One night for Florence, every night for 2.5 billion

Oxfam Italia hunger banquet gives new perspective on world poverty

Lauren Shanesy
April 3, 2014

‘We are here today because more than 2.5 billion people live in poverty.’ As Lorenzo de’ Medici student speaker Nicoletta Bradley opened with this statistic, the crowd was shocked at the high percentage of our population that makes less than 1,128 USD a year and lacks the resources to cultivate food. The upper class, elevated on couches on the stage, looked over the lower classes trying to imagine what it would be like to be part of the 80 percent of the world that struggles to feed their family, often forgoing eating themselves. These disheartening statistics were eye-opening for guests, as they experienced what many in our world go through on a daily basis.    


Lorenzo de’ Medici students along with members of the Florentine community joined Oxfam Italia, as they hosted their first Hunger Banquet on April 16, 2014, at Tasso Hostel. Oxfam Italia is an Italian NGO, part of an international confederation, which aims to fight global poverty.


At an Oxfam Italia Hunger Banquet, as often occurs in real life, your meal and social class are determined by the ‘luck of the draw’. Upon arrival, guests immediately became part of the interactive event by drawing a random card, which decided the economic class they belonged in, and therefore what meal they would eat. With 50 percent of today’s population living in poverty and suffering from chronic hunger, half of the guests ate only a small handful of rice for dinner, with no water to drink. This group watched on with hungry eyes as the high-income group let some of their meal go to waste, full from such large portions.


The Oxfam Italia Hunger Banquet directly involved guests by assigning them specific biographies on the card they chose when they arrived. Many were asked to rise when the name on their card was read aloud and a story was told about their situation. To further simulate the unpredictable circumstances of life, many participants were moved between classes, relocating to a higher or lower class based on whether the crops were fertile that year or if they could afford to go to school. Disappointment was apparent on the faces of those who received less than they anticipated for the night, like the guests who represented the characters ‘Dianke’ and ‘Kerene,’ who lost their land to the government and their animals to polluted water. Guests were frustrated that circumstances could change so quickly and were beyond their control, but these feelings only reinforced the very real daily life of many in our world. One attendee called the interactive element of the dinner ‘profound,’ and many students were moved by the authentic stories told at the banquet. As one participant put it, the Oxfam Italia Hunger Banquet was a successful wake-up call for all.


Though many felt disheartened by the social injustice they discovered at this event, Oxfam Italia still brought hope to the guests, just as they do to those struggling to survive. Positive stories were expressed through characters such as ‘Maria’ and ‘Eldia’, low-income seamstresses from El Salvador who are living in an Oxfam-supported community. Guests representing these women were able to move from lower to middle class. These real women took advantage of new opportunities and savings resources in their area, thanks in part to the success of Oxfam’s Grow Campaign. 


Oxfam Italia guests left the dinner feeling empowered and inspired to promote change in our world. When they walked through the doors of the Tasso Hostel in Florence, they had not expected to learn much of the information they left with, or think they would be so personally and emotionally moved by the stories told. ‘It’s actually sickening,’ said student Nicolette Strano, after hearing many of the disturbing statistics about what really occurs in our world. ‘It’s the 21st century, we still shouldn’t have these problems of such injustice.’ All felt compelled to make a difference.  College student Lauren Kelty expressed that the dinner made her ‘realize how unequal our society is, and people need to force change to happen.’ Many guests expressed their actions through donations or by promoting the statistics and need for change on social media. Some college students even wanted to bring Oxfam Hunger Banquets from Florence to their universities in America. The Oxfam Italia event changed their perspectives in more ways than they imagined. 


Nelson Mandela was once quoted saying that ‘poverty is not natural. It is man-made and can be overcome. Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right.’ Oxfam Italia strives to do just this, protect every individual’s innate rights to a decent life. They came one step closer at their first Hunger Banquet in Florence.     

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