October 24, 2009
Cortland students learn about world food issues at conference
Cortland High School seniors Charles Anumonwo and Beau Lacey became interested in how food fits into global politics in different ways.
Anumonwo’s parents are from Nigeria and his mother teaches the geography of Sub-Saharan Africa at SUNY Cortland, so he has traveled with her and, at the same time, has grown interested in biotechnology.
Lacey, at age 10, began becoming fascinated with cultures and history across the world, most recently the Middle East.
The two found an outlet for their interests when they spent a few days at the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa, from Oct. 14 to Oct. 17.
The World Food Prize is similar to the Nobel Peace Prize, given to someone in the world who has done great things in behalf of the food supply and making sure people have enough to eat.
The institute was a gathering of 100 American high school students and 15 international students. They heard lectures about international politics and how it relates to food. They did a project, stuffing 15,000 meals into boxes for distribution in Tanzania.
“Just amazing, overwhelming,” was Anumonwo’s assessment of the event. “Everybody you met there was so accomplished. You might sit at lunch with a physician from Bangladesh. You saw world leaders in their fields.”
“The food was interesting,” Lacey said. “A soy conglomerate was a sponsor, so we ate a lot of tofu.”
Their sponsor was Lori Megivern, Cortland High School social studies teacher, who learned of the institute and asked her students last summer if they wanted to compete for the right to go.
Twenty Cortland High School students wrote essays about politics and world hunger. Ten of them were selected to present their ideas at Cornell University’s New York Borlaug Youth Institute on Sept. 19.
Lacey and Anumonwo were chosen along with two students from Ithaca and Southern Cayuga high schools to represent New York state. Cortland High ninth-grader Ruohan Zhang was an alternate.
The two seniors are applying for internships that would allow them to work with food programs, either in the United States or across the world.
The driving force behind much of the competition, besides the global institute itself, was Cortland native Catherine Bertini, former president of the World Food Bank and United Nations under-secretary general, herself a winner of the World Food Prize.
“I was thrilled that people from Cortland were interested in this work,” Bertini said Friday by phone from Indianapolis, where she was a speaker at the national Future Farmers of America meeting.
Bertini, now a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Administration, said an experience similar to the two boys’ launched her career when she was 15.
“My father sent me to a political institute at Colgate, and it put me on my career path,” she said. “So I see how powerful a thing like this can be.”
“The whole purpose is to engage and inspire a whole generation of future leaders,” said Keegan Kautzky, one director of the World Food Prize Foundation’s youth program. “At 16 or 17, you can be already thinking about solving the world’s problems.”
Lacey wrote his essay about stabilizing Somalia’s government. He has applied to SUNY Geneseo, SUNY New Paltz and American University to study international relations.
Anumonwo, whose father is a professor at the University of Michigan’s medical school, wrote his essay about the Nigerian government’s allocation of food. He is applying mostly to Ivy League schools to major in biotechnology and cellular biology.
“I wrote about small farmers, who grow crops to export, so they have money but no food,” he said. “They grow soy, corn, sugar cane.”
Lacey and Anumonwo also made friends.
Lacey met a girl from Kabul, Afghanistan, and a boy from Kosovo who roams the world with his family. Anumonwo still talks via Facebook with a boy from Nigeria.
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