Michigan youth educate others on realities of global hunger and poverty

Michigan youth hosted an eye-opening Oxfam America Hunger Banquet as part of 4-H program focused on leadership and global citizenship.

Developing and nurturing global competence among youth is considered by many educators and policy makers to be critically important and valuable in preparing youth to be successful in meeting the demands of education, employment and citizenship in the 21st century. According to the Council of Chief State School Officer’s EdSteps Initiative and the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning, “The growing global interdependence that characterizes our time calls for a generation of individuals who can engage in effective global problem-solving and participate simultaneously in local, national and global civic life.”

There are many tools and resources available to help spark youth interest in global citizenship and global problem-solving. For those looking to help youth develop global perspectives and competence through high impact educational experiences, the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is an excellent choice. An Oxfam America Hunger Banquet was included as part of the 2016 Michigan 4-H Youth Leadership and Global Citizenship Spectacular, also known as the 4-H Spectacular, which took place Jan. 30-31, 2016, at the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Michigan. The 4-H Spectacular is an annual youth and adult volunteer training conference, led by Michigan 4-H and Michigan State University Extension, with the goal of preparing Michigan youth for effective leadership roles at local, state, national and international levels. The Oxfam America Hunger Banquet at the 4-H Spectacular included 100 youth ages 12-19, 19 adult volunteers and 20 MSU Extension staff members.

An Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is a volunteer-organized and led community-based event that educates participants on the realities of global poverty and hunger. The Hunger Banquet program was designed by Oxfam America, and according to the Oxfam America website, the program has reached over 850,000 people over the past 40 years.

The basic concept of an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet is that participants are divided into three groups – high-income, middle-income or low-income – that are representative of the real world distribution of wealth among the global population. Each person has a different dining experience based on the group they are randomly assigned. Twenty percent of the Hunger Banquet participants draw a ticket to the high-income group, which represents 20 percent of the global population that earns an annual income of at least $6,000. Thirty percent of participants are assigned to the middle-income group, representing the 30 percent of the global population earning an annual income between $1,032 and $6,000. Fifty percent of participants become members of the low-income group, representing the 50 percent of the global population that earns less than $1,032 of income annually.

A Master of Ceremonies welcomes the participants to the Hunger Banquet, speaks about the global distribution of wealth and hunger, and explains what each group of participants in the Hunger Banquet represent in the real world, while sharing examples of people from around the world and their experience with wealth and hunger.

At the 2016 4-H Spectacular, three Michigan youth, Emily Kurburski of Emmet County, Autumn Zwiernik of Shiawassee County and Francine Barchett of Berrien County, were the Masters of Ceremonies at the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet. Kurburski, Zwiernik and Barchett were all participants in the 2015 World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute as well as three of the five delegates chosen to represent Michigan at the 2015 World Food Prize Global Youth Institute that took place in Des Moines, Iowa.

Barchett explained her motivation for hosting the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet as a matter of raising awareness of hunger issues. “Unfortunately, many people are unaware of the magnitude of hunger’s problems. Surely, one of the greatest barriers to extinguishing hunger is not the lack of resources or funds, but the plethora of people who are oblivious to the injustices that are happening,” said Barchett.

During the Hunger Banquet, Kurburski, Zwiernik and Barchett provided a narration on the current state of global poverty and hunger by utilizing a script which was adopted from a toolkit offered on the Oxfam America website. Barchett stated, “We depicted the struggles of men and women around the world to feed themselves and their families.”

Sara Keinath, a MSU Extension educator from Wexford County, provided the keynote speech during the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet by sharing her experiences while she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal.

The inclusion of the Oxfam America Hunger Banquet at the 4-H Spectacular was driven by the suggestion and support of Kurburski, Zwiernik, Barchett and other youth who participated in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. A foundational goal of the 4-H Spectacular, and many other related Michigan 4-H programs, is to prioritize youth voice and create opportunities for youth to practice their leadership skills while being active facilitators of their own and other’s educational experiences.

In addition to other youth-led sessions at the 4-H Spectacular, Kurburski, Zwiernik and Barchett led a 1.5 hour breakout session for conference participants focused on global food access and security. Barchett felt that hosting an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet had the intended outcome of raising awareness among the participants, and she believes the experiences of many people at the program may lead them to take further actions to help fight global hunger.

Barchett said, “Hosting an Oxfam Hunger Banquet was a priceless experience for all of the 4-H Spectacular participants, in that it brought to light the injustices of hunger and proved that each of us has the power to overcome it. Undoubtedly, some people left the event angry about their meal, and rightfully so. Hunger is not fair and the world is not fair, and the sooner we acknowledge these important realities, the sooner we can act against them. The Oxfam Hunger Banquet was the first step in bringing people to grips with hunger.” The responses from surveys completed by conference participants confirm Barchett’s position, with many participants indicating participation in the Oxfam American Hunger Banquet was a powerful and impactful experience.

Oxfam America provides a free, excellent planning toolkit for those interested in hosting an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet in their own community or as part of an event. In addition to the toolkit, Oxfam America offers support to Hunger Banquet planners by providing free posters, fliers, stickers and other resources.

High school-aged youth with an interest in learning more about global hunger and food security may also want to consider participating in the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute on May 12, 2016, on the campus of MSU. Participants in the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute write a short, two- to five-page research paper focused on a developing country and food security factor they choose from a list of options. They then present their paper results to peers and adult experts while learning about how MSU faculty, staff and researchers are working to address global food security. The World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute is a free event, but participants must register and submit their completed research paper by April 8, 2016. Paper writing instructions, registration information and more details are available on the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute website

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