The UC Irvine Student Center’s Pacific Ballroom was recently the site of a most unconventional banquet. About half of the 180-plus guests sat on the floor. A lucky few were seated at tables covered in white linens and floral arrangements.
Inspired by the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, the event was a metaphor for the inequitable distribution of food and resources on Earth, where your place of birth dictates the fullness of your belly.
Upon entering the ballroom, students, faculty and staff received a card assigning them to one of three groups – low, middle or high income – and, based on this designation, took their places either on the floor, on a chair or at a dining table.
Those on the floor had a simple meal of rice and beans. In stark contrast, those at the tables were served chicken, vegetables, potatoes, bread rolls and lemonade by the UCI dining staff.
The event was a component of Leap of Faith, an interfaith dialogue and community service initiative conceptualized by Armaan Rowther, UCI’s 2011-12 XIV Dalai Lama Scholar. Goals include raising awareness about hunger, promoting volunteerism with local anti-hunger organizations and fostering interfaith engagement on campus.
“As committed to reason and intellect as we must be at the university, I believe the innovations and progress needed to deal effectively with the extent of human deprivation, disparity and suffering in our modern world will be fueled as much by the convictions of our hearts as by the ideas in our heads,” says Rowther, a senior majoring in public health policy.
He hopes that Leap of Faith – a partner in President Obama’s Interfaith & Community Service Campus Challenge, in which institutions of higher education commit to a year of interfaith and community service programs – will help produce ethical leaders committed to the poor and disadvantaged members of the community.
Rowther and Briana Booth, president of the Jewish student group Hillel at UCI, hosted the banquet, which featured a presentation on world hunger by Richard Matthew, director of the campus’s Center for Unconventional Security Affairs, and a panel discussion with Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian residents of Southern California.
Other Leap of Faith events include a Day of Service on April 28, during which students will assist various nonprofit groups providing food to those in need, and a Day of Fasting on May 1, which will conclude at 7 p.m. with an interfaith meal at the UCI Student Center.
On Wednesday, May 2, Rowther moderated a conversation with Queen Noor of Jordan as part of the Orange County Center for Living Peace’s speaker series. The widow of King Al Hussein talked about her efforts in international conflict prevention and encouraged students to “be the change.
“Peace begins with having a sense of peace and acceptance within yourself,” the queen said, “and then it expands to your neighbors, your naton and the larger global commons.
Conducting the interview was a great honor for Rowther, who intends to pursue a career in global health as a physician-scientist.
“I have personally been inspired by Queen Noor’s work with Refugees International as an outspoken advocate for the protection of civilians in conflict and displaced persons around the world,” he says.
Queen Noor returned the compliment, telling Rowther, “You inspire me, Armaan. You have a belief that your efforts can bring people together – you and your family of young people and mentors here at the university. You’re thinking long-term and taking a huge leap of faith.”