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UCI Forum Starts Famine Aid Drive

Times Staff Writer

“End the Arican Crisis” proclaimed a banner behind UC Irvine student Johannes Van Vugt as he welcomed about 50 people to a discussion of how to raise cash for African famine relief.

Despite the misspelling on the sign (a correction was swiftly penned in) and small turnout in the university’s Heritage Room Thursday, Van Vugt and other students announced efforts to raise $10,000 a month in donations, most of it from UC Irvine students. Last November, Van Vugt’s weeklong fast with five other students raised more than $33,000 and pledges of about $1,000 a month.

Van Vugt, a graduate student, admitted it might be difficult to get students interested in the forum on hunger, which featured state Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), UCI anthropology Prof. Michael Burton and biology Prof. Howard Lenhoff. “It’s hard to sell,” he said. “But we’ll just continue plugging away. We’ll have our tables up until we get our $10,000.”

Efforts Called Successful

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Garamendi said a visit to Ethiopia last December convinced him that international relief efforts are reaching the famine victims there.

“The aid is getting through,” he said. “People here in America should have no qualms about donating (to any of the 10 groups approved by the Orange County African Relief Fund).”

Garamendi, who worked in Ethiopia as a member of the Peace Corps, said efforts to develop that nation, including digging wells, establishing credit for farmers and improving transportation, need donations of money as well as food. While in Ethiopia, he said, he participated in the construction of a water supply system engineered and paid for by Oxfam America, the Boston-based affiliate of Britain’s Oxford Famine Relief Committee.

Burton said that “the real answer to the African famine problem is to help the small farmers become self-sufficient.”

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Lenhoff said students should push for changes in U.S. policy by lobbying elected officials. After the discussion, a few more students showed up for a concert featuring folk-singer Michael O’Palko and new wave groups such as Raw Material and Greed. A few dozen pledges were piled on the table. Most promised $1 a month, some $5 monthly and others a flat $20 a year.

Goal Is $5 Per Worker

While Van Vugt’s immediate pledge goal is $10,000 a month, he said he also hopes to start a drive to get $5 from each person employed in the county, which he estimated at about 1.2 million people.

He said donations may be sent to Corrine Hansen-Belotti, Associated Students Office, University of California, Irvine, 92717, and the money will be forwarded to Oxfam America. For further information, call 856-5547.

If donations start to ebb and the effort to make Africa self-sufficient flounders, said Garamendi, “There will be no tomorrow for them. It will never come. They’ll be dead.”


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