When I started working for WFP about six months ago, engaging students around the world in the fight against hunger sounded like an incredibly daunting task. However, I’ve been extremely happy with the number of students and teachers who have reached out with interest in helping WFP. On 28 February, I headed to the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit at Auburn University in Alabama, US, and the few nerves I still held that engaging students around hunger would be difficult were cast away by the enthusiasm of the Summit attendees.
When I first arrived, I was immediately struck by the excitement in the air. People were ready to engage and have fun for an important purpose, as students and organizations prepared to take part in the fight against hunger. Roger Thurow opened the morning, sharing stories from his journeys to developing countries while writing his books about hunger, including “The Last Hunger Season.” He told several anecdotes of people he met, but one in particular stuck with me.
He told the story of a young boy, victim of Ethiopian famine, whom he met during his travels. At five years old, the boy came close to dying from his severe malnutrition. Miraculously, he survived. Thurow saw the boy again five years later when he was ten and then again when he was 15. While much healthier, the 15-year-old was very small, appearing to be of elementary school age, rather than a teenager. He was in school, but he was in a class with six-year-olds, rather than with students his own age. Malnutrition in his early years had stunted his mental and physical growth severely.
This story lit a fire in me—we need to join together to really do something about this, I thought. The standing ovation from the crowd indicated that I was not alone.
If there was any question as to how to begin to solve hunger, students were introduced to numerous options. Students could prepare meals with the Campus Kitchens Project, learn how to write a letter to their Congressperson in support of legislation combating childhood undernutrition with RESULTS Educational Fund, or visit the HungerU Mobile Tour bus to take interactive quizzes and learn more about fighting hunger on campus. Scotland’s WildHearts Foundation founder Mick Jackson challenged the crowd to work towards innovative ways to solve hunger. Each activity provided students with ideas for how to fight hunger on campus with a group or on their own.
Students who participated in the Thought for Food Challenge discussed their innovations, all of which have the potential to improve global food security. For example, Henlight, the group from California, US, that won the competition, produced a small, solar-powered light that helps farmers maintain a constant supply of chicken eggs throughout the year, even when production is generally lower due to less sunlight. In addition to highlighting their own innovations, each student encouraged others to find ways to help that highlight their own unique experiences and skills.
I took part on a panel on partnering to end hunger. My message was that students are essential partners to WFP. By hosting fundraisers on campus, engaging social networks and raising awareness in classrooms, students have the ability to make a tangible difference. I encouraged students to use ideas in WFP’s University Pack if stumped on how to get started with campus activities.
By the end of the Summit, my perspective had changed. Student outreach isn’t daunting because there’s so much engagement among students around fighting hunger. Now, in the days and weeks that follow, it’s time for students to act on the enthusiasm from the conference. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help coming up with creative ways to get started.