Saturday was a great day for the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. The sun was shining and people came out in force. The events were covered by the media and issues were raised and reinforced by a host of celebrities, campaigners and religious leaders.
The IF coalition, which includes Save the Children, Oxfam, Unicef, Tearfund, World Vision and Christian Aid, is calling on the G8 group of industrialised countries, which meets in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June, to increase funding to tackle extreme hunger and malnutrition globally. The coalition also wants the G8 to make greater efforts to give people in poorer countries control over their land, both by ensuring transparency and greater accountability over land deals and by closing loopholes that allow companies to avoid paying tax. The Big If event in Hyde Park along with the Big IF service prior to it in Westminster Central Hall were all about getting this message out and catching the attention of the world’s media and leaders.
We are already beginning to see some of these calls producing results. David Cameron who is fully behind the campaign led a high-level summit on nutrition yesterday resulting in a $4 billion commitment from rich countries to tackle malnutrition in developing countries. It should ensure that at least 500 million pregnant women and children benefit from effective nutrition interventions; prevent at least 20 million children under the age of five from stunted growth; and save at least 1.7m lives by increasing breastfeeding and treating severe acute malnutrition.
There’s a full account of the #BigIF events on the Enough Food for Everyone IF website, but having attended both the service and the rally at Hyde Park there are a few moments and thoughts I’d like to share.
- The turnout was impressive. Talking with some of the leaders of the charities and organisations, they were extremely pleased with the turnout. There is no way of knowing with events like this how well attended they will be. It was to best opportunity so far to gauge the level of public support since the campaign was launched. The service at Westminster Central Hall was completely packed out, as was the overflow venue at St. Margaret’s across the road. There were still plenty of people left stuck outside who then rather than wandering off, decided to start their own impromptu service. The total number attending was estimated to be 6,000. Not bad for a church service. The organisers I spoke to were also hoping for around 30,000 people to attend the main event. The actual figure of around 45,000 was beyond their expectations. There was a united feeling among many that this campaign has truly caught the public’s imagination.
- This prayer from the ecumenical service expressed some deep truths: ‘We pray that you will teach us the true meaning of ‘enough’, that we may know the joy of simplicity and sufficiency, that we may be set free by the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit from the captivity of ‘more’ to the solidarity of ‘less’.’
- Vincent Nichols and Justin Welby got straight to the point without mincing their words at the service. Nichols said, “These are our brothers and sisters and their suffering is also ours. There can be no excuse that in a world of plenty, so many go without. We have gathered today to show our solidarity with those millions who are made to have less because the food system is skewed in favour of those with both financial and political power.” Welby’s recorded video message included this: “My prayer would be that in this country and across the world, that we are deeply committed to enabling people to be self-sustaining, so that global hunger can be ended in our lifetimes.”
- Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates praised Britain for “leading the way” on tackling child hunger. There is something in the British psyche that has a strong sense of justice that is not just focused on our ourselves. This might be due to our strong Christian heritage, or a hangover from the British empire imbuing a sense of responsibility towards other countries who have less than us, or some other quality. Whatever the case we should be very thankful that Britain cares deeply about these issues and is willing to act and take the lead.
- Without Christian organisations, Enough Food for Everyone IF wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful. Everywhere you looked round the rally, placards from Christian organisations were prevalent. Tearfund and CAFOD signs in particular were all over the place. The Christian faith cannot be divorced from compassion towards the poor and suffering and the presence of so many Christian organisations was a clear demonstration of this.
- The most powerful moment for me was not when celebrities and activists gave forceful and passionate speeches, but the quiet and calm voice of Aimee Manimani. Aimee is the communications officer for World Vision in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spoke at the Big IF service. She sat with me and described the awful situation for many people in her country who cannot find enough food to live on most days. Some are dying because of the lack of food. They can’t farm much of the land because it is controlled by the mining companies. Communities have been displaced. Even if they work in the mines they earn a pittance. 70 per cent of the mining companies profits go abroad and money is not invested in important areas such as education. She believes that if the changes to land deals, tax transparency and dodging that the IF campaign is calling for are met at the G8 summit, then the changes to the lives of the people in her country will be huge and for the better.
Campaigning on such issues of justice in this country often feels like a worthwhile activity, but when you hear the stories firsthand of people who are severely suffering because of injustices that can be addressed, it brings home just how much of a big deal these issues actually are. The items for discussion at the G8 summit later this month are much more than just a political challenge, they really are a matter of life and death.
You can see some of my own photos from the BigIF day on the God and Politics in the UK Facebook page.