The greatest honor

This week, when I saw that the Nobel Peace Prize had been won by the World Food Program, I confess my first reaction was, “Huh. That’s not as interesting as when an individual wins it,” and I scrolled on to the next news story.  My mistake!  Last night on Facebook, I found my step-brother Steve’s post:

“This award, in effect, is honoring my dad’s work posthumously, who ran the World Food Program in Nepal for seven years and preceding that assignment was second in command in India for three years. Although he died 16 years ago, had he lived to experience this global recognition he would have found it both a surprising and spectacular acknowledgment of the United Nation’s World Food Program’s humanitarian efforts – and of humanity itself – in what is otherwise an often inhumane world. Very proud of you dad!”

Arnold Childs, my step-father, was raised with public service as his highest ideal.  As a young man, he’d studied under the social philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, at Dartmouth, which made a huge impact on how he saw the world and his place in it.  After serving as an officer in World War II, Arnold earned advanced degrees in political science and economics.  Here he is at Harvard:


He then joined the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Research, in Italy, then the U.S. Foreign Service, where he served in Italy and Pakistan.   I don’t think this was very gratifying work for him, though – he once joked that his biggest achievement was introducing carbon paper at the India-Pakistan border, which made it much easier for the clerks there to fill out their forms in triplicate. Up to that point, they’d just been writing everything down three times.

Then in 1970, the opportunity came for him to join the World Food Program.  This program had been started in 1961, after President Eisenhower urged the United Nations to do something meaningful about world hunger.  Finally, Arnold could put his ideals into action!  He served as the program’s number-two official in India, then became the Director of the program for Nepal.  Among his other achievements, he introduced a free breakfast program throughout the kindergartens of Nepal, which fed hungry children and gave the families there a good reason to send their kids to school.

When he retired, in 1982, he and his wife chose Eugene, Oregon, as their new home because it reminded them of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.  (From that, I can only guess that they visited our Saturday Market, which is very colorful, and we do have distant mountains…)  After his wife passed away, he married my mom, in 1988, and they had 16 years together, travelling many times to Europe, and supporting the arts and many social causes, before he passed away in 2004.


Arnold and my mom, early 2004

Like Steve, I can only imagine how awe-struck Arnold would have been that an organization he helped build has now been awarded our world’s highest honor.  If you dream big, and develop the skills that go with your dreams, you really can make the world a better place.  Congratulations to you, Arnold, and all of your many colleagues and successors at the World Food Program!

About Laura Akers, Ph.D.

I'm a research psychologist at Oregon Research Institute, and I'm writing a book about meta-narratives, the powerful collective stories we share about who we are and where we're headed. My interests include beliefs and worldviews, ethics, motivation, and relationships, both among humans and between humans and the natural world.
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