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Malaysians step up against world hunger

Allen Renquist is hoping Stop Hunger Now’s KL office will help the organisation to expand in this region. Photo by Sam Tham/The Star

Publication Date : 09-07-2012

 

For 14 years, an American non-profit humanitarian relief organisation has been passionately tackling world hunger. Encouraged by the response from Malaysians, it is now setting up an office in Malaysia with a dream of ending hunger in Asia.

IF you were at Bangsar Village in Kuala Lumpur on the afternoon of June 30, you would have heard a gong being hit at various intervals, followed by a wildly enthusiastic bunch of people cheering and clapping. Every time the gong sounded, it represented the successful feat of a group of volunteers made up of Star Publications (M) Bhd staff and members of the public packing 1,000 meals for the poor and the hungry.

The highly efficient – and incredibly fun – conveyor system of meal packaging was organised by Stop Hunger Now (SHN), an American non-profit humanitarian relief organisation.

An incredible 10,000 meals were packed that afternoon for distribution to the homeless and poor through the Kechara Soup Kitchen and Kenosis Street Feeding programmes.

The Stop Hunger Now meal packaging event was held in conjunction with the launch of the “Do Good. Volunteer” portal, an online volunteer matching portal that is an initiative by The Star in collaboration with its subsidiary, Leaderonomics, a social enterprise specialising in leadership development.

The highly interactive portal offers volunteers a host of volunteering opportunities with non-profit organisations all over Malaysia.

With Stop Hunger Now opening an office in Malaysia in September this year, it gives volunteers an additional option to get involved in doing good.

According to Allen Renquist, international operations director for the non-profit organisation, Stop Hunger Now was founded in 1998 by Ray Buchanan, a native of Texas, in the United States, who had a vision of ending world hunger in his lifetime. He had previously founded a Virginia-based domestic food relief organisation.

Stop Hunger Now is based on an entrepreneurial model to provide rapid, cost-effective responses to international crisis situations. The organisation had five employees when Renquist first joined in 2007; today, it has 50 full-time staff in the United States with 30 part-timers; and its first international base in South Africa has 12 full-time staff and volunteers.

Hot meals at school: By providing meals for its pupils, this school in Haiti is encouraging poverty-stricken parents to send their children to school rather than put them to work.

For the first eight years, Stop Hunger Now responded to disasters all around the world but after a while, Renquist says that Buchanan realised that he was not ending hunger by doing just that.

“We believe that there are two reasons for hunger. One is apathy, where people are not doing anything, and the second is a lack of political will to end hunger, because it is not important enough for our governments to invest resources in it,” he points out. Renquist was at Bangsar Village for the Do Good. Volunteer website launch.

Buchanan then started the meal packaging programme to offer a solution and achieve two goals. The first, Renquist says, is to pack as much food as possible and to use it effectively towards poverty reduction. Stop Hunger Now does not believe in giving handouts; instead, they are supporting school food programmes around the world with their packaged meals.

The second goal is to engage people in the fight against hunger through education.

“But more than that, our ultimate goal is to grow a movement of people who will lobby or become advocates for the world’s poor and affect political will,” says Renquist.

“The more people we have talking to their governments at all levels, the more governments will be obligated to act. It is about engaging people, so the Do Good.Volunteer portal initiated by The Star is a very effective tool to get people talking and getting involved in volunteerism,” Renquist says.

Challenge from Malaysia

After graduating from North Carolina University with a degree in business management and entrepreneurship, Renquist joined the US Peace Corps, a government agency that trains and sends volunteers to help with different issues around the world. Renquist worked in Belize for two years as an HIV/AIDS educator, teaching in primary and secondary schools, and organising awareness events.

“I was already involved in volunteer work while in college. In fact, I decided that volunteer work was something I wanted to do forever!” Renquist says, crediting his mother for raising him to be that kind of person.

When Renquist returned from Belize, he went back to his university to complete a master’s degree programme in international studies and sustainable development.

It was during this time that a student’s Stop Hunger Now presentation on eliminating hunger struck a chord and sparked an interest in him to work with Stop Hunger Now, a non-profit humanitarian relief organisation based in Raleigh, North Carolina in the United States.

In May 2007, Renquist was hired as an intern in an assistant programme managerial position; he became a full time employee and was promoted to programme director of Stop Hunger Now’s rapidly growing meal packaging programme in 2008.

Renquist helped to open eight new programme branch locations in the United States and today there are a total of 14 branches in that country.

“Then all of a sudden, we were getting calls from around the world, with South Africa being the first to contact us. So SHN opened its first international meal packaging programme in South Africa in 2010,” Renquist says.

Why Malaysia next? Stop Hunger Now’s attention was caught when it was thrown a one million meal event challenge by a Malaysian company last year.

“Taylor’s Education Group embraced the programme in a huge way when they asked us to organise the meal packaging event for one million meals on World Food Day last year. This involved 4,000 volunteers and it was the largest event outside the US!” Renquist says, still sounding energised about the event a year later.

After that event, Stop Hunger Now was flooded with requests from the volunteers who took part, and other organisations, such as the KL-based UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees’) office and the Kechara Soup Kitchen, as well as the Rotary Club in Malaysia, whose members were excited about doing such events locally.

Other factors that finally made Stop Hunger Now decide to base its second international office in Malaysia include our economy and the people: “(Malaysia) has a vibrant economy, which creates a middle class, and there is a culture of service which is very important to what SHN is doing.”

He feels that KL is the perfect location with a high presence of the four main groups that they are looking at to source funding and volunteers, which are corporations, universities, religious institutions and civic organisations; the availability of resources is also a factor in siting the office in KL.

“Another reason is the rising trend in CSR (corporate social responsibility) in Malaysia. We see a lot of companies going for an environmental or green initiative, which is great, but we wanted to be another option for companies interested in CSR and we want them to know that they can do something towards ending hunger,” Renquist says.

Well positioned to help

As Malaysia does not experience severe hunger, Renquist points out that we are very well positioned to respond to situations in countries such as Myanmar, Thailand and the Philippines, and our strategic location also makes this country an ideal base from which Stop Hunger Now can respond to crisis such as earthquakes or tsunamis in this region.

On the global map of hunger, Renquist says “there are more hungry people in Asia than anywhere else in the world. So, with a base here, SHN Malaysia can take the lead in responding to hunger in Asia.

“We hope that Malaysia becomes a regional hub from where we can expand into Thailand and other countries, and to truly make a difference in (ending) hunger,” he says.

The KL office of Stop Hunger Now is currently in the midst of hiring an executive director who will incorporate Stop Hunger Now Malaysia, an organisation that will have a local board of directors on which Renquist will also sit.

Renquist stresses that Stop Hunger Now believes in providing high quality food items, and that everything will be bought locally, from the ingredients to vitamins, which will be manufactured here.

As the programme grows, it will allow them to buy in bulk, giving them savings through economies of scale.

“We are looking at a warehouse of between 360sqm and 450sqm (4,000sqft and 5,000sqft) designed with multiple offices. This will be the hub where ingredients, equipment and trucks will be stored, and from where packed meals will be shipped to countries in need,” he shares.

“We have developed a three-year business plan for Malaysia and we are trying to talk with Rotary (Club of Malaysia) to help us raise funds for the start-up cost. We need to raise US$100,000 (313,714 ringgit) to keep the programme alive for about 12 months,” he says.

Malaysians can get involved by contacting Stop Hunger Now for immediate organising of events; events can be organised by employers, schools or civic organisations.

Renquist adds that Stop Hunger Now itself will need volunteers, especially when the office here gets off the ground, as well as funds to help set up the office.

“We want people to know that even a donation of 1 ringgit can help cover the cost of not only the ingredients for the packed meals but also transportation, warehousing and a lot more,” he stresses.

What is the toughest thing in pushing the meal packaging programme?

“When I have people who are ready to do this right now, and I have to tell them to wait!” Renquist laments.

Another challenge, according to Renquist, is “convincing people that they can make a difference. People generally feel that their effort will not matter, and dealing with that pessimism is a real challenge.”

Renquist says that they are about to hit the 70 million meals mark since Stop Hunger Now started, and it took 245,000 people to pack all those meals, so all these people, every single one of them, made a difference.

“With more work to be done, we greatly look forward to the opening of a permanent SHN office in Malaysia. With local staff and a local board, it will be a fully Malaysian organisation that will lead the fight against hunger in this region,” Renquist says.

Well, once this office opens its doors, one can expect a delightful symphony of gongs all over Malaysia!

To make donations to help set up the Stop Hunger Now Malaysia office, go to stophunger now.org/malaysiaexpansion.

Hunger facts

While the majority of Malaysians are fortunate to have enough to eat, according to Stop Hunger Now, world hunger reached a record high at the end of 2009 with more than one billion people going hungry every day. It is a crisis that affects one-sixth of the world’s population and remains a tragedy for all humanity because the number of hunger-related deaths continues to rise.

More than a billion people suffer from hunger. More people die each year from hunger-related causes than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. More than 25,000 people die of hunger-related causes every day. One out of seven people in the developing world suffers from hunger. Malnourishment is associated with more than half of all childhood deaths. There is enough food in the world to feed everyone 4.3 pounds (about 9kg) of food every day. – Stop Hunger Now

 

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