Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

March 13, 2008

On-Line Almsgiving?


Free rice sent when visitors play vocabulary game

Take five minutes online and feed the hungry . . .

Check this out and consider recommending a brand new website where your students can donate free rice to the hungry while playing an interesting and educational vocabulary game. The "Free Rice" site was created by John Breen, 50, a computer programmer with a heart for the world’s poor and hungry. Breen, who lives in Bloomington, Indiana launched the site in October, 2007, in collaboration with the United Nations and the UN’s World Food Program. Fortunately for Breen and the world’s poor, the website got immediate publicity from National Public Radio, the CBS Evening News and the BBC. Sponsors from all over the country plugged in quickly.

Visitors to freerice.com simply play a vocabulary game, selecting a simple definition for each word. For each correct answer, the site’s sponsors donate 10 grains of rice. To keep the game interesting, the words become increasingly challenging as the gamer plays . . . from easier words like “engage” to more challenging words like “flinders”, “glister” or “chelonian. ” In the first few months of the site’s existence, 16 billion grains of rice were donated.

An anti-hunger activist, Breen and others concerned about world hunger estimate that it would take $195 billion a year to provide enough food for survival for every person on the planet. An estimated 30,000,000 people die of hunger every year. While studying economics at Harvard, Breen discovered that international hunger presents a cruel paradox. In a world where so many die of hunger every day, there is actually plenty of food to go around.

Breen understands that the average well-fed and well-intentioned person just doesn’t know what to do about global hunger. The problem seems too big. People have trouble dealing with the gruesome pictures, the overwhelming statistics. So, Breen broke down the hunger issue. He came up with an ingenious way to give food, little by little – ten rice grains at a time. And it’s fun at the same time.

Helping everyone to see the need is part of the solution, anti-hunger activists say. Helping them see that they can do something is also vital.

In these last days of Lent, remind students that though Lent is quickly coming to an end, the Gospel mandate of Matthew 25 to help the poor never ends. We must feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, Jesus said. “What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

Lesson Plans
1. Share some current statistics about hunger in the U.S. and in the world. For example, according to Bread for the World:
• More than 854 million people in the world go hungry.
• In developing countries nearly 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition.
• In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.


2. Remind students that almsgiving or giving to the poor is one of the three pillars of Lent. But neither almsgiving nor prayer and fasting should be shelved until the next year, once Lent ends.

Extending the Lesson
1. If possible, use a laptop or classroom computer to display the Free Rice website (www.freerice.com) for students. Make the point that one person used his creativity and modern technology to create a whole new way to feed the hungry. Free Rice is almsgiving on-line, but the only cost to users is their time.

2. Invite students to breakdown into small brainstorming groups of three or four. Challenge each group to come up with at least two viable ways in which their school could help feed the hungry. [Note: Programs do not have to be sponsored websites like that developed by John Breen. Nor do programs need to be without cost to participants]. Save time for the groups to share their ideas. Vote on and adopt one for post-Lenten almsgiving.


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