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Hungry for Solutions: Can the Youth Fix the Future?

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate
Related Tags: Education Trends, All Grades
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On a recent late summer morning in Portland, Oregon, I walked past the downtown farmers' market, where vendors were setting up their lush displays of fruits and vegetables. Food was on my mind, but for a different reason. I was on my way to a forum for young people about how they could help fight world hunger.

The Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization headquartered in Oregon, hosted the Portland Youth Summit as part of its Global Citizens Corps. According to Erin Thomas, who served with the Peace Corps before working with Mercy Corps, the organization is increasingly looking to young people to help find solutions for global problems such as hunger. "We need your ideas to solve these problems," she told the audience of teens and young adults. "You are inheriting these challenges. Will you be ready to move forward as global citizens?"

As the panel of experts explained to a full auditorium, hunger is a multifaceted problem with no easy fixes. They told the story with stark statistics (one death from hunger every 3.6 seconds), photographs (showing parched fields and stunted crops), maps, graphs, and impassioned rhetoric ("Hunger steals the future").

I couldn't help but think that teachers who bring a topic such as hunger into the classroom create the perfect setup for interdisciplinary learning. Getting students to think hard about the causes of hunger -- and potential solutions -- will address a range of content areas, from math to social studies to language arts to health. It's also an opportunity to connect global learning with local action.

If teachers integrate service learning into the lesson, students may wind up leading community-action teams, using digital tools for public-awareness campaigns, or applying language arts to advocacy efforts. If students probe the problem of hunger from many angles, they will learn far more than they would by doing a more traditional food drive.

Resources for tackling world hunger as a classroom topic are plentiful. Many educators use Oxfam America's Hunger Banquet as a powerful simulation activity to introduce the subject. Feeding Minds Fighting Hunger -- a global education initiative -- includes classroom materials appropriate for elementary school, middle school, and high school. (You can also check out the related Edutopia video about Heifer International, A Night in the Global Village: Role-Playing Life in Poverty.)

The Global Citizen Corps Web site is another resource worth exploring. It not only includes information about hunger and other hot topics but also offers opportunities for students to get involved. Appropriate for teens, the site has forums where students can voice their ideas and find resources for planning community-action or advocacy projects. It's also a place where students can pose questions to those working on solutions. As the Mercy Corps's Erin Thomas explained, "You can get information directly from humanitarian-aid workers. If you have questions about what's going on in a specific location, you can ask people working in the field about it."

Of course, hunger is not a problem that only happens far from home. According to an advocacy organization called Bread for the World, one in ten households in the United States faces a food shortage. That means students can find experts to interview right in their own backyards -- at the local food bank, soup kitchen, or other agency trying to fill the hunger gap.

Here are some more resources for planning integrated studies about hunger:

  • The Empty Bowls Project: Nearly twenty years ago, a Michigan art teacher had a novel idea for a student service project -- students made ceramic bowls to support a food drive. They served guests soup and bread, and then invited them to keep the bowls as a reminder of hunger in the world. The Empty Bowls Project has grown to involve schools across the United States in creatively supporting local food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations that feed the hungry.
  • World Food Day USA: A variety of educational organizations, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, sponsor World Food Day USA, which is scheduled this year for October 16. The Web site includes resources, project ideas, and links to local events.
  • Kids Can Make a Difference: Geared to secondary school students, this program offers a curriculum that encourages kids to look at the root causes of hunger and then plan follow-up actions of their own.

Have you ever explored hunger as an interdisciplinary topic? What were the outcomes? How did students respond? Please tell us about your experiences.

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

Comments (13)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Stephanie Cilento's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. As educators, we need to prepare our students to inherit the Earth. We need to teach them how to be good citizens of the world. The Internet has greatly increased our globalization especially in the classroom. It has opened so many different avenues to teach our students about the issues in our world.

As a child of the late eighties and early nineties, I don't think I was educated well enough on the problems in the world. We didn't have the Internet to increase our awareness. I also think that is one of the reasons that I want to teach my students how to take care of the Earth and its people. It is also very important to show our students that our own country is not without its own problems. When our students grow up, they should have a firm grasp on how the world works so that they can help to fix its problems and not perpetuate the problems.

The resources in this blog have been very helpful and I will be sure to use them in my classroom in the near future.

Erin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have always been a firm believer in taking action. If we don't teach our children what it means to get involved, then we don't have much of a future. If our children are passive instead of aggressive, how will we expect initiative to be taken and things to get done? The best way for anyone to learn is to do, and that is just how we teach our children. We model for them, reinforce what it means to get involved, and give them access to participate. One organization that my class participated in as undergraduates was "Read to Feed" (reading books to raise money to "buy" animals to send to families in third world countries). This opened up my eyes to just how simple it can be to get involved and make a difference. The more we expose our children to in terms of global issues, and think of ways to help solve them, the more likely our children will be to understand the world. After all, isn't that our job?

Jaclyn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is very important that we prepare our students to be global citizens. But did everyone forget that there are people starving right here in America? I have had students whose only meal is the free lunch they receive at school. I cannot justify helping people on the other side of the world when there are people down the street from me who could seriously use the help themselves. There are over 16,000 children homeless in New York City alone...has anyone considered helping them?

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