2010/03 – Hunger Banquet

On Thursday, the Kennedy Center had their "Hunger Banquet", the twentieth yearly so far.

I went with Stetson; Ezra was all ready there.  The cost was eight dollars.  We got a ticket that assigned us to one of three divisions: the "10%", who sat near stage centre at catered tables and who ate square meals; the "20%", who sat on chairs at the perimetre and had an average sort of lunch; and the "70%", who sat on the floor in the middle and were served a plastic plate and bowl of rice and beans and two tortillas to hold them in (also, some water in a plastic sandwich bag).  We were in the third.

There were some introductory comments and videos, music and dances from elsewhere, and a concluding speaker, Asuncion-mayor-turned-microfinancier Martin Burt.

I’d talked with Stetson in line about how, if we landed "rich", we ought to share our food since nobody else probably would.  I was happily proven wrong early on when one of the 20% group offered part of their food to us…  Later, a young girl from the shmancy tables brought over her dessert to somebody.  But by far, the "rich" people just tried to "learn" from their "experience" and enjoy their good fortune without actually feeling obliged to do anything about it.

Throughout the meal, there were role players wandering amongst us.  Some were labelled "corruption" and "greed", and made various shady offers.  I only saw them trying to sell table seats and table meals to the highest bidder of us floor-sitters.  Mostly we were worried by their signs, and abstained… but eventually some wanted to find out what would happen if they participated, and they did so.  I also read that some of those agents had been among the rich inciting food donations, only to immediately devour the food themselves.  There apparently were also people acting as "tourists", wandering around taking pictures of us in our contented (but unfulfilled) depravity.  I’d assumed they were just event photographers.

It was all very interesting.  I made this comment on the very poorly edited Deseret News article on the banquet (there was another article later):

The "human dignity" point struck me at the Hunger Banquet. There I was, sitting on the floor, eating my bland meal more or less with my hands; still, I was trying to enjoy myself. And there were the rich, sitting above me and looking down at me — when minutes before, we had been equals; we had been the same people, studying here at BYU.

I may have regretted my deprivation once or twice during the banquet, but I certainly didn’t pity myself, or think I was any less of a person or less deserving than any of them were. And it would have been as wrong for them to blame me for my circumstances as for me to fault them for theirs.

After the banquet, we went back through the courtyard area (across from the Wilkinson ballroom, where the dinner was held) that we’d filed through on our way in.  There were quite a few booths set up representing various organizations.  I glanced at all of them, but was most intrigued by one in particular…

Vittana, a roughly year-old group that facilitates lending to foreign vocational and college students.  The operational scheme is strikingly reminiscent of the Church’s PEF.  You can check their website.  I already signed up and participated a bit, since it had immediately reminded me of my plan made on a Manila visit one day, to create a scholarship fund in support of foreign college students (that thought had arisen because of my acquaintanceship with Tugsuu, who helped me realize that there do exist financial barriers for many in the world that have not seemed to exist for me).

I visited again on Saturday, the second day of the banquet, and talked more with the Vittana booth.  They’re kind of temporarily marketing and supporting the organization as part of their BYU internships.  I also found out about Microplace, another lending organization that supports entrepreneurs.  (I signed up there but didn’t contribute yet.  I was a bit hesitant to research all the details, since that one actually returns a profit on the loan, which is subject to taxes, and so on.)


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