By Sarah Hidey, JVA Consulting

kenyaporridge

Schoolchildren in Eburru, Kenya enjoy their daily school meal.

I am so hungry!”

I imagine these are the words that I’ll be saying next week…and the next…and the next. You see, for 25 days I’m planning to only eat a cup of rice and beans for each meal. And some meals I might not even eat at all!

No, I’m not starting some crazy fad diet. I’m changing the world—as a 25 in Change Advocate.

How exactly does eating rice and beans change the world? Organized by a local nonprofit called 25 in Change, groups of 25 individuals join together for 25 days to advocate for an end to global malnutrition, in what I have termed a “radical exercise in empathy.” This exercise in empathy begins when each Advocate gives up his or her re

gular diet to eat just one 12-ounce cup of rice and beans per meal. This type of meal is typical of a meal provided by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) to millions of school children around the world each day—often the only meal they will get that day. Recognizing the importance of the provision of school meals to these children, each

ricebeans

This cup of rice and beans is the Advocate’s portion size during 25 in Change.

Advocate also makes the life-changing decision to only eat his or her rice and beans meal when he or she can recruit a Partner who commits to both give up fast food for 25 days and contribute $25 to provide 100 school meals to hungry children through the WFP. Thus, each Advocate needs to recruit three Partners each day (one per meal) in order to eat three meals a day. The goal? For each Advocate to recruit 75 Partners over the course of 25 days—resulting in almost 200,000 meals provided to school children.

The Need

25 in Change envisions a world without preventable malnutrition. Chronic hunger and malnutrition is rampant in many countries around the world—as many as one in eight people do not have enough food to eat. It is often women and children who suffer the most from hunger—including school children. Sadly, the effects of hunger go far beyond the empty feeling in the pit of the stomach. According to the WFP, “hunger kills, lowers IQ, decreases wages, reduces school attendance and undermines economic growth.” It also weakens the body—so that it is harder to fight off disease and infections.

cynthiazambia

Sarah and Cynthia in Zambia in 2004.

I have witnessed the effects of chronic hunger and poverty firsthand. My first job out of graduate school was with a community development project in a rural village in Choma, Zambia. A young girl, Cynthia, quickly became my village guide and my “adopted” little sister—leading me around, sitting by me, singing with me and sharing her life with me. Cynthia lived in poverty—and it was heartbreaking to see her health struggles as a result. One year after I returned to the U.S., I got the message that Cynthia had passed away. Did she “starve” to death? No. But food insecurity and hunger contributed to her weakness and inability to fight disease. I’ll never forget that moment as I sat at my desk and cried—the enormous sense of injustice and anger that I felt because I knew hunger and malnutrition were easily preventable.

Cynthia is the face of hunger and malnutrition. Because that is what malnutrition does—it robs young children of a full and prosperous life. It limits their ability to fight off diseases. Shockingly, hunger kills more people every year than HIV, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

Why 25 in Change?

These statistics and similar stories led 25 in Change’s Executive Director, Andre Roux, to start the organization in 2011. He recognized the need to equip individuals with an avenue to help fix the broken world food system—a food system that causes stunting and death due to hunger and malnutrition in developing countries and causes obesity in countries like the United States. 25 in Change empowers the Advocates by sending a daily curriculum about world hunger and malnutrition, providing a web platform to allow the Advocates to raise support and paying for all the credit card processing fees so that 100 percent of donations go directly to the World Food Programme.

25 in Change is not just about raising money for a good cause. It is about building a community of Advocates who harness the power of social media and networking to improve the health of their local community (by having partners give up fast food) AND improve the health of their global community (by having partners donate $25 to the WFP School Meals Program). Most importantly, Advocates develop empathy as they see what it’s like to live with inadequate food.

The Impact

Fast forward to May 1, 2013 (the end of the 25 days), and we will see how a small group of people can create a huge impact in our community and world: 25 Advocates will have recruited 1,750+ Partners who in turn will have diverted $50,000 from the consumption of fast food toward 200,000 WFP meals for schoolchildren in Africa and India.

And this is just the impact that ONE group of Advocates can have. 25 in Change has the potential to create massive scale. Imagine the impact of five groups of Advocates. What about 25 groups of Advocates? In August 2013, 25 churches are planning to organize groups of 25 Advocates together. Let me do the math for you: that is 625 Advocates who will recruit 46,875 Partners to divert $1.25 million from the fast food industry and provide more than 4.5 million meals for children around the world. Wow.

Each Advocate has a different reason for getting involved. Cynthia is my reason. My motivation. When I feel hungry over the next month, I will think of Cynthia. And I will joyfully think of the thousands of children who will receive school meals because of this one group of 25 Advocates who joined together.

Do you have 25 in Change?

Starting April 7, 2013, I will be one of 25 Advocates from Denver Community Church who have chosen to participate in 25 in Change. Are you willing to partner with me to give up fast food and provide 100 meals to schoolchildren? You can become one of my 75 Partners as we join together to change the way we eat, the way we think and the way we live.