May
2016
The Rumbling Stomach Finally Finds Its Cure!


 

It was the night of Halloween celebrations in the Asian city of Hong Kong. Friends and colleagues alike were discussing their haphazardly bought costumes for the night, but I was told to dress up casually, with comfortable sneakers for a night in the neighborhood. Seems weird an attire for Halloween, doesn’t it? The staffs and volunteers at the Hong Kong Federation of Women’s Centres were gearing up for their weekly wet-market food collection that Friday and I had the invitation to be a part the collection process! A special invite for a special kind of the evening!

 

About twelve volunteers and staff members had gathered at HKFWC’s main office at Lai Lan House, in Lai Kok Estate, Kowloon, around 6:15pm. We took the empty baskets on trolleys from the Estate, down the streets to Sham Shui Po, and to the Po On Road Wet Market. HKFWC requests the local vendors at the wet market to donate their leftover vegetables, fruits, and bakery products to be donated for the local community. There are about 250 households that are eligible to receive the food baskets. These households have to undergo a screening process with the social workers to be eligible for the process.

 

Once at the wet market, we divided into groups and took charge of different directions and floors to start the collection process. It is humbling to witness the local vendors donate their surplus of the day for the betterment of the community. These vendors are people who themselves have just enough to make it through the month, and yet, here they are valuing the need of their fellow human beings and wanting to help. It is kindness and helping, in its most basic and essential manner.

 

At an average, per collection 50 kgs of surplus is collected. HKFWC engages the women of the community by asking them to volunteer their time to separate the collected surplus into 40-50 personal baskets every evening after the collection is brought back to the Center. Each basket is prepared so that the ingredients go with each other to make a wholesome meal. This process in itself is a delight to watch! The local women come together with the volunteers and staff at HKFWC to prepare these baskets, so that no household gets a basket that is unusable due to it containing just one kind of edibles or those that do not seem to go together. The ingredients are carefully separated from the ones that can be reused to the ones that have gone bad; then washed thoroughly, and set into baskets. As an outsider, you get to understand the process that goes behind the preparation of delicious local Chinese food, first-hand and up-close!

 

At about 8pm, the community families with vouchers for Friday gather in lines outside the Center. About fifty households are served everyday, with the collection amassed that particular day. Staffs or volunteers check off the voucher numbers to keep tabs on the number and name of the household served. The leftover baskets or food is then distributed among the non-voucher holding households for the day. The rotten food used as compost for the local plants. Hence, everything is used, and nothing is wasted.

 

When I was first asked to be a part of the food collection process, I thought it would be the usual food collection that happens in almost neighborhood. We would be collecting leftovers, separating the edible from the inedible and donating them. But the Food Sharing program through HKFWC is a lot more than just collecting the leftovers.

 

  • It brings the vendors close to the community because the vendors are not just seen as people wanting to sell their products
  • It empowers the local women when they come together in the evening to serve their own community. These women are then not just seen as housewives who cook for and clean the house. Rather, they are seen in a different light, they are seen as contributing members of the community. The women also end up forming their own support groups to deal with their problems as their friendships develop and they start trusting each other.
  • It brings the community closer together to understand problems and find solutions because its citizens are helped by and from within the community. It creates a big family. Help seeking behavior then is encouraged in a safer manner and is seen less as pitiable act; rather it is seen as an act of empowerment.

 

When we were taking the empty baskets on the trolleys toward the wet markets, they rambled noisily on the road, almost making the grumbling sound that an empty stomach makes. I found myself almost being annoyed at how loud the noise was. But as the baskets started getting heavier and full with food, the rumbling went away and the trolleys rolled on the roads smoothly, as if they had been well-oiled! I did not know what I was in for when I signed up for this evening. But I could not help but notice the slow fading away of the crackling noise from the baskets and the trolleys. As I stood back to understand this event, I slowly understood that what some of us might take as almost a given basic amenity – food, many others are not as fortunate. Their empty stomachs grumble until they are full and supplant with food. Then they are more content and better able to survive in a productive manner – just as if they are well-oiled; but here, well-fed! The rumbling goes away to give space for smooth functioning of everyone concerned!

 

By Nupur Agrawal