[translations idioma=”ES” url=”https://archives.rgnn.org/2013/12/05/alimentar-a-personas-va-mas-alla-de-dar-comida”]
WARSAW, POLAND. As part of the live coverage from this year’s World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, ROOSTERGNN is conducting a series of follow-up interviews with speakers and representatives of diverse organizations present at the event.
“For me, there is no better reward than a smile on the face of somebody I was able to help.” These are the words of Jean-Pierre Rummens when asked about the motivations behind his day-to-day routine. Originally a photographer and cameraman, Rummens’ frequent travels have put him in contact with people in need, spurring him to shift more towards humanitarian projects. In 1991, he began working for Feed the Hungry, an organization dedicating to combating hunger around the world and aiding in disaster relief. Since joining, Rummens has worked in 67 countries, including war zones in the Balkans, Africa, Iraq or Afghanistan. He has even taken his two sons with him on a few of the projects, including one to Africa, one to Japan and another where they drove an ambulance from Germany all the way to Lahore, Pakistan.
ROOSTERGNN had the opportunity to speak with Mr Rummens to discuss how Feed the Hungry,works worldwide to ensure that people are able to meet their most basic need for food.
How exactly does “Feed the Hungry” help to bring people out of poverty and hunger? Is religion an important part of your organization? What role do schools play?
We have different approaches aimed at bringing people out of poverty and hunger. One step is, of course, emergency help in a crisis situation, like famine in Africa or war situations and the refugees that result from those situations. We simply bring something to eat, something that gives the people new strength to survive and also new strength to keep living. We help to rebuild villages, like after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, so that people can go back into their jobs. During the Kosovo Crisis, we bought cows for farmers so that they can start their own farm again.
Sometimes just dropping food is necessary, usually during times of emergency. However, it would be wrong to simply leave it at that. A follow up process has to be started as well. For our partners on the ground, churches are the most important point in this process. Most of the time, we as the emergency team don’t speak the language and don’t understand the culture well enough to complete this process on our own. Therefore, from the beginning as well as during the follow-up process, churches are involved with the distribution of food and other items. We, as Feed the Hungry Staff, are Christians and believe that we should help one another; that’s why we do what we do. As an individual, I find strength in my faith, because unfortunately, we usually see only tragedies. Despite this, no one has to accept our faith or our belief in Jesus in order to receive help. Everybody receives help regardless of their skin colour or religious background. School also plays a very important role in our work. We strongly believe that a country can only begin to improve if people know how to write and read. At the moment, we support and work with more than 56.000 children every single day. All the children that are old enough to enter a school program are going to school, whether at a local school or at the orphanage.
What makes your projects sustainable?
One reason, of course, is the faithful support of our partners. The other reason is that we work nearly all the time. Therefore, we know exactly what is going on and what will be done with the donations that our partners give us. That is vital for an NGO and Donor relationship. Another reason is that we have few paid staff. All the workers on the project side are volunteers. That gives us great freedom to use about 93% of a donation for actual food or other items to help people. Those other items could be medicine, tents or blankets. Because of our great international network we are able to get food for a good price. That is why we can afford to feed 100 children for 4,60 Euro. This is the price one individual in Europe pays for single fast food meal.
What countries do you operate in? Are some more receptive to your program than others?
As of now, we have projects on every continent. Our office in Sydney just helped the victims of bush fires in some areas in Australia where people lost everything. Our main projects are in Africa but we have some also in South America and Asia. The problem though is finding ways to give the help. The problem is usually not with the people that need the help but rather the government that gives restrictions. In 2011, when we were working in Japan after the earthquake and the tsunami, the Japanese government had a lot of restrictions on the help that we tried to ship in. Three month after the disaster, the Japanese government would not allowed further tax-free shipments of humanitarian goods. By this time, the situation in Japan was already more or less back to normal. This is because the Japanese are eager to do something on their own and to start all over again. I could see changes in the country just in two weeks time.
On the other hand, it is hard to work in Muslim countries, for example, Syria right now. The Syrian government does not allow us to follow up on the help. That’s why we work on the Lebanon side of the border. We are also able to work in countries like China or North Korea. For me, this is simply a way to present help and assistance. If we show passion for the people and don’t give the impression we want to convince them of our way of life, we always find open doors. If we run in to difficulties, we always work to find a different way to help.
Your organization also helps communities during disaster relief. How is this different from simply working to feed a community?
To help and assist a community in a disaster situation is easier because we can use their resources of workers, warehouses and transportation. We never just give food to a local community or government because people are always selfish. More than once, I have experienced that people try to benefit or get something extra out of a crisis. In Beirut, food prices and housing are going increasing like never before, simply because of the Syria crisis and the refugees in Beirut. So, you always find people in communities and governments that try to get personal benefit out of the situation. That’s why we work through churches because with faith connecting us, it is less likely this will happen.
What results have you obtained so far? In 2009, the organization launched a pilot program aimed at growing gardens. Has this been successful?
We can humbly say that we have saved many lives in the last 25 years. We have been able or simply played a part in turning people’s lives around. In Nairobi, a young girl born at a dump in Kybera came to the orphanage many years ago. She is now at the University in Nairobi. In summer 2014, a young woman will take over the leadership in an orphanage in Cali, Colombia. 22 years ago when she was only five, a catholic nun picked her up on the streets in Cali as she had no parents or anybody at all. Now she will come back to the orphanage as the new leader. We have helped to rebuild areas that have been destroyed by famine, earthquakes or tsunamis. We are able to send thousands of children around the globe to school. We made it possible for about 50.000 people in a remote area in Pakistan to receive medical attention. We drove an ambulance all the way from Germany to Pakistan and this former German Ambulance is now serving as a mobile clinic with a team of professional doctors. The garden project is going very well; we just got pictures from North Korea from harvest time. This is something we will develop more and more.
Issues regarding hunger and how to solve the problem have been in the news lately. For instance, there have been reports that climate change could reduce food output as well as a lot of controversy over whether genetically modified organisms (GMO) should be used to alleviate hunger. What is your opinion on these topics?
My personal opinion on how to resolve the hunger problem is not to modify food or organisms. I believe that the hearts of people around the world need to be modified. It is proven that there is enough food for everybody. There is even so much food that twice as many people as there are currently on Earth could be fed. The problem is how to use this food and how to distribute it. As long as people in western countries waste food as they do, nothing will change. One example: In Great Britain, approximately every British household is wasting an amount of 700£ of food a year. Great Britain is wasting 60.000 (sixty thousand) tons of food every single year. This is just one country in Europe. I guess that in my country, Germany, roughly the same is happening. Nothing will be changed even if GMO modification would be accepted everywhere. I personally think that even then, corrupt people will use these modified food for more profit. We do not need GMO food; we need more knowledge on how to use the food we have and how to distribute it. We need more awareness about human beings that die of hunger. It is our thinking, not our food, that needs a modification.
What are your goals for the future?
We want to find more partners in other European countries. So far in Europe, we only have offices in Great Britain, Switzerland and Germany. We believe that we do great work and we want to share it with other people that could helping us, that could help us change this world at least a little bit. Of course, we will continue with the “Every Child, Every Day” project. At the moment, we have 56.000 children that we feed every day. The next short-term goal for that project is to hit the 100.000 mark. We are also looking for companies that can help us to open more schools and start study programs in different areas, so that young people that finish school can become a tailor, a florist, a mechanic or an IT specialist. We are also planning to emphasis water resources. Water is a big problem in many parts of our planet and this problem will only get bigger in the next few years.
How can people help and get involved?
There are different options for how people can help. Of course, financial help is always needed to keep the projects going and to start new projects. However, people with special knowledge in training people or interacting with children can help us as well. We need connections to businesses that are willing to help to change the life of many people.
As a final statement, Mr Rummens concluded, “A person that is giving something away, a hand to help, or just a smile, is a happy person. That why I call myself a happy person.”
Jean-Pierre Rummens was born in Belgium in 1956 and has been a single parent since 2005. His sons are 14 and 17 years old. One of the reasons he is so involved with Feed the Hungry is that, as a Christian, he believes that people should help each other in times of need and that we can only change the world by coming together, forgetting our selfishness and sharing what we have with those who have nothing. Once we can accomplish this, people around the world will have enough to eat.