Finding Roots And Wings While Making A Difference Around The World
Sleeping at the base of a 2,000-yearold Redwood inspired Sean Lundy to seek a career in international development. Opportunities at Iowa State University are helping his dream grow.
The summer after graduating from high school, Lundy, a senior in global resource systems and nutrition, worked for the Student Conservation Association as part of a six-member crew in Redwood National Park. Students participating in the program are sent to national parks to restore trails indigenous flora and cultural landmarks to better understand environmental conservation. For five weeks, Lundy camped in the Redwoods and hiked five miles to work carrying up to 60 pounds of gear.
“I had a lot of alone time out there to think, and I walked away knowing I wanted to do something in college that would make a difference in this world,” Lundy says.
That’s what brought him to Iowa State University.
The trail he’s since blazed led him to Uganda twice, Panama and Washington D.C. Each internship, he says, has contributed to understanding the politics, cultural influences and funding mechanisms that affect international development.
Lundy’s international experiences were fueled by scholarships. The Manatt Scholarship, Crawford Student Support Fund and “Peacemaking Award” from his home church made it possible for him to go abroad.
Tailoring International Development
In 2010, he was selected for the Uganda Service Learning Program sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL). He remembers his advisers emphasizing six-weeks seemed like a long time to students, but the key to successful development work is long-term sustainability.
“Our program is approaching international development in the correct way,” Lundy says. “We aren’t taking a blanket approach to a whole country. There are cultural differences in each region. We are tailoring our efforts to meet the needs of the Kamuli District.”
Lundy went back to Uganda the next summer to work with a non-governmental organization called Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO). He and Brian Castro, also a senior in global resource systems, spent the first few weeks collecting basic health data on children in the Kumali district who were participants in a school feeding program. The two then chose 20 families to conduct more in-depth nutritional and socio-economic case studies.
“We went to their homes and we got to know the children really well,” Lundy says. “We wanted to understand how these children lived their lives. We walked to school with them, ate the food they ate and got to know their families.”
In the Kumali district, Lundy says families as large as eight live in homes with earthen walls the size of the living room in his college apartment. Most are subsistence farmers relying on plots less than an acre. Lundy says their data indicated improvements in the nutritional status of children as a result of the school feeding program.
“The servings of extra bean porridge at the school, which is ultimately what we assessed, was extremely effective when we compared the data from 2010 to 2011,” Lundy says. “Good nutrition affects cognitive ability, physical growth and it helps children to be more successful.”
Communication Key to Sustainability
During the summer of 2012, Lundy planned to continue work on child nutrition in Haiti. Those plans had to change because of the 2010 earthquake. Iowa State would not permit students to travel to Haiti because the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings. Lundy quickly made other plans.
David Acker, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean of academic and global programs, contacted Jose Pacheco (’92 ag studies), a senior Panamaniam official, to help Lundy and Castro develop an internship with the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture Development (MIDA) and UNICEF. The framework for the internship was modeled after their research in Uganda.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen when we landed in Panama City, but it was a phenomenal experience,” Lundy says. “The MIDA advisers did everything they could to show us what was going on in Panama and enabled us to be effective in the field.”
In Panama they focused on assessing the nutritional impact of a dairy goat project on children in eleven nutritionally deficient communities. The project’s purpose was to improve child under-nutrition through supplemental dietary goat milk.
Lundy says the goats were supposed to be sent to West Africa, but that project fell through. As a result, the Panamanian government received the goats from the United Nations and implemented a program addressing nutritional issues in remote rural areas of Panama.
“MIDA did a good job developing the project, but goats are not indigenous to Panama, so most of the farmers had no idea how to integrate goats into their agriculture practices,” Lundy says.
The results of the project highlighted common issues within sustainable development Lundy says. The need for good communication with communities is essential. Lundy and Castro provided recommendations to MIDA and UNICEF officials, who welcomed the feedback and changed the program on a national scale.
“I left Uganda two years earlier thinking I had not made as big of a difference as I had hoped. That was frustrating, but it motivated me to find other experiences that would help me build on that first trip. I think we made a tangible and quantifiable impact in those Panamanian communities,” Lundy says.
Focusing on Policy at Home
During the summer of 2013 Lundy served as an intern for the Unites States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. This provided an opportunity for him to be involved in the Farm Bill legislative process.
“It’s cool to see where all the decisions are made and observe the central nervous system of our federal government,” Lundy says. “The agriculture committee worked well together. I know agricultural policy is in good hands.”
Working in Washington D.C. offered him valuable insight to the role politics plays in international development.
The internship also presented several networking opportunities, such as lunch with Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Tina May, professional senior staff for the Senate committee, says Lundy was articulate and understood international development.
“Senate Agriculture Committee interns are a critical part of the team. It isn’t easy to get one of these internships, especially not in the middle of passing a five-year Farm Bill,” May says. “Sean’s application and subsequent work on the Committee exemplified all of the qualities we expect of our interns. We were continually impressed with his work and expect to see Sean doing great things in the future.”
A Life Worth Watching
Lundy lives by advice given to him a while ago, “One day your life will flash before your eyes—do something worth watching.”
To that end, Lundy has served as president of MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere), an organization that coordinates mobile health clinics in Latin America. He is also vice president of the Global Health and AIDS Coalition, which he co-founded. The coalition advocates increased access to medication and healthcare. It also promotes awareness about the resource constraints and disparities in global health.
Lundy wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he came to Iowa State, but majoring in global resource systems and getting involved in clubs allowed him to make a difference at home and abroad.