It was an early start but world hunger won’t be beaten by lying in bed! So at 7.00am we caught the train from Newcastle as we took about 20 CAFOD supporters to the Big IF event in Hyde Park.
Before Hyde Park, we travelled by Underground towards Westminster Central Hall for the Ecumenical Service due to start at 11.30. With lots of time to spare, we were feeling quite smug about our efficiency and that we would be early enough to get the best seats in the house…but…”London Underground regrets that this train will terminate here at Victoria.” This wasn’t in the plan! We emerged into the daylight and like Northerners in the Big City for the first time, tried to decide which way to go, left or right. Luckily we chose correctly and came to Westminster Central Hall to see hundreds of CAFOD and our coalition partners waiting to get in.
There were plenty of IF banners on display and lots of fish and loaves making up the letters. Once inside the hall we sang and prayed and listened to faith leaders, including Archbishop Vincent Nichols, as they outlined that hunger is not God’s way and it is up to us to put pressure on our leaders to do the right thing and solve the problem. There were about 3000 people in the hall but two other rooms were used as overflow areas for those who couldn’t be squeezed in. However there was even no room left in the overflow areas and a crowd outside joined in the service on the path outside the Hall.
Once the service ended, we joined the Walk of Witness from the Hall to Hyde Park. Over 3500 people holding their banners, placards and many wearing CAFOD fish and loaf hats (and not just the children!) wound their way across London. Taking in the rear of Buckingham Palace and the upmarket shops of Knightsbridge, we showed that in this world of abundance, people dying of hunger is unacceptable.
Into Hyde Park and we were greeted by rows of tents, one for each of the coalition members’ organisations. Making for the CAFOD area, it was buzzing with activity as children had their faces painted with fish, loaves and the IF logo, teenagers wrote their thoughts about hunger on a graffiti wall while some of our more mature supporters enjoyed the chance for a sit down and a bite to eat.
It was great to see so many happy faces, together for one reason, that being to urge the G8 leaders to fix our broken food system so that no longer will 1 in 8 go hungry each day.
Moving into the main arena, the first speaker was Danny Boyle, film director and creator of the Olympics opening ceremony. He reminded us that we were part of a great British tradition, one that had changed the world, the Suffragettes, Abolitionists, Anti Apartheid campaigners…we were all “People in a Park” and that’s often where great changes start. He ended by saying that ending world hunger would be “the greatest gold medal Britain could win in 2013”.
Bill Gates was loudly applauded, saying: “The UK is keeping its promise to the world’s poor, largely because all of you remind your leaders regularly, and loudly, that this stuff matters. Now is our chance to make a significant difference.”
Other speakers included CAFOD ambassador and Homeland star, David Harewood who insisted “There can be enough food for everyone”. He said: “We’ve already changed the diaries of the G8 leaders, we’ve already changed their agenda. Now we just need to remind them they need to change the world. That’s why we need all of you to speak up today.”
A minute of silence was led by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams for the 3 million children who die each year from hunger.
Dr. Williams, a self confessed “bearded man” then introduced beat boxer Beardyman to lead the 45,000 crowd in a minute of noise “So David Cameron and the G8 know we are here.” The sound was deafening and the “noise petition” was delivered.
Grammy winning singer Angelique Kidjo gave a view from the global south saying “We have to hold our leaders accountable, not just here, but in Africa, so that we’re not just giving money to governments to do what they want with.”
As the Urban Voices Collective close the event, we head for home knowing that we have raised our voices and concerns and a difference had been made. Earlier, at the Nutrition for Growth meeting, an extra $4.1bn was promised to tackle world hunger by 2020.
That was worth getting up early for.