Local congressmen and World Vision, a nonprofit relief organization, yesterday called on Washington-area residents to fast for a weekend in April as part of a new fund-raising drive to help starving Africans.
World Vision officials said they hope to raise at least $500,000 locally and to get 10,000 to 20,000 people to participate in the "planned famine" set for April 26-28.
If the "Get Hungry" effort is successful here, the first test site in the country, the organization plans to use the strategy nationally for raising famine relief funds, said Jerry L. Poe, World Vision leadership development director.
"We can identify with this human tragedy in Africa in a very personal way" by fasting, said Sen. Paul Trible (R-Va.) at a news conference announcing the campaign. "At the same time we can raise dollars that will provide help to millions and millions of people."
Trible said he and his wife, Rosemary, plan to visit feeding camps in Ethiopia, the Sudan and Kenya next week, and that he wants to help develop a long-term aid program for African countries hard hit by drought and famine.
D.C. Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy and Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) and Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), also endorsed the April weekend fast. They also called for more long-term development solutions to the drought and famine.
"I'm hopeful that the attention that has been drawn to the famine in Africa will move us to adopt foreign aid policies that would take some of our development capabilities to those nations" and result in investments to resolve long-term problems, Fauntroy said.
Campaign organizers said the fast would help keep Americans aware of the African famine, which they said has been going on for more than a decade but which only recently has gained attention in the United States.
Participants in the District, Maryland and Virginia will fast for 40 hours, from 8 p.m. Friday until noon Sunday.
They will either donate the money they would have spent on meals or get others to sponsor them at a rate of between 10 cents and $2 per hour fasted.
Those who wish to participate were asked to call 1-800-4-HUNGER.
Ten percent of the funds raised will go to hunger and emergency shelter projects in the District, Maryland and Virginia, campaign organizers said.
About 6,400 Ethiopians, mostly children, die every day, and 5.5 million face starvation, according to World Vision. The international relief organization has carried out relief efforts in Ethiopia for 13 years, Poe said.
Asked what he would say to low-income people here, who have been hit by federal budget cuts, Trible said: "Each of us as individuals must respond as generously as we can to the human problems of this world at home and overseas. This is one way in which we can make a difference."
"I have been proud of the selflessness the American people have shown, particularly that the poor American people have shown, on this question," Fauntroy said. "They, like the old Indian adage, recognize that they have to stop complaining about having no shoes when they remember that there are those that have no feet."