On February 2nd, 2017 the United Nations Winter Youth Assembly was called to order. It brought youth delegates from every corner of the world to participate in discussions, panels, and workshops to expand their thinking about the most pressing issues of our time. A bit about me, Erin East – I founded the University of Virginia chapter (go Hoos!) in 2013 and was its president for three years. Beginning in 2015, I have sat on FeelGood’s Board of Directors as the Commitment 2030 Fund Chair and I am currently in my second term. I live in New York City and work for The Hunger Project.
The thrill that accompanies an invitation to speak at the United Nations is like getting a personalized tweet from Beyonce. Or maybe not, since Beyonce has never tweeted me, but I imagine this is what it would feel like. Because of my role at FeelGood, and through my work at THP, I was invited to speak at the United Nations Winter Youth Assembly, on a panel entitled ‘Youth Leadership to End Hunger’ on February 2, 2017. I was invited to speak on behalf of FeelGood with representatives from The Hunger Project, Campus Kitchens Project, the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn University, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
Panelists shared how their organizations engage youth in their hunger-ending work. Mary Kate Costello, a Senior Policy Analyst with The Hunger Project, shared how The Hunger Project engages youth in its core strategies around the world: engaging youth in leadership capacities in their own communities. The Hunger Project has found this practice to be empowering and a powerful tool to encourage growth, long-term growth from within communities. In Bangladesh, THP stimulates a sense of social responsibility in more than 15,000 students nationwide each year: they meet monthly in chapters across the country, planning activities to improve their communities with an emphasis on literacy and education. Campus Kitchens Projects shared their approaches to engaging college students to enact the methodology from the DC Central Kitchen Project: engaging youth on a meaningful level is transforming for the servers and the served. The DC Central Kitchen Project provides culinary job training for the homeless population of Washington D.C., who then capture food waste to repurpose it into meals for the homeless. The Campus Kitchens Project is the DC Central Kitchen’s youth project, which also captures food waste to repurpose it into meals and dedicated student volunteers distribute those meals to homeless shelters and emergency food centres near campus.
I represented FeelGood through my own personal story. It was a refreshing mix-up during the typical slate of United Nations presentations that focus on process and theories. During my five short minutes to present, I made sure to highlight the impact FeelGood has had on me. Leadership, collaboration, gratefulness: every area has grown in capacity since being a part of FeelGood. It was rewarding to address UN Youth Delegates about the concentrated amazing of this movement.
At the event, I was joined by Program Director Connor Spahn and Stevens Tech chapter President Jami Porzl. After each speaker presented, breakout groups met with speakers to talk about challenges and opportunities in youth leadership to end hunger. Connor, Jami, and I co-hosted a breakout group. We were touched and impressed with some of the stories we heard. Jami shared that the Stevens Tech chapter conducted a water walk for fundraising where participants were invited to carry water a certain distance to experience the reality of collecting water that is true for millions in the world. One of the delegates was incredibly moved by this story because she indeed spent her childhood collecting water every day. The Youth Delegates that attended our breakout session were passionate and voiced similar frustrations that I certainly felt as a student: lack of interest from members, difficulty getting the word out about our organizations, and keeping the engaged members engaged. FeelGood representatives shared our best advice on how to get and keep members engaged: invite decision-making at all levels and show your passion!
The event was short, but an experience that will stick with me for time to come! I am so proud that I represented FeelGood at the United Nations and I hope there are more opportunities for our movement to represent itself there.