I still remember the day in 1963 when I plunked down my 12 cents as a boy in Syracuse, N.Y., to buy my copy of The Avengers, No. 1. As an avid comic book reader, I would lose myself in this fantasy world spanning Asgard, home of the Norse Gods, and Earth. The battles of good vs. evil were always clear-cut. We knew who the good guys were. But those comic book writers held my suspense. I didn't know how they were going to work together to get the job done.
Of course, I had to see the blockbuster film on opening weekend, contributing to its record-breaking box office take. Once again, the super hero team overcame their own shortcomings and the evil Loki in order to save the world.
Next week another powerful group will be gathering in Washington, D.C., and the question remains: Will the G8 leaders at Camp David be able to overcome their own internal disputes and the ongoing challenges of the global economy in order to partner with African governments to save the 1 billion people in the world suffering from hunger? President Obama is expected to make solving the global hunger problem part of the discussion at the summit -- but will it be enough?
I sat down in my theater seat last weekend knowing that whatever their disagreements were in the start of the film, by the end, The Avengers would save the day. But we don't know whether the G8 leaders will come out of their Camp David retreat having done the right thing for the world's hungry.
Today, 15 million people in West Africa are suffering from food shortages. In Chad, Bogolo Raphael farms a small plot of land that would normally feed his family. But last year's rains were insufficient to reap a typical harvest. Their food is now hard to find. "We cleaned everything since January and as of today, there is not a single seed kept in the house," Raphael said. "How can you keep seeds for tomorrow when you see your children lacking food today?"
In order to buy food, Raphael leaves his family for 10 days at a time in order to collect straw to weave traditional fences. His wife, Phoebe, contributes by making reed curtains, used in doorways. Still, the family spends all it earns on food.
In East Africa, World Vision staff is hearing reports that the region is returning to the drought and hunger crisis experienced last year. Tens of thousands of people died because of last year's famine. With a weakened population, another disaster may spell the end for many more children and families.
Such suffering is unnecessary. Investments in agriculture and nutrition programs -- for which G8 leaders have already committed funding -- could dramatically change the situation for the families like the Raphaels. With proper seed, irrigation, farming techniques, and access to markets and supplies, communities can move from chronic malnutrition to food security. They can become more resilient against drought.
At the 2009 G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, global leaders made significant progress in their commitments to provide $20 billion over three years to help farmers in the poorest countries grow the food those countries need. Another accountability report will be released this week, but last year's G8 accountability report found that only 22 percent of funds had been disbursed and the majority of countries had not fulfilled their commitments (Bob Zacharitz, based on the G8 accountability report).
As these global leaders gather at Camp David, it remains to be seen if they will be able to overcome their own challenges and work in partnership with other African governments and the private sector to address the malnutrition and hunger crisis. No matter how serious the ongoing threats faced by advanced economies, or how real the pain and suffering caused by unemployment and budget deficits, they pale in comparison to the 15 million people who are threatened by the prospect of famine in West Africa.
As Raphael asked, how can we keep seed in our own house while our global family starves? People in countries like the United States or Canada can barely imagine the suffering Somalis experienced last summer as women left their children on the side of the road as they searched for rescue in refugee camps.
In Hollywood, we know things will turn out all right in the end. But in the real world, we are waiting to see if the global leaders gathered at Camp David will emerge as real-life heroes.
Just like The Avengers teamed up to fight for the greater good, we can team up as global poverty fighters through World Vision's HungerFree campaign.