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Hunger Is Brought Home to Action Center

United States, October 30, 2008

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Matt Dunning

Tribeca Tribune
September, 2008

The goal of the Action Center is to inspire visitors, especially students to begin thinking of themselves as global citizens.

Name the trouble spot, and Mercy Corps is there: rebuilding irrigation canals in Afghanistan, providing agricultural support to farmers in Indonesia, aiding landslide victims in Honduras.

In the organization’s newly opened outpost in Battery Park City, the Action Center to End World Hunger, the challenges may be different, but the goals are just the same.

“The action center is inspired by Mercy Corps—that if people are made aware of major challenges like global hunger, and they’re offered concrete ways to take action and make a difference, they will step forward,” Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer said last month as the organization celebrated its official opening on the first floor of Riverhouse at Barclay Street and River Terrace.

The 4,000-square-foot center, the first of two that Mercy Corps is opening in the U.S. in the next year, features interactive multimedia exhibits such as a map projected on one of the center’s walls that lets users scan the globe for cities and villages suffering from hunger, and online quizzes about the causes of hunger in various parts of the world. There are also touch-screens with videos of Mercy Corps volunteers in troubled countries, and visitors can sign up to volunteer themselves.

The goal of the exhibits is to inspire visitors, especially students to begin thinking of themselves as global citizens.

“They can learn to use it as a resource, come and interact with the media and learn about causes of hunger worldwide, and then go back and integrate it more fully into their classroom,” said Suzanne Guthrie, Mercy Corps’ education and programs manager.

As part of a week-long celebration of the center’s opening, Mercy Corps invited middle and high school students from around the city to take part in workshops at the center.

“We were very excited something like this was opening in the city,” said Sinead Naughton, a global studies teacher who visited the center with an after-school group from the St. Vincent Ferrer High School in Manhattan. “To my knowledge, the topics addressed [at the center] aren’t addressed in such a cohesive manner in other New York museums, so it’s wonderful that such a place now exists.”

During their visit to the center, Naughton’s students discussed land use and ownership, an often overlooked cause of hunger in most agriculture-based countries. Karina Montenegro, one of Naughton’s students, said she was impressed with the level of detail she found in the exhibits.

“The whole display is amazing,” she said. “It’s not like a regular museum. You’re not going there as a recreational thing. You’re going to come out of there feeling like you really learned something.”

The Action Center’s location, across from the Irish Hunger Memorial, is not coincidental. Indeed, to stand at the intersection of Barclay and River Terrace is to be in a place where painful, desperate history meets a hopeful future.

“It is so fitting that Mercy Corps put this great facility right here at the Irish Memorial,” Gov. Paterson said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 16. “It’s a tremendous moment for New York City, and it gives us an idea of some of the history of [the city] and its connection with those who emigrated here years ago.”

As a student, Montenegro said she appreciates the presentation of complex information on world hunger in a way that is easy for teens to understand.

“There’s so much chaos and poverty in the world,” she said. “If you can take just one little piece of information and spread it around…the better the situation is going to get.”