It’s not every day teenagers willingly stop eating for more than 24 hours, much less remain cheerful about it, but 32 students at Diamond Jenness Secondary School did so for a good cause.
“For people who are wondering if it’s worth it, I would say that it really is,” said Grace Osted, a participant in the 30-Hour Famine event, which began on May 9. “We go 30 hours without food. Some people go through this their whole lives.”
For the third consecutive year, Diamond Jenness participated in the World Vision event. A worldwide phenomenon, the 30-Hour Famine asks students to simulate starvation for a short period of time to raise awareness and funds to feed hungry children in Africa.
Diamond Jenness students have raised $5,000 in three years. Given that, according to World Vision, $1 feeds one child for one day, Hay River students have had a pretty significant impact.
“The kids have been asking me about it since January,” said Anna Cunningham, a program support teacher and organizer of the famine. “I was hoping to do it with around 30 students and we had over 45 who were interested.”
Part of the draw was the event required the students to stay overnight in the school, and with a packed schedule of activities, sleep was optional. Apart from the popular hide and seek game throughout the school, a scavenger hunt across town was arranged, along with table tennis tournaments, jam sessions in the music room, a dance, and a constant string of movies.
But the famine’s ethos remains a self-reflective one. A meditation session was also offered over the course of the night for those students who wanted to take a moment to think about the solemnity of the situation.
Cunningham, who has also organized 30-Hour Famine events in British Columbia, said that at first she was surprised by the Diamond Jenness students’ more casual approach to the fundraiser.
“In B.C., it was more serious, and here it’s more on the playful side,” she said. “But then I saw that the kids are really compassionate. They can still have fun while thinking deeply about a cause and it’s really amazing to see teenagers react like that.”
In addition to collecting money in the weeks leading up to the famine, one of the Friday night activities was a food drive in the community. Cunningham said it’s important to raise awareness for hunger on a local level as well as on the other side of the world and all the food collected was donated to the local food bank.
“The community has been really generous,” she said.
Cunningham also noted that what started out as a school initiative has evolved to attract other community members. Volunteers return year after year to organize activities and chaperone the students, many skipping meals themselves in solidarity.
“We’re at the point where the volunteers know their roles and sort of just come in and do their thing,” said Cunningham.
By far the most anticipated part of the famine is its end, when a full breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon – among other things – was served around 6 a.m. on Saturday.
Some of the veterans of the famine offered advice to the first-timers on how to deal with the hunger.
Devon Courtoreille said it isn’t so bad until you wake up in the morning, while Elliot Pinto said that his energy remained pretty high until he went to sleep, at which point he would just crash.
“It’s for a good cause, so you get through it,” said Cole Loutit, another participant with two previous famines under his belt.
Both the fun and serious aspects of the famine drew Osted, fasting for the first time, to join the cause.
“Having the school open and being here all night is cool,” she said. “But it’s the cause that keeps me going.”
— Sarah Ladik