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Rachel Zelon: Founder of Hunger Relief International

Hunger Relief International works in communities facing extreme poverty to provide access to basic necessities like food, clean water, medical care, and education and training to earn an income. HRI deeply examines the issues in a given community and creates tailored solutions that tangibly help people—particularly women and children. Learn more about their holistic programming here!

Can you tell me the story behind Hunger Relief International?

I was a Peace Corp volunteer many years ago, which defined my path in life and led to the eventual establishment of HRI. After working at other organizations, I wanted to get back to relief work. I kept saying to myself— who needs another development organization? But, given my personal experiences, I knew that we could do things differently. I wanted to look at people's lives and communities in a very holistic manner. Starting HRI was an opportunity to take a hard look at extreme poverty and figure out how to mitigate the most negative outcomes, especially for children.

Why is building self sufficiency so important for those with limited access to resources?

We want to increase the capacity of the head of household, primarily women. For every dollar a woman earns, they will put 95 cents back into the household. We want to provide as many people as possible with training so that they can support themselves. We have to look at the whole picture— the inability to feed and care for children is a global issue and hunger is only a part of it. If people have the money to feed their children, there wouldn’t be so many families looking to cross the border. When people fall through the cracks in countries with no social systems to support them, they have nowhere to go. If you want to end extreme poverty, you have to help people generate enough income to have access to basic necessities.

What are the different aspects of your programs and how do they relieve suffering?

We utilize local talent by only hiring from within the country where we’re working. We work in a particular location and figure out why child outcomes are not where they need to be. Extreme poverty is the underlying cause of so many issues, because people don’t have access to food, health care, clean water, sanitation, or education. It impacts the outcomes of children and entire families. I could feed a child 5 great meals a day, but if they are drinking contaminated water, it doesn’t matter what they are eating— that child is going to be sick. We need to look at all the different factors and make sure they are all addressed.

What is the best part of your job?

Our impact might not be as vast as large organizations, but I am proud that we’re able to have a deep, substantive impact on people’s lives by looking at the whole person, the whole community, and the whole problem. If we meet those basic needs, people will begin to thrive and soar. That’s what keeps me, and so many people who work with us, going. My goal is not to eradicate poverty, but to help people live with dignity and have improved living environments that give kids a chance.


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