600 fast for hunger relief

Fast-A-Thon raises money for hunger relief in the Horn of Africa.

by Betsy Graca

While some college students can’t afford a trip to the grocery store, 600 students went hungry for 13 hours Tuesday – by choice.

The Al-Madinah Cultural Center hosted its fourth annual Fast-A-Thon in honor of Ramadan, a Muslim holiday. Both Muslim and non-Muslim students attended the event, which was held in Coffman Union’s Great Hall.

At sundown, organizers treated participants to their first meal of the day.

The evening, however, was not just about a feast at the end of the fast. Speakers addressed the global and local issue of hunger and poverty as well.

“A large part of why we fast is because of hunger awareness and what we’re grateful for,” said Al-Madinah event coordinator Ayah Helmy. “We wanted to bring that to a global level.”

According to the 2006 World Hunger Notes, an estimated 798 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

Amy Lopez, a spokeswoman for the United Way who also spoke at the event, encouraged students to educate themselves and continue spreading awareness about these issues.

The Fast-A-Thon, which was funded by various grants, raised money for local organizations working to put a stop to world hunger.

Local Muslim businesses donated $1 for each fasting student to the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa.

ARAHA volunteer Jaylani Hussein said for one day, the students felt the starvation that East Africans know too well.

“I think if our generation makes these issues a priority, we can eliminate hunger,” Hussein said.

Nursing sophomore Jean Erickson said her main motivation for the fast was fundraising, but she also wanted to prove to herself she could do it.

Pablo Garcia, journalism junior and first-time faster, said most of his fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta, fasted because they value cultural awareness and supporting a good cause.

At sunset, which occurred at 6:52 p.m., Muslim students went to the back of the room to pray, allowing the other students to begin their dinner.

Erickson and Garcia said they were watching the clock closely as they waited until they could take their first bites, but Elhan Hashi, a biochemistry senior, said she had no difficulties.

Hashi said she has been celebrating Ramadan, which requires an entire month of abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset, since she was eight years old and knows very well the first few days are the most difficult.

Although previous Fast-A-Thons have provided traditional Middle-Eastern cuisine, the coordinators reluctantly opted for Erbert and Gerbert’s sandwiches this year, Helmy said.

In previous years, fasters sometimes had to wait in line for an additional hour when they were already hungry, she said, but sandwiches were quick and easy to distribute.

Al-Madinah President Mariam Hannon said the event was about unifying and connecting students wanting to make a difference.

“We hope the Fast-A-Thon will get people more involved with the groups we have here and their causes,” she said. “We want students to be aware of what’s going on around the world as well as in our own community.”