In December, Eric Taft, Community Engagement Manager for Rise Against Hunger’s Nashville location, and Ryan Tsipis, Rise Against Hunger’s Program Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator, traveled to Da Nang, Vietnam, to visit our long-standing partner, Children of Vietnam (COV). COV, our partner since 2008, distributes our nutritious meals to 111 facilities in Vietnam including kindergartens, medical centers, eldercare facilities, vocational training programs, orphanages and general feeding initiatives. Eric and Ryan share their takeaways from this inspiring trip below.
At our Meal Packaging Events, volunteers move scoops of meal ingredients through assembly lines at lightning speed, producing a joyful blur of grains, packets, tape and brown boxes headed straight for a shipping container and out into the world. Volunteers regularly package tens of thousands of meals in just two hours. As an event facilitator, this is my daily scenery, dancing with a crowd of hairnetted, smiling hunger champions and watching piles of meal boxes stack up in mountains of hope and opportunity — visual evidence that the movement to end world hunger is alive and well.
In December, I visited some of our meal recipients in Da Nang, Vietnam. This was a refreshing change of pace to my daily life, and much more than that, an eye-opening first experience of what our meals look like in the hands of real people being affected by hunger. The most striking thing about my visits to the rural Vietnamese schools was walking into the storage areas and seeing how few boxes of meals sat stacked in corners. Some schools had 10 boxes, some had 20 — nothing close to the mounds of meal bags I’ve seen at our events. What these schools needed to make a lasting difference in kids’ lives was actually very simple.
My visits in Vietnam reminded me not to lose sight of the power of one box, or one bag or one scoop. Among the piles of pallets and stretch wrap are transformative moments for real people. In the blur of my daily job is warm soup on a cool misty morning, preparing a third-grader for her upcoming test at school. Or maybe on a warm day in Honduras, a boy feels physically stronger with every spoonful of his school lunch. The sea change of ending hunger is starting in small ways in schools, hospitals, training centers and orphanages, with one modest bag. I’m overwhelmed to think of the magnitude of change we speak of when we say goodbye to a shipping container full of almost 300,000 meals, reflecting always on the power of just one.
Working remotely from my apartment in Washington, D.C., can get lonely. Even our headquarters in Raleigh, N.C., can seem a world away, not to mention the 18 partners I coordinate day-to-day logistics with in South America and Asia. Considering the time differences and the language barriers, emailing back and forth and numerous Skype calls, it is crucial to plan for in-person meetings to sustain and deepen these relationships. The opportunity to meet with our partners face-to-face is irreplaceable, and one that I have been lucky to experience.
While visiting COV in December, I trained their staff how to use our new reporting forms, worked out some distribution challenges and listened to concerns easier discussed in person than via email. Most notably, we visited a kindergarten that COV distributes our meals to and sat down to enjoy a delicious porridge version of our meal packs. Seeing our meals at their final destination — the mouths of growing children — reminded me of all the effort that goes into getting these meals to Da Nang. Endless coordination is required to get one meal to one beneficiary. The menial tasks done in my apartment are just a small piece to the puzzle. I took that moment to admire all the hard work done by so many to accomplish this one task that seems so simple, but one that can make all the difference in a child’s day.
Rise Against Hunger is grateful for the prolific partnership we have with Children of Vietnam, and look forward to continuing to grow and learn together.
For more on our partnership with COV, read about our joint micro-enterprise, women’s empowerment initiative.