THE BLOG

Live Like a Burundian - The Hungriest People in the World

08/04/2015 20:37 BST | Updated 08/06/2015 10:59 BST

OK it's a far-fetched concept given we sleep on comfy mattresses, have taps for hot and cold running water and can cook at the flick of a switch, but there is one significant thing we can all do to get a sense of life in Burundi and that's to go hungry.

Arriving in America 25 years ago I was struck by the sheer volume of food served and the amount left on plates. As a child I was never allowed to leave food; my parents had experienced the Second World War and rationing.

My charity Send a Cow, is currently one of a number signed up to Global Poverty Project'sLive Below the Line campaign. It encourages people to live for five days on what the world's poorest survive on for a lifetime. In the UK that means eating and drinking on £1 a day.

I have recently returned from visiting our field-work in the heart of Burundi, where many of its citizens are starving on a daily basis, eating one meal a day of just potato or cassava. It's not uncommon for parents to go without food and still have to make heart-breaking decisions on which child gets fed on any given day. That's why we are using this initiative to raise money for our programmes in Burundi.

And I am filled with great hope that as our programmes take hold, the lives of many can be rapidly improved. But we have a responsibility to do something significant now.

I took the challenge last year and plan to again this year, but what strikes me, coming so soon after the excesses of Easter, is how lucky we are to have the choice.

I have been really humbled by the UK's popular TV vicar Kate Bottley who took the Live Below the Line challenge early so we could raise awareness of our 2015 campaign. She battled hunger pangs and headaches caused by sugar and caffeine deprivation and lived on bowls of cabbage, rice, onion soup and the odd egg, supplemented with tap water. Needless to say they didn't give her the energy she needs for her hectic lifestyle, but she completed the five days because she was determined to raise awareness of Burundi's hungry and promote Send a Cow's work helping people feed themselves.

Then I think about Claudette, living in the desperately poor Mwaro Province of Burundi with her two daughters. Her parents died of disease when she was aged 13 and as the eldest of four Claudette was left to care for children - often making three sweet potatoes and a bowl of beans feed them all for two days. Life was so tough she wanted to die. And until recently, when she joined our programme, she has struggled to feed her malnourished babies food that their tummies could digest.

The big difference of course is that Kate had the choice to starve. Like those on the intermittent 5:2 fasting diet, or anyone electing to give up something for a limited period like Lent, there was the luxury of an end in sight; however tough the going.

The similarity between the food rich and the food poor is that food is something of an obsession.

Unlike our friends in Burundi who have little variety in what is available, we are bombarded by a huge variety of food. Aside from our cupboards and freezers stashed with goods, quick-fix food from around the globe is available wherever there are shops. You can buy it online, have ready meals delivered to your door and you can munch food on the move while TV programmes and multimedia advertising perpetuate its visibility 24 hours a day.

Then there are our habits. Food is no longer something many of us eat three times a day. It's a day-long graze with mid-morning snacks, afternoon treats and evening nibbles.

It's the very accessibility of food which makes Live Below the Line such a significant challenge for those of us who can afford to eat freely. We have conditioned ourselves to eat what we like when we like so the discipline of giving it up is all the harder.

But it's a discipline we need to learn. What the starving citizens of Burundi and every other hungry person around the world can teach us, is that we should value food more highly. We should recognise that it's the very accessibility of food that gives us the physical strength and personal freedom to live rich and rewarding lives.

So please, join me in living like a Burundian for five days but remember these lessons from Burundi for a lifetime.

Sign up here to Live Below the Line for Send a Cow.