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Hunger Project Activists from World Over Gather in New York City

Some 1,200 activists from 24 countries are in New York City for five days (October 20 to October 24) to share strategies on how to battle world hunger and poverty. The Hunger Project is holding its annual "global weekend" to attack global problems and those unique to a particular region.

As its name suggests, The Hunger Project is devoted to ending starvation, but its organizers have other goals as well. They want to combat poverty, stop the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus, as well as achieve gender equality and universal education. An ambitious agenda, but so is the Hunger Project's mandate that people come up with solutions, not governments. The majority of the project's activists are volunteers working and living in their own villages. Though they share many problems each country has a unique area of focus.

For Dr. Badiul Majumdar, the project's director in Bangladesh, where they have 60,000 volunteers, it's fighting government corruption. Transparency International, a non-government organization that ranks corruption in 148 countries, gave Bangladesh its lowest rating. "Fifth time in a row we are rated the most corrupt nation in the world. So citizens must wake up and really fight back. We are trying to now empower people with information about the background of the people who run for elections, about their criminal background, their wealth. So that people can make informed decisions. Unless good people are elected criminalization will not go away," he said.

In Malawi, an African country of 11 million people, 65 percent of the people live in poverty. One goal is to empower women, who make up the majority of the poor. In many villages it is taboo for women to discuss sexuality, making it difficult to access information or to understand they have sexual rights. Rather than try to impose an outside solution, Hunger Project volunteers brought men and women from individual villages together to focus on rituals that endanger women and increase the spread of the HIV virus. One ritual required that a widow, within three days of her husband's death, sleep with a man chosen by village elders to chase away the spirit of death.

Project director Rowlands Kaotcha describes how one village changed that practice. "For example, say, 'No, if my husband passes away, I will not need another man to sleep with me because I can catch a virus through that process. I don't know what this man does. But I will take any person in my family who is married and I will ask the two of them to sleep together on my behalf. When they sleep together like that, we believe that they have chased the spirits on my behalf.' Now even though this is still superstition, it is being practiced in a much safer way than it was before," he said.

Projects vary from country to country. In Mexico, for example, volunteers are organizing indigenous people. In Uganda, they have helped to create banks that loan credit to rural women. While the volunteers come from many different countries, they all share a similar world view: To help the poor and the hungry become self-reliant and take control of their future.