"The Humanitarian"
  • Ryan Welby ’13

The Humanitarian

Ryan Welby ’13 grew up in Vernfield, Pa., on a family-owned farm just 20 minutes away from Ursinus College, with most of his life structured around agriculture. As he began to dedicate his time to volunteer work, a new passion emerged: a desire to help those in developing nations.

Story by: Mary Lobo ’15

In Togo, a West African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, Welby would often wake to a knock on his door. It was his neighbor, MoÏse, a 12-year-old boy from an English class Welby taught.

“He was just making sure that I wasn’t going to be late,” Welby said in a Skype conversation with Ursinus Magazine from Haiti. “He really liked my English class.”

It was common for teachers not to show up for their own school classes on a regular basis, Welby explained, and MoÏse’s passion and drive showed Welby just how his students and others in this community were motivated to succeed.

The gentle reminder was a welcome start to the day—an act that reminded Welby that his contributions, however small, had a big impact. Feet hitting the floor, Welby set out to do his part.

Upon graduating from Ursinus, Welby, who majored in political science, arrived in Haloukpaboundou, a village with no running water or electricity that is home to about 2,500 people. The residents, living in simple mud houses, speak Kabiye and French.

Welby was there from June 2013 to July 2015 as a Peace Corps volunteer tasked with teaching local farmers sustainable farming techniques. But outside of that work, he sought out other opportunities to work with the people of the village. So, he began to teach English.

welby with kids“I was always inspired by the students,” he said.

The students were so enthusiastic about learning English from Welby and wanted to gain confidence in speaking the language. It inspired him to ensure that the people of the village had their own opportunities for success, he explained.

“It’s why I push myself to continue doing work like this,” Welby said. “I know that for a lot of those people, I was probably providing one of the only opportunities they had to enhance their own lives. That’s just the sad reality of poverty in a lot of rural contexts. It pushes and drives me to work really hard so that I can make their experiences better.”

“I really fell in love with development work and poverty alleviation when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo,” he said.

Some students and college graduates talk about having transformative experiences abroad. It can be an overused expression, but making an impact on the level Welby experienced—from the sustainability initiatives to the English lessons—was eye-opening. It opened a new door.

“I used to want to be a corporate attorney, but my focus changed when I could see a tangible impact I had with the farmers in Togo.”
His path now clear, Welby turned to a new opportunity in Haiti, where he currently works as an agriculture research and development specialist for Meds & Food for Kids, a nonprofit social enterprise organization that manufactures ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a peanut butter product fortified with vitamins, fats, minerals and other nutrients.

welby“Children who are malnourished often cannot improve with ordinary food, which does not have optimum proportions of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals,” Welby explained. “They have small stomachs and need very concentrated, excellent nutrition. The World Health Organization has declared that RUTF is the gold standard treatment for malnutrition in the world today. It is outpatient treatment, always given away free to the needy child and is 85- to-90 percent curative.”

In the 15 years of MFK’s manufacturing of RUTF in Haiti, its Haitian employees have saved the lives of over 330,000 children in Haiti and in 14 other countries, he said.

According to the organization’s website, one in 10 children in Haiti is acutely malnourished and one in five is underweight. One in 14 will die before reaching age 5. More than 9 million people live in Haiti. More than one-third of them are under age 14. Many children in Haiti have one meal per day. Some have less.

When considering those facts, it’s easy to see why the situation is so dire, and why the work of the nonprofit— the work that Welby is so passionate about—is so important.

“These numbers give testament to the difficult circumstances that people face in Haiti. They also highlight a tremendous opportunity for social innovation. I hope that when people see these statistics they are not disheartened or disinterested, but rather they take time to consider how their skill set can be used to redress these issues and help make the world a more equitable place.”

Currently, MFK produces enough ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat and save the lives of more than 100,000 children annually across 14 countries, mostly in Haiti, Central America and West Africa. MFK has plans to increase its production capacity and to expand into preventive products in the future.

Welby is responsible for several tasks as an agriculture research and development specialist. His duties include coordinating agriculture programming with MFK’s Haitian staff members, working on the implementation of a behavioral economic research trial, and developing and implementing a randomized impact evaluation for its farmer training program.

Welby has been working on a pilot program that has helped farmers diversify their household income through adopting new crops and increasing chicken egg production; holding farmer training sessions in rural Haiti that help farmers enhance crop outcomes and improve their current techniques; and visiting local markets, restaurants and beaches.

To date, 2,403 farmers have been trained through the program.

As for his future, graduate school and then, perhaps, his own company.

“I want to start an organization that would improve the lives of smallholder farmers and people in West Africa through enhancing nutrition,” he says.

A dream just a knock on the door from reality.

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