Massachusetts Daily Collegian

So much money, so little food

By Michelle Alcott

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Hannah Cohen/Collegian

Hannah Cohen/Collegian

As students we have so many tasks on our plate: homework, fighting with the Bursar’s office, attending about five-ten classes in the first week just to decide what we should take. So it is reasonable to be distracted from some of the bigger issues out there.

But recently something struck me as strange; last week, the University had a large sum of money donated through sponsors to make the world’s largest stir-fry — they even had a custom frying pan built. Students attended this, and staff spent time and energy preparing it. When I learned that this was happening it seemed strange to me that people had time to attend this event but not even consider more pressing issues such as the people starving in Somalia.

The United Nations declared a famine this year in Somalia; children are dying daily. All it takes is a simple Internet search to find some of the most horrific pictures of starvation imaginable. The hypocrisy can’t be ignored; we made a 4,000+ pound stir-fry, and there is a whole country of people who haven’t eaten in days.

Then I remembered that this issue is set on such a grand scale. It is hard to contemplate how to address an issue as big as an entire country starving to death. It’s one of those moments when people feel small and helpless.

The U.N. stated that $2.4 billion is needed to deal with the drought; the average work-study job at UMass pays less then ten dollars an hour and most students don’t work full time. So $2.4 billion is a number whose meaning, for most students, is almost impossible to grasp – other then it’s more money than most of us will ever have. Similarly, when we do see a link on the Internet that urges, “click here to donate $5 to Somalia.” it seems useless to follow the link. What is $5 compared to $2.4 billion? Especially when $5 can mean a well-deserved beer or two on Friday night, gas money or a gallon of milk. But these are reasonable reactions. How does our $5 help, and aren’t there more effective ways to offer assistance in the face of a catastrophe?

The most daunting logistical problem that comes to mind is: where do we get $2.4 billion in a short amount of time? To start, who even has that much money? Well, since this has started the news has been reporting billions of dollars being tossed around by certain corporate giants.

First, AT&T has continued its attempt in procuring T-Mobile form Deutsche Telekom at the tune of $39 billion in cash and stocks, with ongoing negotiations for this merger between AT&T and the ever-resistant F.C.C. Let me restate the amount of money being negotiated – $39 billion – for a company. Meanwhile, Somalia needs a measly $2.4 billion to survive. The number doesn’t seem so big when framed in relation to big business.

The number gets even smaller when it is compared to Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill. True, most of this money will be in tax breaks and other kinds of economic policy shifts that don’t require hard currency, but about $140 billion in cold hard cash will be spent over the next few years if the bill is passed. The money will be used to hire teachers, build roads and bridges, and pay for a plethora of other jobs projects.

This $2.4 billion compared to $140 billion seems small. Ask yourself this question: “If I were walking down the road with $100 in my pocket and a starving woman asked me for $2.40 to feed her family for a long time to come, would I say no?”

In the end I don’t think it is wrong to feel overwhelmed by the issue at hand, but we still need to take action rather than hide from it. Consider the numbers, and consider who should be offering their financial support to Somalia.

Michelle Alcott is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

3 Comments

3 Responses to “So much money, so little food”

  1. David Hunt '90 on September 13th, 2011 12:12 pm

    Ms. Alcott:

    Your desire to help others is to be lauded, and were you walking down the proverbial street with $100, you are absolutely entitled to give none, some, or all of that which is YOURS to that proverbial homeless person. And, should you do so, kudos to you.

    Upon seeing that homeless person, do you have every right to turn to the person next to you and likewise ask them to contribute? Of course. But therein lies the rub – they have the right to say “No.”

    What you are proposing, in effect, is not asking your fellow to contribute, but using the coercive power of government to FORCE someone to do so. A graphic analogy is your holding a gun to their head saying “You will contribute.”

    It is the voluntary vs. coerced nature of charity which is on the table. It is akin to a man asking a woman out on a date, hoping that he might “get lucky” vs. holding a knife to their throat and taking what he wants by force.

    One, voluntary contribution to help others, appeals to humanity’s better nature and can serve as inspiration to others. The other, coercion, is mere thuggery, no matter how noble a mantle you attempt to wrap around it.

  2. Duderonomy on September 14th, 2011 10:34 am

    If you had $100 and someone asked for $2.40, you are absolutely entitled to be not, somewhat, or entirely the proverbial poo head by giving a pocketful of change to a hungry person.

    I’d appeal to David Hunt ’90 to further examine the previous half-millenium of world history otherwise known as “colonialism”, and then talk about what he or some Somali is rightfully entitled to. Of course, free speech being what it is, he can always put the blame on Obama, that’s fair game.

  3. Mike Linnehan on September 14th, 2011 3:47 pm

    It’s worth noting that the $2.4 billion can be used to feed the people, but does not solve the problem once and for all. The people of Somalia will still be in a land that is subject to frequent drought and is not capable of supporting the crops needed by its people. It takes more than just money to solve this problem.

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