My name is Madison Gray. I am currently interning with RIJ during my semester abroad at Temple University, Japan. This is my experience as I participate in RIJ’s 24 hour fast in solidarity with the drastic food insecurity too many refugees struggle with daily. You can follow other participants’ experiences with the hashtag #RIJ24hourfast on Twitter and Facebook. If you would like to support this initiative, you may donate HERE.
12:00 sharp. A chime plays throughout the 23 floors of the Daiba Frontier Building, where the RIJ office is located, to remind all the busy salarymen that it’s time for a break. It’s time for lunch.
On a regular day, this tune brings me mild distress. It’s a reminder that I forgot to grab lunch at the Family Mart in the lobby before all the best selections are wiped out by the swarm of hungry office workers.
Today is different, though. It’s been 18 hours since my last meal and the cute chime is a reminder of my growling stomach. I lose track of my work for a few moments as I daydream about all the onigiri and Pocky sticks and bento boxes being consumed downstairs.
I remind myself that I only have six hours to go and appreciate how lucky I am to have a definite end to this hunger. If I were in a struggling camp with food shortages, or if I had just been forced to flee my home unexpectedly, I would have no way of knowing when I would be able to eat a real meal again. I discover a new admiration for the strength of refugees in the face of uncertainty.
It’s not long before my thoughts drift to food again, however. I’m finding it hard to work with this constant preoccupation with food. This is the part of the fast I expected. It’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach, and I’m struck with how difficult it must be for hungry children to study at school, hungry mothers to take care of their children, hungry workers to continue working on an empty stomach.
It’s not just concentration, however. Enduring hunger, like the kind many refugees face, hampers safety, love, and self-esteem. The well-known psychologist Abraham Maslow articulated the necessity of being well-fed in his Hierarchy of Needs theory, which argues that there are certain needs that must be met before one can be a productive and happy member of society. Psychological needs, like food and shelter, are the foundation of the pyramid. Without food, an individual will struggle to experience safety, belonging, or self-esteem. This theory makes a lot more sense with this experience. My usual worries- schoolwork, weekend plans, my goals for the future, homesickness, the difficulties of a long-distance relationship- have taken a back seat to the consistent pang of hunger.
Yet, somehow refugees are extremely resilient in the face of food insecurity. They continue to go to school, to care for their families, to work, to fight for human rights, to create art, and more. I am both humbled and inspired by their strength, giving me the motivation to power through the six hours I have left.