Public speaking before an unfamiliar audience can be scary enough, never mind having a bunch of distinguished international scientists in the audience.
But 16-year-old Laura Didyk was undaunted making a speech while attending the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa this past October.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” says the Grade 11 student from Elie’s St. Paul’s Collegiate. “But I think I did well because of 4-H communications experience. And it was neat to be talking to these experts and they had feedback on my paper. It was kind of amazing actually.”
That kind of poise and confidence is why Didyk, who lives with her family on an acreage just outside St. Francois Xavier, was one of two student delegates from Manitoba selected to attend the prestigious international event this fall. Didyk and another Manitoba student, Bailey Gitzel of Graysville, were among 200 students from across the U.S., as well as China, India, Kosovo, Mexico and Turkey to attend.
The event was an eye-opener, says Didyk. “I got to meet so many amazing people from all over the world.”
The World Food Prize is an international award recognizing great achievements in improving the quality, quantity and availability of food in the world. It was created by Dr. Norman Borlaug in 1986. This year’s annual award went to Sir Fazle Hasan Abed of Bangladesh, founder of BRAC, which is considered to be the most effective anti-poverty organization in the world.
The two young women from Manitoba witnessed that awards ceremony, plus had many opportunities to interact with leading scientists and food security experts from around the globe. As part of the experience, the students were expected to deliver their own thoughts on the subject.
Didyk’s topic was climate change and how it’s affecting food security in Kenya.
Climate change worries her because of the effects it’s having on the natural world, she said.
“I love nature and I love being outside. I want to help fix it or stop it from being destroyed,” she said.
Didyk said her interest to go in the first place was to find out what sort of career in agricultural science she might pursue. The conference emphasized helping girls and women find career paths in areas such as engineering, mathematics and agriculture.
She didn’t come home with her mind made up. But it certainly opened her eyes to many possibilities, she said.
“I haven’t decided yet, but it has given me a viewpoint on how many careers there are in agriculture. It’s a very viable option,” she said. “There’s lots of things I could do that would be interesting related to agriculture that would be something I would enjoy.”
Gitzel, who spoke at the Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference last month about her own GYI experience, plans to study plant biotechnology at university next year.
This is the second year two delegates from Manitoba have attended. The opportunity is open to all students in Grades 9 to 12 who demonstrate a mix of interests and experiences that show they’d benefit from attending the event.
The invitation to attend the GYI comes through the Canadian consulate to the province of Manitoba. AITC-M and the Manitoba 4H Council were asked to help select delegates due to their work with youth in Manitoba while industry sponsorship from Manitoba Canola Growers, Manitoba Corn Growers, Monsanto and Viterra cover the students’ travel costs.
AITC-M’s main hope is that the GYI exposes these young people to the bigger picture, said Karen Hill, AITC-M’s program co-ordinator.
“It’s taking some of our best and brightest youth and opening their eyes to the global opportunities and responsibilities that the agricultural industry has,” she said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids and hopefully it will make them dream big.”
“We were thrilled to send two such deserving young women and their mentors down to the GYI conference,” added Clayton Robins, Manitoba 4-H Council executive director. “I know that the Manitoba delegates really got a lot out of the experience both years and we are certainly hoping to continue to have the opportunity.”