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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 16, 2018

‘You are the future hunger fighters’

MPCHS junior attends World Food Prize in Des Moines
Oct 27, 2017
Photo by: Submitted Shaleen Thiengmany was invited to attend World Food Prize in Des Moines last week because of an essay she wrote about the need for infrastructure in Rwanda.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


As Mt. Pleasant Community High School junior Shaleen Thiengmany presented her class paper to international experts and policy leaders at The World Food Prize, instead of feeling nervous, she felt challenged and supported in her ideas to fight global hunger.

Thiengmany was one of over 1,000 participants at The World Food Prize in Des Moines Oct. 18-21. The World Food Prize is a three-day conference that brings international speakers and high school students together to discuss global food security and nutrition. Thiengmany was chosen based on a paper she wrote for Human Geography in Jen Stater’s class at Mt. Pleasant Community High School.

“Everyone in the conference talked about empowering youth and the belief that anyone in that room could be the next world hunger fighter,” Thiengmany said.

Stater, who has attended World Food Prize four times with students, said that the purpose of the project is to focus on a problem within a country and suggest a well-researched solution. Part of the challenge is condensing information into three to five pages of content. Thiengmany chose the country of Rwanda in Central Africa.

“I looked at Rwanda because their leadership is making so many programs and taking an effort to improve themselves already,” Thiengmany said. “With that foundation, infrastructure would aid in the whole process and speed it up.”

Thiengmany argued that infrastructure, building roads and power plants, would enable farmers to get their crops and goods from farm to market and help the country overall in their sustainability.

Thiengmany presented this theory to three experts in the fields of business, education and policy, one of whom was Dr. Jan Lowe, a 2016 World Food Prize laureate. Lowe has done extensive work in Eastern and Southern Africa and knows firsthand how bad the infrastructure situation is in Rwanda, Stater said.

“That provided a perspective,” Thiengmany said. “When you research, it’s all very disconnected from you, so just getting that experience from her was really interesting. She could correct me wherever I was wrong in my research and was open to other solutions and offered ways I could improve mine.”

Thiengmany was also placed in a group with other students from across the country at the conference. During meals, they were encouraged to sit at tables of three to five people and experts would join them to engage in discussion of ending world hunger.

One of the most powerful parts of the conference for Thiengmany was the Oxfam Hunger Banquet, a meal where people are randomly divided into a class system and served food based on their “economic and social standing.”

Thiengmany drew first class.

While she sat at a dinner table and was served a three-course meal, people in the lower class sat on the floor with only a bowl of rice, no utensils and no plates.

“They just let the experiment take place,” Thiengmany said.

People in second class were offered a buffet line with paper plates and plastic utensils.

“It’s a very humbling experience,” Stater said, who was in lower class this year, but has been in first class in years prior. “It really does cause you to stop and think about the issues people around the world face every day. Ours was just one evening.”

During the week, the high school students also got to go on a field trip to organizations that help with hunger relief, from a refugee farm to the Meredith Corporation, which is a magazine publisher. Thiengmany went to Meredith, where they talked about how they use social media to reach out to farmers.

Another event they participated in was food packaging at the local YMCA through Outreach Program.

Although not previously interested in pursuing agriculture, Thiengmany said the conference introduced her to different branches of agriculture and how everyone can play their part in stopping world hunger.

“I always come back to the whole everyone can contribute something toward agriculture,” Thiengmany said.

Present at the conference were presidents of countries, other political leaders, company CEOs, lead researchers in science and university presidents, Stater said. “It can be very intimidating when you realize how important these people are and the experiences they’ve had,” she said, adding that one year she found herself sitting next to the president of Iceland.

“They repeat over and over, ‘You are the future hunger fighters,’” Stater continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, we’re all there for the same reason, and they seem to really want to invest in the students.”

A revised version of Thiengmany’s paper is due by Dec. 15. If she is selected, she will go through an interviewing process and has the opportunity to be chosen for a Borlaug-Ruan internship position during the summer of 2018. This is an eight-week, all-expense paid internship where students get to work with world-renowned scientists and policymakers to learn about solutions to world hunger.

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