By Ruby Dickson
On Thursday, Feb. 5, Lawrence University’s Rotaract Organization brought Emily Hoffman of Appleton’s Riverview Gardens to the Warch Cinema to deliver a lecture on hunger. The first Rotaract event of its kind, the talk served as the club’s first meeting of the term. It was held as a promotional event to encourage service within the Lawrence community, as well as to celebrate the club’s one-year anniversary.
The choice of hunger as a lecture topic was intended as an introduction to an issue which is central to the club’s function of taking action for positive change. Hoffman, who works as the Manager of Farm Operations at Riverview Gardens, focused on both starvation and malnutrition in her speech. She asserted that “understanding hunger and poverty as multifaceted topics is one of the most important aspects of education people about what it means to address poverty.”
Hoffman has significant experience with these topics, as she has worked with several aid groups, including Heifer International and Riverview Gardens.
In her talk, Hoffman described the scope of hunger: “this is a prevalent issue within this community, as well as internationally in developing countries,” she said.
She also discussed the way that malnutrition and starvation can negatively impact a person’s relationships, as well as their future employment prospects. “Once you are at the bottom it is incredibly hard to get back up… It is a downward spiral.”
After the lecture, Hoffman spoke of the harmful nature of identifying with one’s circumstances, saying “it isn’t an identity, and you aren’t defined by it. You are not the hunger, you are not the poor, you are someone who is hungry or poor.”
Hoffman also emphasized the difference between crisis aid organizations, which focus on immediate and necessary aid such as disaster relief, versus “development” aid groups, which provide assistance to people interested in improving their long-term circumstances. Hoffman spoke of how Riverview Gardens engages in development aid by working with disadvantaged community members to help them build transferable job skills. She encouraged audience members to question, “what does it mean to exist in a state of hunger, and to say, what is the next step? How do you move forward from that?”
The talk was structured as an interactive session with audience members. Nigel Schuster, a board member of the club, attested that “we decided to change to format, so that it is more interactive and brings out what we want to tackle as an organization.”
Hoffman regularly asked questions of her audience, and students responded with enthusiasm. Students in attendance reported satisfaction with the event itself, and students in the crowd came forward to describe how they see hunger. Hoffman herself said she “appreciated people’s engagement, and I always think it’s interesting to see people engage in a way that’s a little bit more cognitive and thoughtful.”
Schuster gave credit to freshman Tamanna Akram as the primary organizer for the event. She contacted Hoffman through the Rotary club with which Lawrence Rotaract operates, in addition to managing advertising and logistical planning for the event. Rotaract board members expressed satisfaction with the lecture, describing the amount of attendees as a “strong turnout, given the type of event it was.”
As the event was intended as a celebration of Rotaract’s first year in existence, club members also spoke of the club’s accomplishments and service over the past year.
Rotaract has also worked recently to send aid to Pakistan, and the club hopes to include more professional activities over the next year.