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Children Across the Nation Learn About World Hunger

October 7, 1991

ANNANDALE, Va. (AP) _ With snack cakes and pizza slices representing world grain, freshmen at Annandale High School got a hard-hitting lesson on how inequitably food is distributed in the world.

″Hey, I only got two pieces and she got five,″ a boy in the Africa-Middle East section of the classroom said in mock anger, pointing to a girl in the North American area.

″You are now symbolic of the world population,″ responded World Cultures teacher Michele Vilotti. ″You are seeing an inequitable food distribution.″

Annandale, which has more than 15 countries represented in the student population, was one of hundreds of schools across the nation that celebrated the anniversary of the World Summit for Children. Thousands of children spent the week discussing global and domestic hunger and poverty, and how overpopulation and other issues are related.

Lesson plans and activities for elementary, middle and high school classes and colleges were sent to 646 school districts throughout the United States.

Overall, more than 750 U.S. cities and 60 countries held a variety of activities as part of the ″Keeping the Promise″ campaign.

The summit, held at the United Nations at the end of September 1990, attracted President Bush and 70 other world leaders who committed themselves to improving the plight of children around the world by the year 2000. The goals included cutting in half the number of women who die during childbirth and the number of infants suffering with severe and moderate malnutrition.

The 30 freshmen in Vilotti’s first class Friday were stunned to learn that 40,000 children die each day throughout the world from largely preventable malnutrition and disease. The message was driven home in a videotape that discussed world poverty as it counted down the number of children dying each second with different faces.

″Three-hundred-and-eight children died while you watched that film,″ said Vilotti. The videotape, which had been shown at the summit, noted in dramatic tones that ″this is the greatest tragedy of our times but because it happens everyday, it simply isn’t news.″

After distributing the food based on supply in each of the regions, Vilotti asked for reaction.

The words came rapidly: bad, anger, hunger, jealousy, not fair.

With 12 percent of the world’s population, Africa and the Middle East should get more than two snack cakes if North America gets five cakes with only 6 percent of the population, said Rafee Wasi, 14.

While the food distribution underscored the inequality, Vilotti had trouble convincing students that a lot of beliefs about poverty and hunger are myths. She stressed that hunger is not the result of overpopulation and that people who are poor are able and willing to help themselves.

Vilotti said it was wrong to say ″we need to take care of our own hungry and poor people in America first, before we try to help others.″

One student retorted, ″It’s like an opinion statement.″

″You should help people in your own country first,″ added 14-year-old Halil Akaydin. ″You know how people get patriotic - like ‘This is my country’ - and they would all complain if we weren’t helping ourselves, people in our country. If you help people in your country first and they are all taken care of, then you can start looking at other countries.″

But Cheryl Elliott, 14, said, ″I think we should have a lot of people involved in this because people around the world need our help and we should help them. So we plan to come up with some ideas.″

And that’s just what they were assigned to do - for homework.

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