followed and the fridge is regularly cleaned and maintained by the city. The program is a success and has helped many people during tough times.

These initiatives aim to alleviate hunger in Spain and help people experiencing food insecurity that has been exacerbated by COVID-19.

– Noelle Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Feeding School Children in East AfricaDespite leading the continent in incorporating students into primary and secondary systems of education, East Africa retains acute socio-economic problems. More than 55 million extremely poor people inhabit just the three nations of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. This situation cannot improve without addressing poor school attendance by children whose family circumstances customarily pressure them into prioritizing work over education and not obtaining the valuable knowledge and skills that could help them secure higher-paying jobs and bid farewell to poverty. NGOs are working on feeding school children in East Africa to improve attendance rates and simultaneously target issues like hunger and malnutrition.

School Attendance Rates in East Africa

In Kenya, 92% of those aged between 7 and 14 were receiving education in 2008. A decade later, UNICEF continued to record 1.5 million prospective primary schoolers missing out on learning. In other East African countries, the issue is direr. In Tanzania, from ages 5 to 6, the school attendance rates already drop by nearly 10%.

Feeding School Children in East Africa

Nonprofit organizations are actively altering this dynamic. By routinely feeding school pupils, the organizations demonstrate that enrolment in school can also involve getting adequate nutrition. It is a win-win situation as students simultaneously gain important academic and professional insights and receive a much-needed meal. Moreover, this work shows that education may improve one’s living standards not only in the long run but in the short run as well.

Food4Education

This Kenyan organization feeds young students locally sourced meals in the nation’s Kiambu and Nairobi counties at a subsidized rate of $0.15. Having started with only 25 food recipients, it has already served around one million meals, helping children enhance their school attendance and performance in class and in examinations. It hopes to reach out to all the primary school children in Kenya in the future.

In addition to attracting donations and using a mobile app, Tap2Eat, for parents to pay to subsidize their children’s low lunch fee, Food4Education also manages a restaurant in the country’s capital. Some of its revenue is used to fund school lunches and increase the NGO’s output.

The group’s impact remains localized but its recognition suggests that its efforts are sizeable. In June 2020, Wawira Nijru, the Food4Education’s founder, joined the prestigious Ford Global Fellowship Program. As part of this scheme, the United States-based Ford Foundation will invest in the NGO and offer advice to amplify its contribution in Kenya.

East African Children’s Fund

Operating in Kenya with a reported budget of $170,000, the organization supplies more than 1,000 schoolchildren in impoverished areas with a mixture of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. By procuring these products from the local communities, this organization likewise guarantees that the funding utilized in the process stays with the people needing it the most. The organization also distributes clothes and mosquito nets among schoolchildren and helps ensure that they are vaccinated. After all, missing school due to illness is equally a problem in a country, where more than three million people contract malaria each year.

The East African Children’s Fund’s purview extends into supporting sustainable farming techniques and projects in Kenya by, inter alia, promoting beekeeping and teaching young villagers to harvest rainwater and prevent water loss during field irrigation.

In 2019, it served close to 570,000 school meals, thereby causing an 80% reduction in local infirmary visits by schoolchildren. Between 2017 and 2019, more than 10,000 rural Kenyans received training in nutrition techniques from the group as well.

Mary’s Meals

This Scottish-registered charity is alleviating hunger in Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. In the former, it boasts a network of 80,000 volunteers who serve low-cost meals to as many as 30% of the nation’s primary school students in 20 different districts. In the other two nations combined, as many as 80,000 students are benefitting from school meals. A large proportion of them inhabit areas, such as the Kenyan town of Eldoret, where every second household falls below the poverty line.

Besides relying on volunteers, the group has full-time employees based in the target countries. Their task is to ensure compliance with hygiene standards and food quality by conducting regular school visits and compiling data on pupil and teacher satisfaction.

Based on approximately 4,000 responses collected in 2016, the number of Malawi pupils experiencing hunger during the school day decreased sixfold within fewer than 12 months. A comparable household survey registered a similarly impressive 64% decline in the number of adult respondents believing that their children were hungry at school. Most importantly, many more teachers have stopped describing classroom hunger levels as worrying. Considering that all the relevant parties are recognizing a difference, the NGO’s contribution is certainly worth mentioning.

Feeding school children in East Africa also mitigates malnourishment among the locals and facilitates the process of climbing out of poverty, since, through education, children could acquire the skills to qualify for better-paid jobs and escape reliance on subsistence farming.

– Dan Mikhaylov
Photo: Flickr

Lentil as AnythingRecently, The Borgen Project spoke with Emilie Elzvik. She is a 21-year-old student at Northeastern University and former volunteer at Lentil as Anything. Elzvik never imagined herself serving gourmet vegan meals to a table filled with backpackers, refugees and homeless people in Newtown, Australia. But Lentil as Anything changed everything for her.

The Company

Lentil as Anything embodies a rare business model. The menu does not have any set prices. Everyone is welcome to “pay as they feel,” either through a financial donation or volunteering their skills. The founder, Shanaka Fernando, was born in Sri Lanka before becoming a restauranteur and world traveler. In 2000, Fernando began the first Lentil as Anything in St. Kilda to provide a space for local communities to come together and share a meal “disregarding any existing economic and social barriers.”

At the time, Fernando’s concept was a wild idea. Twenty years later, and it has become a booming success. The restaurant chain now claims four restaurants around Australia. Additionally, Lentil as Anything provides over 1000 free meals a week to those people most in need.

Elzvik’s Story

Elzvik began working for Lentil as Anything when she was studying abroad for a semester. “It’s like every hippie’s dream cafe, except customers are not just wealthy teenagers. They are from various socio-economic backgrounds. Some live on the street outside. Some are just traveling through.”

Elzvik points out that many of the volunteers were once customers themselves. “When they can’t pay, they offer their time,” said Elzvik. Lentil as Anything provides just as many employment opportunities as they do meals. Elzvik comments, “I think many people come to volunteer because it gives them a sense of purpose.”

According to Elzvik, there is no such thing as a boring day at Lentil as Anything. “It is no gloomy soup kitchen,” she states. Spices like nutmeg and cinnamon waft through the kitchen. Volunteers twist lemons and grate ginger. Servers dance around the floor, jotting orders down on their notepad. It is always noisy inside; laughter bounces across the walls. On some late nights, there is yoga or an open-mic night in the upstairs space.

So how exactly does this seemingly utopian cafe operate?

Sustainable Food Sourcing

Elvzik recalls that the kitchen being full of “bruised apples” and “funky looking eggplants” that would get thrown out by most restaurants or stores. “Lentil as Anything takes them and turns them into something beautiful,” says Elzvik.

The Department of Agriculture in Australia reports that food waste costs the economy around $20 billion each year. That amounts to about 300kg per person or one in five bags of groceries.

To stock their kitchen, Lentil as Anything takes in the unwanted leftovers from nearby stores. The chain stands by it’s all-vegan menu. The diet is both inclusive and nutrient rich. Elzvik mentions that many visitors would not be able to afford something as “dense and hearty” as a Lentil as Anything meal. Fast food is typically the most affordable option and Lentil as Anything aims to change that.

Volunteership

The restaurant relies heavily on volunteer servers and cooks, like Elzvik.  CNBC reports that around 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year. By a restaurant’s fifth year, that rate jumps
to 80%.

Lentil as Anything is not an exception. The restaurant can’t stay afloat on its own. The Daily Telegraph reports that “it costs Lentil as Anything up to $23,000 a week to keep their doors open – and customer contributions do not come close to covering costs.”

Before coming to Lentil as Anything, Elzvik had no prior customer service experience. She says that volunteering at the restaurant requires no experience at all. Volunteers attend an orientation and receive the necessary training. “What you learn at Lentil can be applied to any future job, especially working with people in a busy environment,” states Elzvik.

Location Matters

Restaurants like Lentil as Anything might not work anywhere. “You need the perfect equilibrium,” claims Elzvik. She explains that in order for this business model to work there has to be enough people donating above the requirement to cover those who cannot afford it.

One of Lentil as Anything’s strategic locations is Newton in Sydney. Newtown is a diverse neighborhood, socially and economically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that 67% of the Newtown population works full time, 24% part-time and only about 10% identify as unemployed for away from work.

Looking forward

Like many businesses, the pandemic hit Lentil as Anything deeply. On September 25, the restaurant reached out to their social media followers and asked for help to keep Lentil alive.

Lentil as Anything is facing its most significant financial challenge to date. The restaurant is working to raise $300,000 by the end of October. If they don’t reach their goal, they may face closing their doors forever. Donations can be made through their GoFundMe campaign.

The restaurant’s motto is that everyone deserves a seat at the table. Hopefully, Lentil as Anything can serve as a successful business model for many restaurants around the world to address food insecurities.

Miska Salemann
Photo: Unsplash

Child Hunger in IdlibThe Syrian conflict continues to rage through this pandemic. The locus of fighting has shifted to the provinces of Idlib and Aleppo. Since 2019, the Syrian government — with support from Russia — has engaged in various bombing campaigns in the region and sent ground forces as well. Idlib is clearly feeling the effects of this violence. The need for aid in the province grows alongside the increasing size of the humanitarian crisis. One particularly important but overlooked aspect of the devastation in Idlib is the rising cost of food. Child hunger in Idlib is a result of the rise in levels of food among the youth due to price increases.

The Issue

Child hunger in Idlib — for infants in particular — has become an area of concern as COVID-19 has become more prevalent throughout the country. One big factor is that food has generally become much less accessible. According to The New Humanitarian, “‘An infant needs one container of formula per week, but the price has risen to $12,’ up from $9 three months ago … For many parents, that sum is out of reach.” This increase in price manifests itself often in the form of Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The disease primarily affects children under the age of 5, is highly dangerous and often turns life-threatening. Effects of SAM include a process known as “stunting,” which limits the physical growth in very young children. Stunting and other effects of SAM lead to other problems later in life for these children.

Another frequent issue is malnutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It not only affects them personally but impacts the growth of their infants as well. The New Humanitarian also reports a rise in SAM hospital cases over the summer of 2020. The ratio jumped to 97 out of 1,692 people screened from the January status of 29 out of 2,199. This is likely a lower estimate given the number of people who cannot get screened or don’t have access to testing. Time is of the essence after receiving a SAM diagnosis. Once a child with this condition reaches 2 years of age, they will likely deal with the consequences of SAM for the rest of their life.

Fighting Worsens the Problem

Child hunger in Idlib — and in Syria more widely — is deeply concerning. The issue is compounded by the broader poverty levels and violence that plague the entire country. As a result of the fighting, the majority of  Syrians are internally displaced from their homes.

There is no clear end in sight to the fighting between rebel forces and the Syrian state military. Refugee camps are essentially at capacity and can’t withstand an influx of people if the civil war persists. Additionally, COVID-19 continues to ravage the country, which will likely increase the number of Syrian refugees and displaced persons.

In addition to the housing issue, food scarcity is prevalent in the country. Food options are usually unavailable or unaffordable. As such, many Syrians rely on foreign assistance and aid from NGOs as resources for food.

Aid

There are, however, numerous aid organizations and NGOs working to provide food security and address the growing refugee crisis. They are especially targeting the northwest, where Idlib is located. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is an organization working to expand health care access to those who need it. SAMS also provides meals to both children and adults at risk of food insecurity. Yet another part of their work focuses specifically on care for those with Severe Acute Malnutrition.

SAMS fights against child hunger in Idlib and throughout the rest of the country. They report that in 2019, the last year for which data is available, SAMS performed more than 2.5 million medical services for the Syrian population, at no or greatly reduced cost. Since 2011, they have provided more than $207 million worth of aid and medical resources as well.

SAMS and other similar organizations are vital to the survival of millions of Syrians. However, there is still more to be done. The international community must redouble their efforts to provide resources to those displaced and malnourished. Everyone must work to end the violence that has been a constant in the country for so long.

Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr