• Seva Corps

LANGAR IN A CRISIS SCENARIO IN LATIN AMERICA: FOOD FOR THOSE IN NEED

Updated: Sep 23, 2021





Starting from the beginning: what is Langar?


several people in masks standing at a counter - a community shelter - with several things, serving food, in Bolivia.
image courtesy of Abhaidev Kaur - personal archive

Langar is a free kitchen, open to all. A place that welcomes and feeds whoever arrives, with no distinction. Langar refers to both the meal and the physical space in which the meal is shared. This space, which was created by Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, in India in the 15th century, has as its foundation the principle of equality among all people, regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, sex or social status, as well as the purpose of eliminating extreme poverty in the world and to give birth to more supportive communities.




Hunger map under pandemic in Latin America


A group of homeless people, on mattresses, with their belongings, feeding themselves on a sidewalk in Chile.
image courtesy of Abhaidev Kaur - personal archive

The world is living in unprecedented times. The economic crisis generated by the pandemic of Covid-19, combined with increasing climate catastrophes and armed conflicts around the world have dramatically increased the number of people who are suffering from hunger over the last few years.


As for Latin America, the pandemic is the most important factor in the hunger risk scenario in many countries, considering that the economic crisis resulting from this emergency has deprived the population of several countries of a source of income, significantly increasing their vulnerability to ensure access to decent and adequate food. In addition to the pandemic, there is also the occurrence of extreme weather events that cross, especially, Central American countries.


Latin American countries tripled their food insecurity in 2020 if compared to the previous year. This information was alerted by the NGO "Acción contra el Hambre", which believes that "without solid protection networks in the form of subsidies, the disease is a condemnation of hunger for those who live in the informal economy, with the loss of their jobs, or who find food even more expensive each day in street markets and supermarkets.”


According to the NGO's report, Latin America registered the largest relative increase in food insecurity in the world last year. The pandemic, in particular, created 45 million new poor people on the continent, which accounts for nearly one-third of the global total of Covid-19 infections, despite having less than 10% of the world's population.


More specifically in Central America, the report warns of an escalation of acute food insecurity in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras due to the double impact of hurricanes in the region coupled with the economic effects of Covid-19. And Haiti remains one of the 10 countries with the greatest food vulnerability in the world, with over 40% of the population with no guarantee of what to eat for their next meal, according to the Global Report on Food Crisis 2021 of the Global Network Against Food Crisis, an institution created by the UN along with the European Union to map world hunger.



Langar in a crisis scenario in Latin America


 two women wearing masks, stirring food in two large pots on the ground, preparing the community's langar - food - in Peru.
image courtesy of Krishan Shiva Singh - personal archive

The life of the native peoples is based on the community and has always had as a guiding principle Sumak Kawsay, or Good Living, which implies taking care of Mother Earth and the social environment so that as individuals we can exist with dignity and integrity, based on the law of reciprocity. In other words, to welcome and serve without distinction, as well as the Langar principle established by Guru Nanak, is one of the founding bases of our ancestral collective identity.


In the current scenario of severe political and economic crisis, Langar, more than a necessary Seva, has been one of the major articulation fronts of the different civil societies in the region, despite the difficulties imposed by the pandemic and the economic scenario itself. Krishan Shiva Singh, a sevadar who has been active in several langars since the beginning of the pandemic in Peru, illustrates how this articulation has taken place in his country: "there are many people who help and respond immediately to a request for help, and not necessarily this network is from within the Sangat, that is, the Peruvian society at the first sign of a disaster or misfortune mobilizes and we all do something to help. And not only the people with greater resources, but also the people who have little means.”


Meanwhile, Abhaidev Kaur, head of Langar at the Fundación Social Amar Das in Chile, reports that initially they prepared and took food only to homeless people, serving a total of 11,000 lunch boxes in 2019. However, with the start of the pandemic, the "community ollas" emerged, which are organized so that the most vulnerable families, many of whom have young children and literally have nothing to eat, can have access to food and with the inclusion of this action they ended last year with 48,000 delivered lunch boxes.


Covid-19 has impacted not only the increasing amount of those who are hungry, but also the willingness of people to serve and take the food to those in need, which has decreased dramatically. Abhaidev adds that "it is a blessing to experience the Universe serving us, because actually if you ask me how the Fundación Amar Das works, I will tell you it is a miracle. The way the money comes in, the way the bill is paid, and the way the food appears is a miracle. And within that miracle what I mostly take care of is that the food is distributed, that nothing is left here, which involves going to the places, being with the people, delivering what is needed, and not just being at the food preparation."


This willingness, which involves diverse situations that individuals' lives have undergone in different dimensions, was a decisive factor for the suspension of the activities of the NGO Cura Ser in Brazil. According to Simrat Kaur, one of directors for the NGO, "we had to reinvent ourselves and today we serve in other online formats, but we continue to use our langar background to raise funds and food and send it to those who are organizing the delivery of food in vulnerable communities.



How to support Langars


people wearing masks serving food - langar - to people camping in an urban public space, in Chile.
image courtesy of Abhaidev Kaur - personal archive

Hunger is a concrete symptom of various structural violences. Therefore, in times of crisis, whether climatic, pandemic, civil conflict or war, it presents itself as a real indication of the adverse situation. And in times of adversity, everyone, in general, is struggling with survival, whether on the more concrete level, or on the more subjective and social level that runs through real life.


So the crisis is a great opportunity for us to achieve what Abhaidev calls "the miracle of manifestation", where it takes "any kind of service - whether with your time, with the money you have available to share, with the articulation of your network of contacts - to be able to offer gifts and serve those who need it most in times of widespread indignity, being hope and encouragement," as Simrat adds.


Even with an immense network of solidarity available in these countries, there is much to be done to get food to those who need it on a daily basis, because hunger is immediate and has concrete impacts, especially on the health and well-being of children and the elderly, but also on the people' vitality and hope to continue through the challenges imposed on them.


For this reason:

- Get connected with a project that is serving those in need;

- Understand how you can serve within your present situation;

- Share the projects that have impacted you in your networks, or that you are part of;

- SERVE, however possible, because the times call us to serve.


a girl at a simple house posing with food just received on the table: onions, root vegetables, beans, and noodles.
image courtesy of Krishan Shiva Singh - personal archive


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