Weldiya, Ethiopia

I’m  approaching the second week of my coffee fast and the headaches are now less intense and will usually go away with a bit of caffeinated tea. (Click HERE to read my previous blog about the origin and purpose of this fast.)

Egad!  I didn’t think it’d take quite this long for my body to adjust.  I suppose it was naive to think that decades of 5-10 cups of coffee a day wouldn’t trigger a significant protest. I suppose my body, by now, thinks it has a right to the stuff.  It certainly thinks it needs it. But as my friend Tim Plett likes to say, “fasting is a way of teaching our bodies that there is nothing wrong with the world when we don’t get what we want”  This is a tough lesson in our culture. It could even be considered counter-cultural, almost treasonous,  considering that our economy’s health seems to depend on insatiable consumption.

Afar Desert, Ethiopia / photo: Steve Bell

In 2007, Nanci and I traveled to the Afar Desert in north-east Ethiopia to visit an irrigation project. (View a short video of that trip HERE.)  It was there that I began to understand the complexities of chronic,  systemic poverty.  I began to understand the dark legacy of colonialism, the often brutal effect of world markets on local economies, the realities of local corruption, the callousness of corporate greed, the sometimes horrific outcomes of traditional customs,  our own western consumption and  the relentless bludgeoning from climactic shocks whose increasing ferocity and frequency inhibit prosperity. These forces are overwhelming. And of course I’m not responsible for most of them, but I am response-able to all of them.  Here are a few words from my friend James Korneslen who is the Public Engagement Coordinator for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank:

James KornelsenRoot cause of hunger in East Africa

I confess I don’t worry much about dandelions on my lawn. I mow and forget. My wife, on the other hand, enjoys kneeling down and patiently digging them out by the roots, one by one, with a little metal tool. It’s a gift, I suppose.

I’ve been thinking lately about the roots of the issue of hunger, especially in such beautiful and culturally rich places like Ethiopia and Somalia.

Somali girl | photo Frank Spangler

My visit to Ethiopia last year helped turn around the images generated from the famine there in the 80’s.  With the recent news about East Africa, I found myself bothered by the resurfacing of stereotypical images that many have come to associate with that region. And now, famine. Again. Is this an inevitable cycle? Or is this something new?

The most serious impacts are in the Somali region, where conflict has made it impossible for people to mobilize themselves to obtain food. Failed rains. Lost harvests. Political turmoil. It does seem like a familiar story. But there are some things we know now that most of us probably didn’t take notice of back in the 80s.

Irrigation / Afar Desert | photo: Steve Bell

Climate change is a factor linked with increased droughts, which have a much greater impact on rural people. This issue connects us all in ways we haven’t seen before. A long history of conflict, prejudice, and exploitation of people poses enormous barriers to the development of healthy and prosperous communities. World trade practices also favour the powerful and wealthy, while often negatively affecting people struggling to make a living.

The less visible root causes – and there are ways to see ourselves in them if we look closely – remain after the interest of the media is gone. I am aware there are those who have been patiently working at these issues. While I respond with all the other generous Canadians to the present crisis, I pray that we will not simply mow and forget, but also spend some quality time on our knees digging out the roots.            -James Kornelsen

Fields of Ethiopia | photo: Steve Bell

I’ve entered into this simple fast as a way to engage more deliberately  and to try to further understand my own complicity with the reality of food insecurity and inequality around the globe. I’ve chosen to fast from coffee simply because I knew that this would draw my attention several times a day and remind me to reflect and pray.  I’ve done this before and I’m doing this again in support of the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s FAST FOR CHANGE campaign which encourages folks to 1) Fast and Pray,  2) Fast and Give,  3) Fast and Advocate.  Again, I may not be responsible for the world’s sufferings but I certainly am response-able. Sometimes, signing on to a simple campaign helps to focus our actions (with others) in ways that encourage awareness, solidarity and measurable outcomes.  Check out the FAST FOR CHANGE website HERE.  Please join me and sign on.

~Steve Bell

P.S.  If you are thinking of making a donation specifically to help East Africa at this time, the Canadian Government will match all donations up until September 16th.  To donate through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank click HERE

Finally, I love this photo below – these kids are listening to me sing Wings of an Eagle. They look horrified!   🙂

Children from Afar | Photo: Heather Plett


Related Blogs in this Series:

Further Reading:

  • Waste Not, Want Not   by Terence Z. Sibanda.  ”One third of all food produced is wasted, says a recent report from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Food is lost at every stage, from initial production, through the supply chain, the retail stage, and finally at the household level…In medium and high income countries about 220 million tonnes of food is lost at the household level. This loss is the equivalent of the total net food produced in Sub Saharan Africa.”
  • A Biblical Perspective on the Problem of Hunger by Walter Brueggemann. The persistence of hunger in a world entirely capable of producing enough food for all, in the end, is an issue of fidelity; a fidelity that issues from a three-way covenant between God, the earth, and its people. For our part, our covenant is to a “love-fueled justice –one that is binding not in the remote, legal sense, but rather in the familial sense.”



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6 thoughts on “Week 2 / ROOT CAUSES OF HUNGER

  1. RE: – these kids are listening to me sing Wings of an Eagle. They look horrified!

    And thinking:
    “That poor man! He has no color to his skin and he’s probably singing a sad lament because of it!!?? At least he’s in serious pain about something.”

    How strange the world looks to our localized eyes. I don’t know much about music theory, but I do know that my brain perceives a lot of Chinese/Asian music as very “noisy” and dischordant. I recently read an interesting book by a McGill University music professor and scientist. I think it is called “Your Brain on Music…” or like that. Fascinating how cultures affect how we perceive sound.

    We not only tend to see the world through our own eyes but we also hear it through our own ears – if you get my meaning there.

    Thanks Steve

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