Guest Post: By Gavin Armstrong
Today’s blog post is written by Gavin Armstrong. You might remember Gavin from this post. As promised, Gavin has taken some time to talk about what motivates him, and how his journey led him to do something to fight hunger. If you want to learn more about the World Record to Fight Hunger event, click here.
My personal journey to understand and be involved in hunger-related issues began during my undergraduate education when I had a life-changing visit to Botswana. Confronting hunger and poverty issues firsthand made me realize I had a responsibility to act. But where would I start? One billion people in the world suffer from hunger and malnutrition, and I am just one student at one university.
Instead of feeling hopeless, I decided to leverage the University of Guelph’s strong commitment to global sustainability. I signed the university up to be a part of an organization called Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH) and was invited to speak at the 5th Annual UFWH Summit. I had found a network of universities and colleges that had a similar goal… end world hunger in our lifetime.
I then offered to organize the 6th summit in Guelph. This would be the first time the summit would take place in Canada. I had never done anything like this before, but with passion, commitment and perhaps a little luck (and certainly a lot of help from others), I received registrations from over 400 delegates around the world, raised over $130,000 from dedicated organizations whose aim was to make a difference, and most importantly, raised the awareness level of UFWH in Canada.
The theme of the summit was hunger. Issues of hunger and poverty are not divided by any local or global boundary, and most importantly there are absolutely no boundaries between those who have a responsibility to act.
My journey did not end with the summit. As part of my involvement with these activities at the University of Guelph I was invited to travel to Dadaab, Kenya on July 20th, 2011—the day the UN declared famine in the Horn of Africa. With close to 500,000 refugees expected by the New Year, Dadaab is now the largest refugee camp in the world. When originally established, there were 300 war victims arriving daily. Since March 2011, there have been up to 1,500 starving people on the doorstep of the camp. Most are on the brink of death, holding children (some alive, some perished), and begging for help.
I witnessed a humanitarian hunger disaster unfold before my eyes. Nothing could have prepared me for the horrors experienced on this trip. Logistical challenges, dwindling supplies, inadequate financial support and stubborn governments painted a bleak picture of unnecessary suffering and death. I wanted to shut my eyes and hide in that ignorance. At the lowest point, I wanted nothing more but to escape. Imagine how the refugees felt!
There was, however, a positive experience that revitalized my spirit. I was able to tour the schools and meet the students. These students were not distraught, hopeless or bleak. They were happy, smiling, and full of energy. They traveled for hours a day to attend school so they had a chance to leave the camps and attend post-secondary education. They have the same aspirations as high school students back home, but the stakes are much higher.
And now I feel a real obligation to be involved, to speak out for the hungry wherever they are, and to do everything in my power to change individual perspectives and influence government policies.
I returned to Guelph with a simple goal: pack 150,000 meals in 1 hour and raise awareness about hunger. On September 17th, 2011, nearly 800 people from both the university and the local community came out and participated in the event. In the hour we did not make the 150,000 goal…we exceeded it and packed 159,840 meals in 60 minutes, a Guinness world record. The following year members from the Guelph community came together to pack 300,000 meals. Following our tradition at greatly exceeding our goals we packaged 350,614 meals in 60 minutes. This year I am really raising the bar. I have set a goal to package 650,000 meals.
I also want to make this a national challenge. Can universities across the country join forces and pack a million meals in an hour? This time next year you’ll read about a million meal world record and you’ll know which university led the charge. But I am not unusual. We all have the power and potential to do something: to advocate for the hungry who are voiceless despite being a billion strong.
So every day you should have plenty to think about. Just ask yourself the question “What am I doing to make a difference and who can make one with me?”