The internet is so slow here I haven't been able to upload my blogs posts I've been writing so the following post is actually from Monday, our first day at SIFAT. More to come soon!
May 13th, 2013
If I had to describe my mood in one word it would be happy. My heart is happy. Plain and simple.
I can’t tell you how amazing it is to be here at SIFAT with like-minded people. I feel so at home. Already this experience has reinvigorated a part of me that I sometimes forget I have. However, before I delve into the deep stuff I will give you a brief overview of what we did today and will be doing pretty much everyday:
Everyday we have 5 sessions starting from 8:15am going to around 8:00 pm with brief breaks for meals and snacks. Because the course is centered on the issue of world hunger, all of the sessions are conducted by experts in their respective fields and all pertain to hunger and community development in one way or another.
In many of my international studies courses we would briefly touch on the subject of hunger and food security, but never in enough detail to really understand the gravity of the situation. In the first day we began to explore the root causes of hunger and the current state of world hunger in our first session. We split into groups to make lists of what we think are the root causes of world hunger. I was in a group with one of the girls from Honduras. We actually have 5 students here from the agricultural university of Honduras, as well as a Zimbabwean, Haitian, Bolivian, Nigerian, a couple and their sweet son from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We also have a girl from Somalia, Eritrea, and an international trainer and a doctor both from India, 2 students from Auburn University, and 4 students from Kent State in Ohio. And despite all of this diversity UAB students are still the majority here! This makes for some interesting conversation and a dynamic group.
Anyway, I digress. In the first session we split into groups and it was really wonderful to realize that at the end of the discussion all of the groups had highlighted many of the same causes of hunger and were able to come up with some that I had never even thought about. We mostly discussed the roles of disempowerment, gender inequality, war, corruption, and lack of infrastructure and knowledge of good agricultural processes that all cause hunger.
Our next session was titled the “dimensions of world hunger” by Dr. Kate Thornton (the director of the Hunger Studies department from Auburn University) where we discussed what world hunger really means and the different faces of hunger in different areas of the world. Interestingly, nutritionists and hunger experts consider obesity a type of malnutrition because obese people are actually not getting all of the micronutrients they need and are usually consuming too many carbohydrates and lipids.
The afternoon was what I was really looking forward to because we got to get our hands dirty. The founders of “Leaf for Life,” Dave and Theresa Kennedy, are here to teach us about the value of green leaves and how we can garden for maximum nutrition in low resource settings. In just an hour and a half our group was able to make an 8 cubic meter heat compost and a small community garden. They are self proclaimed leaf nerds and for good reason! After talking with them I will probably never buy iceberg lettuce again because of its low nutritional value and the fact that it is grown in deserts in the West. Iceberg lettuce is 96% water and so obviously in order to grow it; it must be supplied with a lot of water. In order to grow them in deserts they irrigate much of the freshwater supplies away from the rivers and aquifers, draining the water to produce a food with no nutritional value whatsoever. Another interesting thing I learned is that the world has gotten exceptionally good at producing food, but the system is failing to produce food that is sustainable, of high nutritional value, and that is equally distributed. The world actually makes enough food for every person to eat 2,700 kCalories everyday when the average person only needs 2100 kC’s. So why do people go hungry? If only there were one reason, but the issue is so complex that it seems a bit depressing.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on about all of the depressing things I learned, but they promised that by the end of our 2 weeks here we will better understand the state of the world’s food situation, but they will also equip us with powerful tools to help combat this. In the meantime, I’m gaining so much optimism just being surrounded by this extremely motivated group. I am making a concerted effort to reach out to every person here. Even as a person used to meeting new people and travelling, it is still very easy to get wrapped up in one group or another, especially when your classmates are the majority of the group. However, I know the people that are here have so much to share and such a passion for what we are studying. The lady from Bolivia, her name is Eva Maria, carries her pen and paper around with her, even to the garden, so that she write down every valuable word that our instructors say, as if they are precious jewels. She often comes to me to translate just so she can be sure she understood them correctly and she is constantly asking me about my experiences and my thoughts. I’ve only known her for a day and I am already so inspired. I know she is going to take what she learns here and bring it to her people and I hope that everyone else is going to do the same.
Our day ended with a talk from Sebastian Kalinde that is here with his wife (Kaimba) and son (Sante) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are here to share their story about escaping the Congo to Zambia in the 90’s as refugees during the civil war. They later relocated to the US, but are returning this year to help build a village in the Congo where the refugees are finally able to return to their home country. You can see the hope in their eyes when they talk about returning and building their new community. Inspiring does not say enough.
I know this post has been long, so as I get to know them this week I hope to be able to recount their story to you.
So, from what I learned today I am challenging you to eat more green leaves and think about starting a garden of your own. Even I started growing herbs in my house a couple months ago because I think that if we can start taking small steps we will be able to relearn old skills that will serve us well in the future. Because one thing is for sure, the current state of our food system is not going to be able to last and we will need the ability to adapt.
Below are some pictures from our first day!
Peace and green leaves!
A few of us on a hike. (from left to right Me, Letson, Hailey, Kate, Chelsea, Jonathan)