Alyssa Dougherty was a high school student when she registered at State Youth Institute Iowa. A year later she attended the World Food Prize award, she spoke with world leaders and did a research internship in Guatemala. Since beginning of this month Dutch pupils are also given these chances at the brand new Borlaug Youth Institute Wageningen.
Alyssa Dougherty was a shy girl when she first started secondary school. One of her teachers asked her to come up with a solution for the global food shortage and submit her idea to the State Youth Institute. "That step was really outside my comfort zone," says Dougherty. "But I was curious, so I did it." She researched water and sanitary facilities in Ethiopia and wrote a 3,000 word paper on the topic.
In October 2017, a jury at the Global Youth Institute selected the best ideas submitted by pupils nationwide. Dougherty and 199 other pupils were invited to a three-day conference for the presentation of the World Food Prize. She listened to global leaders and met experts from around the world. She also heard about the many internship possibilities and decided to sign up.
Four months later, in March 2017, she found out she was going to Guatemala. She learned how to conduct scientific research at the Center for Studies of Sensory Impairment, Aging and Metabolism (CeSSIAM). She researched protein absorption in breastfeeding women and whether soup is a good source of additional nutrients for mothers and newborns.
During this five-month experience, Dougherty realised the true meaning of health and food safety. She worked with malnourished children and adults. "A lot of things seemed unimportant after Guatemala. I notice it in conversations I have; it's not just small talk, but about how you can make the world a better place. In a rural village I met a mother who worked tirelessly to feed her family, always with a smile on her face. She made me realise that all individuals can make a difference in the fight against hunger."
Set aside your fears
Dougherty now studies dietetics at Iowa State University. She would love to go abroad again to. Her advice to Dutch pupils? "Whichever direction you choose, follow your passion and don't be afraid. If you're enthusiastic, you know you're headed down the right path. And if you want to be taken seriously, ask questions."