Linking Hunger Fighting And Service Learning

Published on 07 February 2014
Fighting hunger is important to students at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio, US. In this photo from 2013, William Lambers, pictured above in the center wearing a white shirt, poses with a class focused on the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

When it comes to teaching about world hunger in your classroom, one challenge is how exactly hunger will fit into your existing curriculum. At the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio, US, students can use their campus activities and “service learning” courses to fight hunger and learn more about it.

There’s no question about it: A college student’s life is busy. Between classes, clubs, intramural sports and internships, there’s hardly a second of free time. However, college is the first opportunity some students have to focus their interests in the specific areas and get involved with the causes they support.

At the College of Mount St. Joseph, students have an opportunity to receive a tuition-free credit hour if they commit to service learning for a cause. “They make service a part of the curriculum,” said William Lambers, a hunger and food aid journalist and Mount St. Joseph’s alum in Cincinnati. For some students, hunger may be the issue they want to fight for, and there are plenty of outlets to choose from.

“You’re committing to an organization for the service learning period, but you’re also learning about the organization,” Lambers said. “Some of the students even end up working for the organization they’re helping.”

While lecturing at the school, Lambers told students about Charity Miles, an app that donates meals for each mile you run, walk or bike. With the Campus Activities Board, it soon became part of student activities.

“People just fell in love with the fact that their exercise was changing people’s lives,” said CAB President Tristan Chaput, a junior at Mount St. Joseph. “Even if they weren’t directly related to the person or couldn’t see their work directly affecting people, knowing that it was helping someone else was a really big factor.”

In addition, the Campus Activities Board began offering gift certificates and other incentives for student participation in Charity Miles or Freerice, WFP’s online vocabulary challenge that donates grains of rice for every correct answer.

Charity Miles and Freerice also gained popularity in classes on campus. Professor Jeff Hillard incorporated Charity Miles and Freerice into his course by offering extra credit to students who track their efforts throughout the semester. For example, for every 1,000 grains earned on Freerice, the student receives one extra credit point. Students receiving an extra credit for additional service learning in a field would also give a presentation on their work.

“I’m advocating that students to get involved in one way or another by recognizing that they can make a difference too, whether it’s for extra credit or a little bit more demanding role,” Hillard says.

Hillard teaches a course called Cincinnati Authors focused on introducing students to local writers. Hillard frequently works with and features Lambers in his classes for his writing as well as his advocacy for hunger and other issues. Hillard says that, if teachers are creative, then they can find a way to work these hunger-fighting programmes into to curriculum.

“I don’t think there’s a course where that can’t be done. I don’t think there’s any subject matter where a teacher who is really thinking about the issue of hunger can’t integrate some material that corresponds with particular activities related to Charity Miles,” he says.

In a model drawn up by Lambers aimed at fighting hunger, students would be able to add an exercise component to the programmes focused on service and learning. For teachers looking to incorporate service learning or hunger lessons into their curriculum, Lambers’ model follows this format:

Exercise (Service) Component: The student walks, runs, or bikes at least 15 miles a week for the semester for Feeding America and/or the World Food Programme. Students also have the option of playing Freerice for at least two hours each week.

Service Component: The student carries out an action on campus or in the community to help raise awareness about hunger. For example, the student can organize a food drive for a local food bank or raise money for a hunger-fighting organization like WFP. Students can take some creative liberty in developing actions in this section.

The Learning Component: The student attends a lecture on hunger with information like hunger causes, strategies for fighting hunger and who are the hungry. Lambers, for example, could serve as a guest speaker for hunger lessons.

While the ultimate decisions on whether activities like Charity Miles and Freerice meet the service learning criteria belong to the class professor and service learning coordinator, these activities benefit WFP for both the awareness they help raise and the meals they provide. This model can help create a starting point for teachers looking to begin service learning programmes in their classrooms. Lambers said it’s important to introduce tools like Charity Miles to students to show how easy they are to use and incorporate into everyday life, and then teachers should give students the opportunity to use them into their own programmes.

“One of the things we try to do is get people to know that the things they do in everyday life, even though they’re far away from these disaster zones that WFP works in, they can do something about it even in their daily lives,” Lambers said.

Lambers began writing about hunger in 2006 after a graduate school discussion about ration cuts in Darfur sparked his interest in the World Food Programme. In the years since, he has written several books on fighting hunger including, “The Spirit of the Marshall Plan” and “Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids around the World.” He also writes about food regularly for the Huffington Post and Examiner.com.

(Photos provided by William Lambers, pictured above.) 

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