The Unsung Story of How the World Food Prize Promotes the Humanities
Most of us brave souls who decide to major in history in college make the decision out of love for the subject, forgoing more ‘sensible’ majors like business, information technology, or the sciences. We know quite well about the bleak job outlook for us historians once we enter the job market. Upon my graduation those statistics became a reality: the only job I had secured was a summer gig swiping membership cards at a gym. While most of my classmates were entering graduate school or securing jobs at think-tanks, I was trying desperately to avoid an early quarter-life crisis. It seemed I had made all the wrong decisions, that I had taken a ‘wrong turn’ in my life.
On a whim I applied for the George Washington Carver Internship at the World Food Prize, and I was lucky enough to be given a position. Two months later, I learned that there was an open position to become Amb. Quinn’s Special Assistant. As he perused my resume, my degree must have caught the ambassador’s attention, because his eyes suddenly lit up with an idea. “It says here you majored in history? Well, I’ve been working on an archive for a long time, but I’ve never found the time to finish it. What if I create a position for you here at the World Food Prize so that you can finish my archive for me?” I sat in my car in a daze after accepting the offer: I knew I was likely one of only a handful of recent graduates with history degrees in the entire country to have a job as a historian. I began to think that maybe that ‘wrong turn’ wasn’t so wrong after all.
For the next six months I worked closely with Amb. Quinn to construct an archive from scratch that organized digital and physical items having to do with his life. The size and scope of the project was immense, but we constructed a digital archive with over 100 pages of data relating to videos, newspaper articles, scholarly document, and speeches, many of which Amb. Quinn had previously been unaware of or forgot existed.
Immediately after completing my 6-month contract I left Iowa and became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kosovo, where I currently teach English as a foreign language. Every day the lessons I learned from Amb. Quinn and the World Food Prize affect my purpose, and I will close with the two lessons most germane to my current life as a volunteer.
The first is that educating youth around the globe in a common language is critical toward building understanding between different peoples and addressing the world’s biggest challenges. My 12-year-old Kosovar host brother, Ylli, was astonished to learn that prior to coming to Kosovo I rarely ate even a slice of bread. This is because bread is such a central part of the Kosovar diet that the Albanian word for dinner, bukë, when literally translated means ‘bread.’ I would not have been able to compare diets with Ylli if we didn’t speak a common language, English.
One of the least-recognized achievements of the World Food Prize is that leaders from around the world, with differing native languages and a variety of cultural perspectives, are able to come together and share their ideas. It is truly amazing how the World Food Prize has united people despite social and cultural differences and enabled the world’s brightest minds to work together to try and solve the world’s most difficult issue: feeding 9 billion people by 2050.
The second lesson I learned while working at the World Food Prize is one of Amb. Quinn’s favorite aphorisms. This advice turned up in newspaper articles, videos, and speeches by Amb. Quinn so many times as I was constructing the archive that it’s now burned into my memory forever: ‘Sometimes when you take the wrong turn, you end up on the right road.’ I never imagined that my decision to major in history would lead me to work as an archivist for a foundation dedicated to fighting world hunger. Thankfully, the wrong turn ended up being the right road.