21 billion grains of rice generated by popular UN-backed Internet game

7 March 2008 – With between 300,000 and 500,000 people playing it daily, an Internet game that to date has generated 21 billion grains of rice for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is proving to be an online sensation.

Launched six months ago, freerice.com is an interactive vocabulary game in which players donate 20 grains of rice to WFP every time they answer a question correctly, allowing children to simultaneous bolster their vocabularies and help feed the world's hungry.

The money raised from advertising is used to underwrite FreeRice's donation to WFP, and so far, enough rice has been generated to feed 1.1 million hungry people for one day.

The first recipients of the website's aid went to refugees from Myanmar taking shelter in Bangladesh.

“This rice I receive from WFP allows me to feed my family adequately,” said Gool Bahar, 39, a widow supporting her family in the Nayapara refugee camp by growing vegetables.

Additional rice has also gone to Ugandan schoolchildren and pregnant and nursing women in Cambodia. The next batch will be distributed to Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.

“I never imagined that things would move this fast or that it would be such a success,” said the game's creator John Breen, an online fundraising pioneer from the United States. “Quite apart from the actual amount of rice generated, FreeRice is a fantastic way of spreading the message about world hunger.”

A new audio function lets players hear how words are pronounced, and Mr. Breen said a team of lexographers is working to expand the database of 10,000 words. To scale up the game's appeal to younger and non-native English speakers, visitors can now select the level of difficulty to start out at.

Teachers have voiced their appreciation for a vocabulary game that has the power to draw their students in.

“You cannot imagine the joy in my heart when I look out and see 25 kids doing vocabulary homework and enjoying it,” one teacher from California told the School Library Journal.

The appeal of the online game to children is such that freerice.com 'communities' have blossomed on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

“Wow this is so great! You prepare for English tests AND help out others. My total count so far is 6,100 grains,” a New York high school student said in a comment on Facebook.


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