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Students raise funds to fight poverty and hunger

Children in Kabul, Afghanistan, display a sign thanking the U of T student group, Students for World Literacy, for fundraising efforts that helped to buy food. Money was delivered by a representative agent who disbursed the funds in Afghanistan in late September. (Photos by Zabi Salarzai.)

by Homira Osman

Over the years, we've all been inundated with the statistics about poverty and photos of poverty stricken people around the world -- so much so that many people have come to accept poverty as an unfortunate but unalterable state of affairs.

Students for World Literacy at the University of Toronto Scarborough, an on-campus student not-for-profit organization, found it hard to imagine or accept that more than a billion people in the developing world live on less than a dollar a day.

Without enough money to buy food, millions of people around the world go hungry every day, with undernourishment playing a role in more than half of all child deaths. Desirous to become an agent of change, our university-based group committed the month of September to target one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, that of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Although our organization’s mandate is world literacy, one of our new initiatives this year has been to create monthly themes which relate to world literacy and support them through fundraising. Poverty and hunger were chosen as our group’s theme this time because we realize that literacy and education are hampered by other factors.

Many children who otherwise might be able to attend school must work to provide food for the family or they must stay at home to help care for family members. Poverty and hunger are huge obstacles underlying their inability to attend school and overcome illiteracy.

Eager to help attain the United Nations’ set goal, executives during this month collected money by appealing to fellow University of Toronto students with announcements, informative presentations, and pursuing individual donations. Over a period of 10 days, an astounding amount of $1,803 was raised.

We decided to direct the funds to one particular country, Afghanistan, where ongoing hunger is a persistent problem. The World Health Organization and the United Nations have classified Afghanistan as one of the poorest countries of the world, and it was also recently named one of the countries most in need of food aid.

According to Oxfam International, five million people face hunger threats in Afghanistan, and its food crisis has been described as a festering problem. More than 20 per cent of all Afghan children die before the age of five, of which a third dies soon after birth. Malnutrition is a serious problem for Afghanistan. Nearly 40 per cent of the children under the age of three are moderately or severely underweight, and more than 50 per cent of children in that age group are moderately or severely stunted. There is little diversity in the Afghan diet. Poor dietary diversity leads to micro nutrient deficiencies and poor nutritional outcomes.

The funds we raised were transferred on September 20 to Zabi Salarzai, the organization’s conferee in Afghanistan, who delivered the money to the needy. All administrative costs were absorbed by the organization’s executive so that 100 per cent of the donations went directly to poverty-stricken individuals in Afghanistan. The money went towards the purchase of staple items in the basic Afghan diet: sugar, flour, bread, and oil.

Monetary donations were also given to families who exhibited need. These funds were dispersed in two rural villages of Afghanistan and also the capital city of Kabul. Children and homeless individuals were the premier recipients of the donations. Salarzai noted that in Afghanistan “many waited hours in order to receive one food item.” He noted the restlessness of the people amidst the elation of receiving the food, demonstrating the extent to which the hunger crisis in Afghanistan is festering.

Students for World Literacy executives feel that “sadly, this is not enough. We encourage all U of T Scarborough students and the world at large to continue to support the eradication of the poverty and hunger crisis in Afghanistan by continuing to raise awareness and support for such initiatives.”

Students for World Literacy is a non-profit organization which advocates for social justice, equality and democracy for all disadvantaged collectives, both nationally and worldwide, through the promotion of education and literacy. Our group aspires to be an agent of change in eliminating worldwide illiteracy and breaking the cycle of poverty, crime, unemployment and hopelessness brought about by a lack of opportunities.

This organization aims to educate the U of T Scarborough student body on the challenges faced by individuals dealing with illiteracy and to act as a creative, knowledgeable, and innovative channel for students to work together to disseminate information and knowledge so that all individuals in the global community can reach their full potential.

To see more photos of the recipients in Afghanistan, visit www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~swl or email us at swl@utsc.utoronto.ca.

Homira Osman is a third-year student at U of T Scarborough. She is pursuing a joint major in neuroscience and health studies.




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