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close this bookExploding the Hunger Myths - High School Curriculum (FF, 1987, 173 p.)
close this folderLesson 7: Can change happen?
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentActivity 1: Making change
View the documentActivity 2: What would you do?


COMMON ASSUMPTION: Poor people are so underfed and uneducated that they cannot mobilize themselves to work for change. Moreover, those of us who are not hungry can do little in the face of such enormous problems.


There are two major goals to this lesson: to learn about change and how it occurs; and to see how people, even young people, can be involved in changing the forces that create hunger and other social problems. The lesson seeks to dispel the notion that poor people are lazy, stupid, or passive. The lesson is divided into two activities. It will work best if both activities are done one after the other.


Making Change helps students define change and understand what it is to be an agent of change. They will discuss how change occurs at different levels - from personal to international - and discuss how change can come about rapidly or slowly.


What Would You Do? asks students to design their own solution to real life problems. The activity includes stories about other people's attempts to solve the problems. This exercise is followed by discussion questions to help students discover the qualities they share with agents of change. The activity helps students realize that people without the advantages of formal education and wealth are often very effective in changing unfair conditions. Lack of education and money does not mean lack of intelligence or will.


Rural sociologists have documented that poor people often clearly understand the forces that create poverty. They are not prevented from changing these forces by laziness or ignorance. Many times poor and oppressed people are taught by their society that their situation is their fault; they feel they have done something wrong.

Often a clear sense of the power stacked against them can create hopelessness. It may even be life-threatening to work for change, as it was for civil rights workers in the United States in the 1960s, as it is for farm cooperative organizers in Guatemala today.

Yet in every country where people have been made hungry, there are people standing up for their rights and the rights of others, often at the risk of death. What makes the difference? Why do some people endure deprivation while others work actively for a better society? Sometimes the example of one person can give courage and hope to others. Sometimes the influence of religious teachers can help people see themselves - and their potential - in a new light. Religious movements in Latin America, for example, have allowed many poor people to appreciate the innate dignity of each individual and believe that the human rights of each person must be respected. For many poor people, this perspective leads to demands for the right to the resources - such as land, and jobs at decent pay - necessary to care for one's loved ones and live in dignity.

We often don't appreciate the sweeping social changes brought about just in this century, improving the well-being of millions of poor people and others - women and minority groups-denied basic rights. Four decades ago, many observers doomed China to perpetual starvation, but today the Chinese have virtually eliminated hunger.' Even as late as 1978, most doubted that the Nicaraguans could oust their oppressive dictator, Anastasio Somoza. But the strength of poor people's determination was underestimated. Fifty thousand Nicaraguans, many of them teenagers, died so that a better life could be possible for others. Having defeated Somoza in 1979, Nicaraguans from all walks of life are still willing to work hard, with great personal sacrifice, to increase health care and food security and defend their country.

At the local level, we find examples all over the world of the poor organizing to improve their lives. The Working Women's Forum in India provides thousands of poor, illiterate women with bank loans, education, and a new sense of respect within the community. The agricultural cooperatives created after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980 give poor black farmers a chance to compete with the privileged white commercial farmers. In Haiti, groups led by Christian religious leaders helped the poor grasp the unfairness and corruption of the Duvalier regime, leading to its ouster in 1986.

People are only passive when they have no hope. By working together, they can hope. Their struggles lay to rest the notion that the poor are too lazy or ignorant to work for change. And their successes - often against overwhelming odds - prove that people working together can, indeed do, make a tremendous difference.



1. What is change?
2. What are the barriers to change?
3. How can change occur?