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  • Department of Global Development
  • Agriculture
  • Global Development
After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania, Max Wohlgemuth extended his service to work with a local NGO on social behavior change communications. His path led him to the MPS in Global Development program where he was awarded the Paul D. Coverdell Fellowship, which provides financial assistance for graduate students to returned Peace Corp Volunteers. Wohlgemuth brings years of experience in fieldwork and a passion to alleviate hunger and malnutrition.

Hometown: Columbus, Nebraska

College attended and major: University of Nebraska - Lincoln; Bachelor of Journalism with a minor in Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.

Peace Corps dates: October 2012 - April 2016

What are the big challenges you want to tackle in the world?

In the broad sense, I would have to say hunger. Not literally the feeling you get when you haven't eaten food, but specifically the long-term effects of not having enough adequate nutritious food for extended periods of time. A great example is one of the challenges we faced in Tanzania. The country as a whole is food surplus, meaning it produces enough food to feed its population each year. However, the production is uneven, and areas of food insecurity persist. To make matters worse, regions with the largest annual surpluses can have the highest burden of undernutrition. This is due to a diet overly reliant on unfortified maize and other grains. Smallholder farmers often live off their surplus until the next year's harvest. If this surplus is primarily grains, then the children might not be getting enough essential nutrients for healthy growth. The effects of undernutrition during early development can be life-long, causing a vicious, intergenerational cycle of undernutrition.

Where were you stationed in the Peace Corps and what projects did you work on?

I was an agriculture volunteer stationed in the Mlevela village in Njombe of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania. My village was at a very high elevation and would get very cold in the dry winter months. During the rainy season we received plenty of rain with the mostly commonly grown food commodities being maize, tea and potatoes. I would receive gifts regularly from my community of potatoes — 10, 20, or 30 pounds at a time. South of my village were large wattle tree plantations which are used for producing and exporting tannins for leather production.

After my two years in the village, I extended my service to work with the Tanzania Communication and Development Centre, a local NGO which worked in social behavior change communications. Our project was in north-central Tanzania based in Babati, and the aim was to promote locally fortified and produced sunflower cooking oil. The key word here is fortified. Fortifying at the small-medium producer level was new to the area, and our objective was for people to begin using the more nutritious version of their beloved locally produced oil.

Tell us about the most impactful experiences you’ve had as a Peace Corps volunteer.

There are so many, but when I think about it, the memories that jump out to me are the simple ones: having dinner with my neighbors, chatting with the health clinic staff, making jokes with students, hiking around the Kipengere Mountain foothills and visiting friends in neighboring villages.

As far as achievements go, I would say the best memory was the HIV testing day we did. I worked with my village health clinic, and we decided to use soccer as a way to encourage testing. I met with the village team and we made a deal. If the team would lead the way in getting tested, we would sponsor them to get new jerseys.

The event was a huge success. The district health officials came to do the testing and conducted information sessions outside the clinic. The whole team was tested, and so much of the community came that we needed to bring in more test kits. To conclude the day, we held an exhibition soccer match with the rival team from the neighboring village. The winner — my village team — won a nice, new, top-quality soccer ball. We actually, accidentally intensified the rivalry when my friend set up a similar testing event in the neighboring village. My team again won the match and the new soccer ball, but this time It was because of an admittedly bogus offsides call.

Why did you choose Global Development at Cornell CALS?

While I was serving in the Peace Corps, I had a great friend who was another volunteer, and he was an alumnus of Cornell. He would talk about how much he loved the school and Ithaca, but at the time, I wasn't really looking around for schools yet.

A few years later, I was at home In Nebraska on a break-in-service and working on graduate school applications. When I was researching graduate opportunities on the Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowship webpage, the Global Development MPS program leapt out at me. Everything I read convinced me more and more that it was the right program for me, and the University quickly rose to be my first choice for graduate studies. I believe the program will equip me with the multisectoral tools I need to support development interventions in a cohesive and comprehensive way.

What does global development mean to you?

After completing my Peace Corps service, I began working for the World Food Program (WFP) as a consultant. WFP provides humanitarian food assistance in emergencies and also works on development projects with an emphasis on food, including support for smallholder farmers, social protection systems and with nutrition. It was during this time that I really saw the why of what we do in global development. WFP provides emergency food assistance to tens of millions of people each year. Many of these people have had their lives distributed by natural or man-made disasters.

Investment in developing vulnerable communities is critically important. More resilient and food secure communities are better prepared for disasters such as conflict, drought or floods. These investments can save millions or even billions of dollars — not to mention lives — down the road, which otherwise might be needed for humanitarian food assistance. 

Learn more about the Coverdell Fellowship in Global Development.

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