ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY JESS LYNK
In the Wallace house past Smokey Row coffee Shop, four journalism students and three third-year pharamcy students sat around a table with author and journalist Roger Thurow.
The students threw out questions for Thurow and learned about his time at The Wall Street Journal for 30 years and now his work with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Thurow has dedicated his career, now, to agricultural development. His most recent book, ‘The First 1,000 Days’, focuses on the effect of malnutrition in children across the globe.
Thurow will speak in the Sussman Theather Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. about his career in partnership with the Harkin Institute for Public Policy & Citizen Engagement. Before the event the Times-Delphic sat down for an interview.
This interview has been edited for length.
What was your inspiration for your career?
I had been at the Wall Street Journal as a foreign correspondent for a number of years. I think the inspiration for the writing that I have been doing, at the later years at the Wall Street Journal and then I went to three books, about this issue of hunger in the 21st-century comes from my first trip to Ethiopia in 2003. This famine in Ethiopia that 14 million people were on the doorstep of starvation and were needing, if they were going to survive at all, food aid.
So, I went to cover that story. My first day in Addis Ababa, I was meeting with the people from the World Food Program and talking about the immense task that they have. I was going to be traveling alongside them. I was going to be traveling with them the next day. It was somebody at the organization who was giving me background information and he gave me some advice, but also an anomalous warning in a sense. He said, “Roger looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
The more I thought about it, it was really profound. With all these technological achievements and all this communication ability at our fingertips, that what, we still brought this medieval suffering with us into the 21st century and it is getting worse.
That was the story that you know as a foreign correspondent, you go from place to place and country to country and story to story to find out what is new and see where your next adventure comes from. That was the moment when we were in the emergency feeding tents looking into the eyes of these children dying of hunger, who were carried into these tents by their parents. It was that moment that it was indeed the disease of my soul. That stopped me cold, as a journalist, this is a story that I need to keep coming back to and back to and back to. It was subsumed into a story that I really wanted to write about.
What has been your favorite adventure as a foreign correspondent?
I would say my favorite place that I have been based would be South Africa. I was there from 1986 to 1991. That was the last gasp years of the apartheid system.The release of Nelson Mandela in 1990.
Being able to cover that story was a really special time as a foreign correspondent. I am extraordinary fortunate to have been able to be there with the events as they were unfolding and the significance of those events, that we can see now.
This also got me into the issues of Africa and the issues of the human condition. That coverage was my gateway to everything I have done in my career. It was both an extraordinary time to be a journalist there, but not just a static time in history, but for me personally in my career and fueling everything that I have done.
How can Drake students fit in with these issues?
Informing yourselves of these issues and raising these issues among others, but first and primarily amongst yourself, on what is going on with this. College students are really primed and it is great time to be thinking about these issues because they are so many new revelations of what is important and why ending childhood malnutrition and stunting is so important. The cost of inaction affects all of us.
If students become aware of that, and that motivates them, no matter what you are studying you can apply it to this issue and no matter what your area of expertise that you develop you can have an impact in this area.
There has never been more information, evidence about what is happening and what is needed to be done, all that information is out there. It has moved from the morally right thing to do, but now it has also become incresingly aware that it is also the smart thing to do. This is for the good of all us.