This past weekend, university students gathered in Honduras for the first-ever Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit organized outside of North America. The Summit brings together students to learn about real-world hunger solutions from experts and leaders. Meet one Auburn University student from the United States who attended the Summit. She was already engaged in solving hunger, but here’s her account of how the Summit opened her eyes to new challenges – and new hope.
Hi y’all! My name is Meredith and I’m a student at Auburn University in the United States studying Pre-Med Nutrition Science. I’m passionate about helping people, and since I’m from the South, you know that means feeding them. However, my little po-dunk hometown in rural Alabama seriously limited my paradigm of the hungry in the world. I’ve seen the pictures and watched the non-profit documentaries and even put some change in the bucket for different hunger-related NGOs. But hunger wasn’t real to me. Not until I arrived in Honduras for the Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit and stared it right in its face.
“Honduras is a land of extreme poverty, but also of great beauty. Look for the beauty.” These were the words offered to me on the flight into Tegucilgapa by a native Honduran. She did her best to prepare me for her gregarious culture- lots of hugging and kissing and noisy conversation (sounded like the good ol’ South to me!). Despite her best attempts, nothing could truly prepare me for what I was about to experience.
Driving through Tegucilgapa, the poverty I had seen in photographs and movies came to life. Ran-shackled buildings seemed to cover every inch of the hilly city. The streets were lined with hunchbacked old men peddling soft drinks and scarves, small, lanky children dribbling soccer balls, and scattered heaps of trash. Motorcycles darted in and out of traffic, and I winced as our daring driver steered our bus through the chaos like it was a sports car. As we made our way out of the city and into the countryside, the houses grew scarcer, and even smaller and less put together. Even the cows crossing the road (talk about a traffic stop) were thin and bony.
After six hours over the rutty, dry roads on the rural Honduran terrain, we finally reached our destination, Catacamas. Students from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura greeted us with open arms and a home-cooked feast of traditional Latin food (think beans and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner- muy delicioso!). After dinner, we headed back to our retreat and prepared for the start of the Summit.
The next day started early with a cold shower. Upon reaching the conference, we listened to speeches from several national and world leaders including the President of Honduras about our common objective: eradicating hunger. I’m still in awe of the situation in which I sat. In that moment, in that crowd of more than 300 people, each individual seemed to lose his or her own identity. Nationality, race, age, gender, education level, and socioeconomic status made no difference. We were all members of humanity, meeting together to solve a problem that collectively we have the knowledge and resources to resolve.
I had the opportunity to meet a local Honduran family thanks to the proficient Spanish skills of one of my friends. We met three children and their grandmother who were helping serve food and cleaning up. Although my Spanish vocabulary limited me to saying “Hello” and “How are you?” words weren’t even necessary. When Abuelita saw us talking to her grandchildren, she came over and wrapped us in a tight embrace that didn’t let go. She kissed our cheeks, and the kids wrapped their arms around our waists. The Honduran people are unapologetic in the way they show love. Sometimes it’s too easy to believe the world is full of people with crossed arms and clenched fists, but the hospitality and generosity of these people opened my eyes to the power of an open mind and a giving heart.
During our stay we had the awesome opportunity to visit a children’s home across the street from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura. Forty-eight children reside in the refuge of Por Los Ninos where they receive a safe, stable environment, a first-class private education including English classes and computer education, nutritious meals and clean water, and lots of hugs and kisses. Some of the kids that had grown up were attending college right across the street and well on their way to becoming the next successful farmers of Honduras. Investing in the future agriculture leaders of tomorrow is a huge step in fighting hunger at a local and international level. The love and encouragement shown at Por Los Ninos provides children with not only hope, but also the tools to be a thriving citizen that can better his or her country.
As I listened to international diplomats, leaders of various NGOs, and students not much older than myself, I experienced hope. However, in the words of Auburn University’s own Dr. June Henton, “Hope is not a plan.” I see the potential of my peers. The world doesn’t need another club to simply discuss hunger. The world needs people who take action and are willing to commit their lives to feeding the hungry and being the voice for the helpless. I can give my time at a local food pantry. I can financially support one of the numerous non-profit organizations that fight hunger globally and locally. I can choose to support local agriculture and make more sustainable food choices. I can make myself knowledgeable of agricultural legislation and support political representatives that share my concern for small farmers and hungry people. There are so many “little” things that can be done right now; the war on hunger begins where we are with what we have. Take action in the everyday circumstance.
Look for the beauty.