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Fighting Global Hunger in the Classroom

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When Hanna Helmersen was a 6th grader in Norway, she learned about hunger and suffering firsthand. It was 1944, and Norway was under Nazi German occupation during World War II. Food shortages were aplenty for Norwegians. Normal supplies were disrupted by the war, and occupation forces took what they wanted.

It was even worse for Russian prisoners of war, who were not far from Hanna’s home near Narvik. In her book, “War and Innocence,” she describes these prisoners as hungry and ragged. Hanna and her classmates had an idea. They asked their teacher to get permission from a German guard so they could give the Russian prisoners some food. It worked, and the students gave the famished prisoners their soup. What precious little they had, they gave.

Hanna’s class learned valuable lessons about hunger and how to take action against it. Today, students can also follow their example in many ways. One of the best tools is Free Rice. With this game you can practice vocabulary, math and many other subjects. And in doing so, you are achieving the same result as Hanna and her class, giving food to those who need it.

When you play Free Rice, each correct answer leads to a donation of rice to the World Food Programme. The donation is paid for through advertising on the site, so companies are also encouraged to visit Free Rice and discuss sponsorship.

Earlier this month, College of Mount St Joseph education students gave a thumbs up to Free Rice and its learning and hunger fighting tools. It offers a way teachers can integrate social action and responsibility into their lesson plans.

There are other ways too. For instance, Social Studies curriculum spends a good amount of time covering both world wars. But to get the complete story of these wars, you have to examine the massive hunger crisis that accompanied each one. In the Mount St. Joseph class, I showed a film of George Marshall discussing hunger in Europe after the war. His famous Marshall Plan, which shaped the whole post-war world, rested on a foundation of food.

College of Mount St. Joseph education students, with World Food Programme site in the background, are examining ways to incorporate global hunger issues into their lesson plans.

Not only can the study of hunger and food security issues give a student a better understanding of how history has been shaped, it also gives valuable insight into today’s current events. For nothing is more basic to the world than its need for maintaining an adequate food supply. Without it, a nation can plunge toward chaos and we saw some examples of this with protests during the food price crisis of 2008 and more recently in Mozambique.

To understand countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, you must examine the issues of access to food. Millions of people in those countries do not receive proper nourishment. As a result, whole generations are stunted in mind and body. These nations simply cannot progress without food. As Marshall himself said, “Food is the very basis of all reconstruction. Hunger and insecurity are the worst enemies of peace.”

Catholic Relief Services features educational materials at its website. Listen to an audio description of these materials.

The World Food Programme has a Students and Teachers website.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.