You may have recently seen news reports of a suicide bomber who killed five UN World Food Program workers in Pakistan. You may not realize there are layers upon layers of Alabama connections to that terrible tragedy.
Let me first point out the immediate Alabama 4-H link. Along with teaching Belonging, Independence and Mastery, Generosity is a key 4-H value. You and your community helped raise the money used to purchase that Pakistani rice and corn through your kids’ "Alabama 4-H War on Hunger." And the food itself could have easily been produced by Alabama 4-H alumni, since in 2008 our state’s exports of crop production were $473 million. And were the food containers made from Alabama forest products or produced in Alabama paper mills? Possibly.
Alabama is an important center in the world war against hunger. Alabama 4-H has worked with the Auburn University College of Human Sciences and the UN World Food Program to develop the world’s leading curriculum for training young people to fight the "War on Hunger." Anyone in the world can go to the World Food Program or Alabama 4-H websites and find dozens of our activities and project ideas for building kids’ awareness and interest in this crucial issue.
It’s quite an honor when one of your 4-H state staff is at a national or international meeting and a world diplomat says: "Oh, you are from Alabama 4-H! The group involved in the War on Hunger." Half the time they don’t know what 4-H is, but they are anxious to learn about the exciting youth leadership programs Alabama Cooperative Extension System provides our young people.
Alabama young people are deeply committed to making the world a better place. Auburn and Alabama A&M, along with Tuskegee, have strong international presences. Our students travel the world learning and teaching about agricultural production, fisheries, forestry and sustainable agriculture. At any given moment, you may find Alabama students wading in Thai rice paddies, planting conifer seedlings in Nepal or studying perch populations in Tanzania.
There is much we in Alabama can be proud of, but there are also reasons for us to bow our heads in shame. One out of every seven kids in our state lives in "food insecurity," what we used to call "goes to bed hungry." More than one out of five kids in our state lives in poverty. There are areas of our state just as poor and unhealthy as some third-world countries. Clearly, what we have been doing isn’t right – and hopefully today’s kids will be brighter, more committed and more principled in finding solutions than previous generations have been.
Lots of times, people may see Alabama 4-H activities as simply fun, "hands-on" learning activities. They are so much more. Our Junior Master Gardener Program (so generously supported by Bonnie Plants) can make an immediate and long-term impact on the lives of communities. Those young gardeners will be tomorrow’s agronomists, chemists and engineers who find amazing solutions to overwhelming problems.
Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent for DeKalb, Marshall and Cherokee Counties.