The annual Fast-a-Thon: Mindful Hunger Banquet occurred this past Thursday at the University. Hosted by the Wesleyan Refugee Project (WRP), the Interfaith Council, the Muslim Students’ Association, and the Hunger & Homelessness Program, the event consisted of a dinner and a talk by Khadija Gurnah, who holds a Masters degree in Health Management from the Yale School of Public Health.

“The event was successful,” WRP Fundraising Manager Sarah Rahman ’16 wrote in an email to The Argus. “We raised $168 total for the event and all that money went to Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS) in New Haven, CT, to help refugees.”

According to one of the student organizers, Casey Smith ’17, the focus of the event was centered around global hunger and displacement, and the intersectionality of those issues on both a local and global level.

“I view refugee aid as an area where faith organizations and faith leaders have a huge impact,” Smith wrote in an email to The Argus. “[These] organizations…have a huge impact, [such as] global interfaith humanitarian organizations like Church World Service, which sponsors IRIS, and [the] Connecticut Muslim community’s role in welcoming refugees from Muslim-majority countries, and the Pope’s outspoken support of refugees. So it was especially meaningful for me to work with Wesleyan’s faith community on this wonderful event.”

Another large aspect of the event was discussing the Syrian refugee crisis, according to attendee and graduate student John Hossain.

“The main goals were to acknowledge the Syrian Refugee Crisis, the worst international refugee crisis since World War II, and to raise funds for refugee resettlement,” Hossain wrote in an email to The Argus. “The speaker Khadija Gurnah works to end human hunger, one of the harshest outcomes of this conflict. The event brought the reality of starvation a little closer to home for us.”

Unlike a typical hunger banquet, which divides attendees into three income groups that simulate the constraints and luxuries of a certain standard of living, the Fast-a-Thon decided to move away from this model.

“This year we decided to deviate from the model to focus more so on domestic hunger as well as the mounting refugee crisis in the Middle East,” coordinator of the Hunger and Homelessness Program in Wesleyan’s Office of Community Service Fred Ayres ’17 wrote in an email to The Argus. “Ultimately, with any sort of awareness event, it’s hard to measure its effectiveness. Based on what I heard afterwards, however, I’d say we definitely did our part that evening to move the needle on hunger and poverty issues in the United States.”

Despite the deviation from the typical format of the hunger banquet, attendees saw the event as a success.

“The event went very well in my opinion,” Hossain wrote. “We had a full house, good food and conversation, and an impassioned speaker. My table, seated with one grad student, two undergrads, and one pre-frosh, listened as carefully to the speaker as everyone else. During our chat afterwards, I noted specifically that we all agreed how useful it can be to confirm the empathy coded in religious traditions and use it to address human needs like hunger.”

Hossain felt that the topics discussed at this event were particularly important for the University community.

“[Wesleyan] prides itself on being one of the most active schools in the country, but we are a part of this country,” Hossain wrote. “Our nation ignored the Syrian War for five years as it got worse and worse. We ignored it until it came to our doorstep because that was the easy thing to do. It won’t be easy anymore, because now we’re being forced to realize what both our apathy and aggression lead to.”

In a similar vein, Ayres hoped that those who attended the event became more aware of the global hunger issue and how to help make a difference in it as individuals.

“I hope that attendees realized the power of self-efficacy in surmounting institutional and systemic inequality, whether in our agricultural system, healthcare industry, or affordable housing projects,” Ayres wrote. “All that is needed at times is a single voice rising above the fray to make a lasting difference.”

Rahman also expressed how important it is for students at the University to be aware of this issue and attempt to fix it.

“I think it’s essential for Wesleyan students to venture out of the bubble we live in and become aware of broader global issues—such as global hunger and the current refugee crisis; and what better way is there to discuss such matters than through a meal with an enlightening and bright group of individuals?” Rahman wrote.

Rahman also emphasized the significance of actively channeling passion into resolving issues that students feel are important. She explained how living in a privileged country, removed from the problems that pervade less affluent regions, can make it difficult to be empathetic to the plight of others.

“This event tried to bridge that gap, to remind us that we need to stay up-to-date with such issues because, as cliche as it may sound, we are the future of the world,” Rahman wrote. “It’s our empathetic response as well as our knowledge that such events encourage, that will alleviate issues like global hunger.”

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