I grew up with older brothers who lived and worked in different countries around the world. They would bring home pictures and stories of the people who lived there, and I knew I wanted to go see for myself.
So, I volunteered with the Peace Corps. I was placed in Morocco, where I taught English and health education. I helped families learn to better nourish their children and helped them bring a clean water and sanitation system into the local school.
My time in Morocco as a Peace Corps Volunteer taught me life lessons that I still draw upon today. I saw the challenges the people I lived around faced every day, close up. This changed my worldview, and it is something I’ve carried with me through my career in development and to the work I do every day in leading Feed the Future.
Over my career, I’ve seen that volunteers are true problem solvers. They have the unique opportunity to deeply connect with the people they interact with through their service. Through these connections, they change perceptions (their own included), develop and teach new skills, and build lifelong relationships.
Volunteers are a critical part of the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative. They are that “last mile” of development, reaching people at the grassroots level. They bring valuable perspectives, insights and strengths to the work that organizations like USAID do to combat the root causes of hunger and poverty.
This International Volunteer Day, we’re sharing our appreciation for these changemakers by highlighting three volunteer programs that contribute to Feed the Future: Farmer-to-Farmer, Partners in Food Solutions, and the Peace Corps.
The U.S. Congress first authorized the John Ogonowski and Doug Bereuter Farmer-to-Farmer Program back in 1985 to enable American agricultural specialists to share what they know with farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, associations, universities and financial institutions in developing and middle-income countries.
Through a two to three-week assignment, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers help their counterparts improve day-to-day operations. The work is intense and personal, building friendships that last long after the assignment and deepening understanding between Americans and citizens of other countries.
This past August, I spent an afternoon with eight of these volunteers in Durham, North Carolina. These men and women were experts in a variety of areas, from horticulture to higher education, but they all shared one passion: using their knowledge to improve the lives of their colleagues abroad. It was inspiring to hear their stories and enlightening to hear what they had learned during their assignments.
Another volunteer who inspires is Dan McGrath, an entomologist from Oregon that helped Northern Ghana fight back an infestation of black ants that were decimating maize harvests. Dan worked with Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture during his volunteer assignment to help it develop and implement integrated pest management approaches, such as planting trees in strategic locations, using traps, and judiciously applying pesticides to stop the ants. Dan returned the next year and was happy to see the Ministry implementing the solution in a cost effective way.
More than 19,000 American volunteers like Dan have directly helped 1.5 million farmers and other agriculture professionals around the world through Farmer-to-Farmer.
I also visited with volunteers at the headquarters of Partners in Food Solutions while I was in Minnesota this September. Founded by General Mills in 2009, Partners in Food Solutions brings the business and technical expertise of major food companies to help their counterparts in Africa. Employees from companies like General Mills, Cargill and Hershey volunteer their time to share their experience and expertise with dynamic and promising food processing companies throughout Africa.
While in Minnesota, I heard from Indra Mehrotra, a volunteer who has been with Partners in Food Solutions since the early stages of the program. She has remained captivated by it for a decade thanks to its entrepreneurial nature, something which I admire as well. Similar to the thinking of Feed the Future, Indra believes that we need to unlock the potential of Africa to feed itself and the rest of the world. Partners in Food Solutions has provided her with an avenue to do that. Indra’s passion for nutrition was especially evident when she told her story during our meeting. It shone the spotlight on an important issue that Feed the Future has tackled from the start: that food and nutrition go hand-in-hand and we must address both for a truly food-secure future.
Feed the Future began a flagship partnership with Partners in Food Solutions in 2012 to bring the skills of American workers to Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya and Zambia. Over the initial five years of this partnership, we helped 1,193 food processors improve their operations and catalyzed $12 million in additional local private-sector investment. Our partnership continues as we bring the power of the private sector to bear to create better nutritional options for everyday consumers and more profitable market opportunities for farmers in developing areas of Africa.
Founded by former President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps has been transforming communities through immersive service in 141 countries for over 50 years. I am proud to be one of the 230,000 Peace Corps Volunteers and alumni.
The Peace Corps is one of the U.S. Government agencies and departments that makes up Feed the Future. Volunteers contribute to the initiative by helping individuals, groups and communities gain the skills and know-how they need to promote sustainable agricultural development, better nutrition, and stronger resilience for years to come.
For example, volunteers in Guatemala are working toward this mission by partnering with Guatemala’s Ministry of Agriculture to help municipal-level extension agents share new agricultural practices and improve food security among the families they support.
Volunteers spend several months getting to know their communities and gaining their trust to best understand their needs. By working with young people and women through hands-on activities, volunteers learn where people want to be and what is needed to get there. This is a key question Peace Corps Volunteers answer, and Feed the Future is stronger because of their efforts at the grassroots level.
Since 2012, approximately 1,000 volunteers in 40 countries around the world have supported Feed the Future activities every year, reaching over 40,000 people every year.
Volunteerism is part of our DNA as Americans, from the founding of our country to today. We at Feed the Future believe collaborating with and supporting American volunteers is a valuable part of global efforts to help communities become more resilient and self-reliant.
I applaud these three programs for bringing a spirit of volunteerism to Feed the Future. To the thousands of volunteers who have contributed to Feed the Future — and to those who will serve in the future — we thank you for your dedication and willingness to serve.