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Badger Alum Brings Awareness To World Hunger

May 21, 2008

Chenoweth Inspires UW Students

from Channel 3000 WISC-TV

MADISON, Wis. — Florence Chenoweth, who has been a Badger alum for nearly four decades, is the focus of WISC-TV’s Inspiring Women series.

After getting her Masters in agricultural economics In 1970, Chenoweth went back home to Liberia to serve as the country’s Minister of Agriculture.

Civil war in Liberia left her a refugee in Sierra Leone, but that didn’t stop Chenoweth from returning to Madison.

Her work has helped shape policies for agencies such as the World Bank and the World Food and Agriculture Organization for the United Nations.

But as global as her life has become, “I went back home in 1970 after my Masters feeling like a Badger, and I still do,” Chenoweth said.

News Three’s Andy Choi reported why Wisconsin is still on the map of this well-traveled Badger.

Chenoweth spoke with the world’s most powerful people about the world’s most important humanitarian issues, and this past semester, she brought that dialogue to the University of Wisconson-Madison.

But whether its in the U.N.’s general assembly, or in a graduate-level classroom seminar, Chenoweth said the goal of global dialogue is always the same to find solutions to incredibly complex problems.

“The band aid treatment that comes with humanitarian aid will never solve a deep rooted problem,” Chenoweth said.

She said by the time area residents fall asleep at night, 26,000 people in the world will have died from hunger per day

“I did mention that this could have been avoided,” she said. “Hunger, and people dying from it, made no sense to me when I was 17, and (that’s) when I made a promise to myself that I would do something about it.”

World hunger is one of the many human rights issues Chenoweth discussed this year with UW students as a distinguished international visitor.

“We have all kinds of examples, so when I came to this university, I knew that I was going back to lead our agricultural research and planning,” Chenoweth said. “I made all of my professors know that I had an agenda.”

Chenoweth said her Badger pride and determination goes back to her days as a graduate student in 1968.

he agenda brought her back home to Liberia, where she became the country’s first female minister of agriculture in 1977.

Two years later, she said she narrowly escaped a violent coup.

“I thought what a better time than to try and go back to school,” Chenoweth said. “You have nothing else to do. You’ve lost your country — you’ve lost everything, and so I came back here.” She said she never forgot UW and returned for her doctorate in land resources, a degree she received in 1986.

Her journey since then has garnered admiration from international agencies, but she said the issues she felt passionate about as a student are still unresolved.

“As I said, there will be 26,000 that will die from hunger. The problem is your cameras are not on them. They will die quietly,” she said. “Our leaders of this world have given lip service, and they have not shown the political will to turn this around.”

Chenoweth said she hopes today’s students have that will to deal with the gamut of global problems she is trying to conquer.

“It is so easy to get frustrated, but I tell them, ‘Don’t give up because if we give up, then what?” she said.”

She’s one of the most approachable people, especially considering how much she’s done with her life,” UW sophomore Jake Naughton said.

Naughton said Chenoweth’s experience both in and out of the classroom is inspiring.

“Florence is the type of professor that you hear about before you go to college. Your parents tell you, ‘There’s going to be this great professor who’s done so much.’ And Florence is just one of those,” Naughton said.

While classroom discussions rarely leave classroom walls, Chenoweth said she hopes her students’ hunger for knowledge could someday fight the world’s hunger for food.

“Year by year, as the situation persists, I become even more resolved that I’m going to do whatever I can to turn this around,” Chenoweth said.

Aside from visiting the university for the spring semester, Chenoweth is also the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture representative to the U.N.,She also serves as the liaison between the FAO and the U.N. in New York.

Chenoweth said her inspiration to study food and agriculture is a career counselor of hers when she was in high school in Liberia who talked about the need for more citizens in agriculture.

It was there that Chenoweth said she learned about the concept of world hunger.

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