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How one company is helping hungry children

Harvesting kale for school lunch. Free the Children hopes to see gardens spring up in 650 schools

Courtesy of Free the Children

Free the Children is taking new steps to tackle world poverty by partnering with Canadian-owned PotashCorp. of Saskatchewan Inc. to build world food security.

It's a basic issue that requires long-term thinking and long-term work. Nearly a billion people in the world – one in seven – face extreme hunger and malnutrition. Failing crops and rising prices for food staples such as wheat and rice leave many families without the means to feed themselves.

"Hunger is one of the top five killers of children," says Craig Kielburger, Free the Children's co-founder and volunteer ambassador. Outbreaks of hunger and famine used to be thought of as one-time events – looking at the problem of food security makes it easier to look for lasting solutions.

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According to Free the Children, more than 40 per cent of Africans can't afford day-to-day food. Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and one in four children in developing countries is underweight.

Experts have begun to look at hunger more systematically. Chronic hunger draws people into a cycle of poverty that makes it harder to benefit from the other pillars that Free the Children identifies as basic – the need for sustainable incomes, education, better health care and clean water.

"We were seeing that our model was being stressed," Mr. Kielburger says. Children who are hungry can't afford to go to school, and their health suffers as they seek work to stave off starvation.

The challenge is compounded because most community members in Free the Children's countries of operations are subsistence farmers. When their crops fail, they can't feed their families when a crisis hits.

"We see a crisis capture the headlines, then there's an extraordinary output of compassion, and then it's off the headlines," Mr. Kielburger says. "It's something we were exposed to 20 years ago, when the LiveAid images of East Africa dominated the news. It was thought of as a one-time thing."

Individuals and governments often give generously, "but it's far more expensive to ship aid," he explains. Making food security a designated priority "is a matter of establishing a long-term, sustainable solution."

PotashCorp. came aboard as a multi-year sponsor because "we believe we can ignite positive change," says Bill Doyle, the company's president and chief executive officer. "We approached Free the Children because they share many of our values, starting with the importance of service."

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"We see this partnership as an opportunity to encourage service in the communities where we operate and to have a significant impact on food production in the parts of the world that most need our help." Focusing on food security means bringing in programs to Free the Children's communities, schools and volunteers – such as training, education and resources for farming practices. For example, Mr. Kielburger hopes to see gardens spring up in 650 schools as a result of this initiative.

PotashCorp. is also supporting Free the Children's work with six communities in India, China and Kenya on agricultural initiatives at home, school and in communities. The company is encouraging its employees to volunteer directly, in Canada, and with 25 employees travelling overseas. It is also sponsoring 25 students from across Canada to travel overseas to volunteer in a Free the Children community.

Even if you're not chosen to travel abroad, you can make a difference to food security here, Mr. Kielburger says. "We're literally going to come to your door this year."

That will happen this Halloween. Free the Children is behind something called We Scare Hunger. Kids across Canada are being asked to take the non-perishable goodies from their trick-or-treat bags to the nearest food bank.

Editor's note: this is a corrected version of the story.

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