Grains of hope

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2007, 12:00am

As a child growing up in Australia in the 1960s, the topic of global hunger came up every other night at the dinner table. A reluctant vegetable eater, I was constantly being reminded by my mother about the world's starving children so that I would not waste food.

World leaders have spoken a lot about global hunger. There have been numerous top-level summits held, agreements signed and countless billions of dollars pledged and given.

Swathes of the world have benefited, but there are still substantial parts where hunger is rampant. The UN estimates that, each day, 25,000 people die from a lack of food or related causes.

The problem is not so much that there is not enough food, but that people living in poverty cannot afford it. They become malnourished, and prone to illnesses and disease.

If governments gave 0.7 per cent of their annual budgets to fight poverty, as experts contend they should, hunger would quickly disappear. As it is, only Scandinavian nations meet or approach this target, and the consequence of the shortfall is apparent in the grim statistics.

Through rapid industrial development, China and India are showing what can be achieved. But not all nations can offer the same workforce skills and advantages, so a solution, for now, remains in the world banding together to help feed hungry people.

Innovation is the key, and I stumbled across it on the internet this week at Millions of other people have also found what is surely one of the most useful of all websites.

US computer programmer John Breen, a long-time advocate for poverty alleviation, came up with the idea by chance. His eldest son was studying for exams and a word game was devised to help him with his English.

Mr Breen had developed a site for the UN's World Food Programme and has since set up his own site - - to educate people about the problem. By combining his word game with his desire to see global hunger vanquished, the new website was born on October 7. Tens of thousands of people have since received food that they would not otherwise have.

At this seasonal time of giving and sharing, there is no better gift than the address of this website. By playing the game, you will be improving your English language skills while feeding the needy.

The concept is simple: You are given a word and have to choose the one with the same meaning from a list of four. Each correct answer earns 20 grains of rice, which the advertiser on each page pays for and forwards to the World Food Programme.

For those learning English or who simply love words, this game is addictive. The more correct answers, the harder the level. While you are learning and having fun, money for food is being raised.

World Food Programme spokesman Caroline Hurford said that more than US$200,000 had already gone to her organisation and that at least half had been used to buy rice for the victims of the recent floods in Bangladesh. With millions of people visiting the site each day, and the number increasing rapidly, she had high hopes for its fund-raising powers.

Mr Breen is surprised about how much interest his idea has generated, mostly through word of mouth. While he does not see it as the solution to global hunger, he does believe it is a valuable tool to educate people about the problem. He is also more optimistic now than ever before that he will live to see the day - perhaps in as little as 20 years - when everyone in the world is properly fed.

There are many worthy charities asking for donations to help the needy in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China. After giving them our largesse, and in between celebrating the festive season, we should find time to visit

Those few hundred grains of rice we earn while playing a game may not on their own feed a starving person but, through a combined effort, we can make a modest dent in global hunger. The chances are also good that we will have improved our vocabulary. These are surely gifts we cannot let pass by.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor