February 11, 2011 | By Roger Thurow

Hunger on the Run

Joe Henry is raising the clamor step by step.

This week he set out from the steps of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. on The Hunger 500, a determined, rather fast-paced run to bring attention to global hunger.  His destination is the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, where the Universities Fighting World Hunger network, an alliance of more than 130 schools around the globe, will gather on Feb. 25 for its annual summit.  He figures he will run about 33 miles a day, which is like running a marathon-plus-seven-miles for 17 straight days.  (The distance he’ll cover is a bit more than 500 miles, but The Hunger 500 has a sharper, Indy-sounding ring to it than the Hunger 528, or whatever the total will end up being.)

It’s not a straight line he will be running through the cold and snow of February; he will be detouring to take his message to more than a dozen colleges along the way.  “I want to light a fire on campuses,” he says.  “I want universities to be the epicenter of the hunger fight.  I hope to inspire students to be a champion for a cause that isn’t on the radar of many Americans.”

This clamor-raiser is no ordinary Joe.  A tall, lanky, 27-year-old athlete (basketball, long-distance running), he recently received his masters in public health from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  He has worked abroad with several humanitarian organizations, doing development work in Kenya and Guatemala and pitching in to help after the earthquake in Haiti.  Last year, he attended the Universities Fighting World Hunger summit at Auburn University with about 200 students from some two dozen schools.

“I had seen hunger on my travels, but I had never really seen people here in this country so aggressively working to put hunger on the map,” Joe recalls.  “The people at Auburn were all doing something, they weren’t letting the enormity of the problem hold them back.”

He heard the next summit would be at Guelph, and he also heard some students talking about a runner who had completed three marathons on three consecutive days.  He cobbled the two bits of information together.

“That’s when the light bulb went off for me,” Joe says.  “As a runner, I thought there might be a place for me in the hunger fight.”

The idea of a hunger run was hatched, with the goal to raise $100,000 for the World Food Program.  Joe first thought about running from Auburn to Guelph, but that, he says, “would be more like the Hunger 2,000.”  So he decided to set out from Washington DC., which gave him the opportunity to meet with humanitarian organizations based in the capital and also to lobby the Alabama Congressional delegation.

The timing of Joe’s run is superb.  It serves as a run-up to the Universities Fighting World Hunger summit, and it also raises the clamor on hunger at a crucial moment.  The budget-cutting fervor in Congress threatens to undermine the efforts of the Obama Administration to lead an assault on global hunger through agriculture development in its Feed the Future initiative.  As he speaks at colleges and talks to reporters and visits with diners in cafes along the way, Joe will be raising awareness in the constituencies of members of Congress, who can embrace the historic challenge of reducing hunger and securing the global food chain by funding Feed the Future’s $3.5 billion, three-year budget.  With every step of Joe’s run, the message will spread that one billion hungry people in the world is unacceptable.

“My messages are: one, to highlight the catastrophic effect that hunger has on citizens of the world.  People can’t grasp how the world is affected by hunger.  Nearly one billion chronically hungry people, with 25,000 people dying every day of hunger and malnutrition.  And two, hunger is holding us back in many areas.  We put a lot of money into education and health.  But a hungry student makes a horrible student, a hungry AIDS patient makes a terrible healer.”

To follow Joe’s progress, to sign up to be a sponsor or supporter, or to check out the route should you want to join him for a mile or two, go to www.hunger500.org.

Here is an excerpt from the site’s blog report from Feb. 10, Day 2 of the run…

“…Stopped and had lunch at a delicious BBQ joint called the Black Hog in Frederick, Maryland, spoke with a local news reporter along route, and our day ended with an empowering Hunger Banquet at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

“The students at MSMU were wonderful and asked lots of thoughtful questions not only about Joe’s run, but also about how they can personally make a difference in the fight against world hunger. In addition to our warm welcome, the students raised over $800 towards our cause (including purchasing their own Hunger 500 t-shirts) and are continuing to collect funds while we’re on the run. They sent Joe on his way with an MSMU running tee that he will no doubt wear with gratitude and pride. Thanks again MSMU for your enthusiasm and inspiration!”

After the run, Joe will continue his pursuit of a job, or perhaps a PhD in public health.

“I’m passionate about hunger and international development, and physical education and nutrition,” he says.  “I hope there’s a job down the line than can meld those interests.”

In the meantime, while pounding the pavement, he’ll continue to contemplate deeper thoughts.  “I’ve been able to draw a weird correlation between long-distance running and hunger.  It’s stripped away emotion, a single-minded focus,” Joe says.  “People really suffering from chronic hunger, it takes them back to a primal focus.  When you don’t have enough to eat, it’s all you can think about.  You don’t worry about the roof over your head or your shoes or how clean you are.  Just food.”


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The latest podcast in our ongoing series with Roger Thurow. Hear how even the best nutrition projects can be undermined by bad water, poor sanitation and hygiene, and lousy infrastructure.  From northern Uganda, we hear a mother’s agony when her healthy, robust child suddenly falls ill after a few sips of water…unclean water, it turned out.

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Digital Preview of The First 1,000 Days

In his new book, The First 1,000 Days, Council senior fellow Roger Thurow illuminates the 1,000 Days initiative to end early childhood malnutrition through the compelling stories of new mothers in Uganda, India, Guatemala, and Chicago. Get a first-look at photos and stories from the book in this new web interactive.

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» Order your copy of the book.


The First 1,000 Days

Roger Thurow’s book will tell the story of the vital importance of proper nutrition and health care in the 1,000 days window from the beginning of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday.

The 1,000 days period is the crucial period of development, when malnutrition can have severe life-long impacts on the individual, the family and society as a whole. Nutritional deficiencies that occur during this time are often overlooked, resulting in a hidden hunger. It is a problem of great human and economic dimensions, impacting rich and poor countries alike.

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The Last Hunger Season

In The Last Hunger Season, the intimate dramas of the farmers' lives unfold amidst growing awareness that to feed the world's growing population, food production must double by 2050. How will the farmers, Africa, and a hungrier world deal with issues of water usage, land ownership, foreign investment, corruption, GMO's, the changing role of women, and the politics of foreign aid?

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Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman, award-winning writers on Africa, development, and agriculture, see famine as the result of bad policies spanning the political spectrum. In this compelling investigative narrative, they explain through vivid human stories how the agricultural revolutions that transformed Asia and Latin America stopped short in Africa, and how our sometimes well-intentioned strategies—alternating with ignorance and neglect—have conspired to keep the world’s poorest people hungry and unable to feed themselves.

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