Fighting world hunger with hunger at home

September 4, 2012 in Scott Montgomery, Water by Roots International

A few weeks ago on International Water Day I tried to celebrate with a full fast.  It was much tougher here in the 100°F+ South Sudan heat, and I nearly passed out at while walking through the UNICEF compound.  Just before sundown I surrendered, because the 16 hours without food or water was as bad as 30 hours from my previous fast, back home in the US.

I realized the news article on that fast from the fall in 2011 had disappeared, but luckily I found it on an internet archive site.  So here it is below:  They never followed up the article, but I went the ten full days with water after day 1 and vitamin after day 5.

Scott Montgomery

Fighting world hunger with hunger at home

A Roanoke County accountant is calling attention to the issue by not eating.

By Beth Macy
981-3435

www.roanoke.com

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stephanie Klein-Davis | The Roanoke Times

Scott Montgomery, 23, started fasting for 10 days a week ago at sundown during the Jewish day Yom Kippur.

More information:

It began at sundown last Friday during the Yom Kippur fast.

Dreadlocked accountant Scott Montgomery was adhering to the Jewish tenet to “afflict your soul” by abstaining from food or drink for 24 hours.

He was working at home Saturday and trying to ignore his growling stomach when the idea occurred to him in a state of “enhanced thinking,” as he recalled.

He’d been searching for a way to support his employer’s in-house campaign to fight malnutrition in Uganda and Ethiopia. His colleagues at Kissito Healthcare International, based in Roanoke County, were already competing with one another, holding yard sales and other fundraisers to see who could raise the most money to purchase Plumpy’nut, a peanut butterlike protein used to combat starvation in the Third World.

Montgomery, 23, would fight hunger with hunger. His own.

He would go on a 10-day hunger strike, with only drinking water to sustain him.

He appealed to 500-plus friends on Facebook that they could save a life if they donated $5 for each day of his strike.

As one contributor wrote on his wall: “We have made a small donation. Now stop starving before you disappear, Scott.”

The Patrick County native earnestly replied: “I can stop starving anytime; we need to help those who cannot without help!”

Program is a partnership

The reaction was mixed at the headquarters of Kissito, a nonprofit with enterprises that range from nine nursing homes in Virginia, Texas and Arizona to seven hospitals in Ethiopia and Uganda.

(Kissito’s international facilities are run in collaboration with governments and nongovernmental organizations.)

Elizabeth Parsons, who directs the international operation, was appreciative but a little alarmed by Montgomery’s gesture. “It’s not like he’s got a lot of extra meat on his bones now,” she said. At 5 feet 11 inches, Montgomery weighed 145 pounds at the start of Yom Kippur but was down to 136 halfway through the strike.

“Seriously,” Parsons added, raising an eyebrow toward him. “If you get dizzy, you have to stop.”

Keisha Graziadei-Shup, the company’s integrated media manager, thought Montgomery’s fundraising stunt was cool and complemented the company’s nontraditional business approach. “I wouldn’t be able to function myself, but props to you,” she told him.

Four days into the strike, Montgomery reported that his energy was low and his emotions dull. “Starving children don’t show emotion, and I’m kind of like that now,” he said Tuesday. “Somebody made a joke yesterday, and I didn’t laugh at all.”

The hunger had lifted, but he was exhausted and sleeping 10 hours a night. He struggled to get out of bed in the morning.

The number of push-ups he was able to muster: one. “Which is not that many fewer than I can normally do,” he said, cracking a smile and, quite possibly after all, a joke.

He hadn’t told his mother yet because he knew she’d worry. Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease his sophomore year at Longwood University, he was already following a vegan diet, eating mainly fruits and vegetables.

He typically eats salad at every meal.

By Wednesday, a friend had persuaded him to take a multivitamin, and he was not ruling out the possibility of drinking fruit juice toward the end of the ordeal.

Montgomery handles accounting for the company’s international operations. It was he who recorded that four women delivered babies via cesarean section in Kissito’s Ugandan facilities one recent day. Before the maternal center opened in March, “That could have been eight deaths instead of four births,” he said.

Kissito’s malnutrition program is an extension of hospital operations in Ethiopia and Uganda, as well as a partnership with a Ugandan nongovernmental organization called Serving His Children, run by Bedford County native Renee Bach. “You look at the press, and sometimes the numbers [of people starving] are so big, people go brain dead,” said Kissito CEO Tom Clarke.

“A lot of people think it’s only happening in Dadaab, a refugee camp in northern Kenya. But the food shortage is all over the Horn of Africa. I was in a town last week where the mayor told me they’d buried 18 children, dead of starvation, in the past 15 days.”

Kissito’s facilities alone have counted nine children this year who were too sick to be rehabilitated. By the time the starving reach the hospitals – Clarke said some walk from Kenya to reach his facilities – they are often so sick they can’t eat.

He spoke from his cellphone in London’s Heathrow airport, en route to Roanoke from Uganda, where he and a Boston University researcher had spent the past two weeks fine-tuning a partnership between BU medical residents and Kissito. Clarke said a partnership with Harvard University’s Global Hunger Initiative is also in the works.

Clarke knew Montgomery was special when he hired him, he said, though his dreadlocks did initially give Clarke pause.

“While some people may say he’s just doing accounting work, he understands his role is critical in saving lives,” Clarke said.

Employees pitch in

On Thursday, Montgomery’s boss sent him on an errand that was not unlike sending an alcoholic into a bar.

Reached on his cellphone, he was standing in a Western Union line to transfer money to Kissito’s international accounts — inside a nearby Kroger. He was also going to buy pomegranate juice for possible use later in the strike but hoped he’d be able meet the 10-day mark on water and vitamins alone. (As of Friday, the juice was still untouched in his fridge. He was down to 134 pounds.)

Companywide, employees had pitched in nearly $7,000 toward the Plumpy’nut campaign. Montgomery’s portion was $576, counting the $150 he would have spent on food, which he also planned to donate. (By his count, one $58 case of Plumpy’nut can save one life.)

During a Friday staff meeting, a manager had passed around a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, apologizing profusely when he realized the candy might be tempting Montgomery. It wasn’t.

Another concerned co-worker offered to buy out his hunger strike early, but Montgomery planned to negotiate a buyout donation at the 10-day mark instead. After all, at 74, Mahatma Gandhi famously survived 21 days of total starvation, and some strikers have fasted as long as 40 days.

Reared in rural Ararat, Montgomery has never traveled internationally and said this was his first act of social protest.

Asked what he planned to eat first after the strike, he smiled shyly and brushed his dreadlocks back from his face.

“A salad, probably,” he said.

 

Copyright © 2013