by Dan Hickey ’04 | Director of Communications
During Homecoming Weekend, Stephen Anderson ’82 was awarded this year’s Alumni Achievement Award. The following remarks were presented at the annual Homecoming Convocation.
When an earthquake devastated the country of Nepal, a Brooker was there. When famine descended on Yemen, a Brooker answered the call. When political upheaval or natural disaster threatened the lives of millions in places like the Philippines, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Myanmar, a Brooker served those in greatest need.
Stephen Anderson spent most of his childhood in southern Sudan where his father, William, from the Class of 1944, served as a third-generation missionary. His father’s work helped Sudan heal from conflict with a focus on building schools, developing technologies, and teaching skills to the Sudanese people. So from a young age, Stephen developed a deep understanding of and compassion for the needs of the world.
He arrived at Stony Brook in the fall of 1978, ran cross country and swam for the Shrikes, and was a proud Hegemanite, serving as the dorm prefect his senior year. He recalled the names of many “wonderful educators,” but reserved his highest praise for Peter Haile, who had traveled through Sudan and deeply understood his family’s work, and John Holmes, who he remembered as a kind, mature, and understanding leader.
Stephen graduated from The Brook in 1982 and credits Stony Brook with helping him get into Georgetown, where he enrolled in the School of Foreign Service. When he graduated from Georgetown, he considered joining the State Department but felt called to work where he could directly impact lives.
In 1989 he joined the World Food Programme, a branch of the United Nations, and began as a volunteer in his familiar Sudan where conflict had returned to the land. It was there that he witnessed a level of starvation he had never before experienced. He told himself, “This should not exist,” and dedicated his life to helping those in greatest need.
The WFP serves in 80 countries worldwide, working in the areas most afflicted by war, drought, and famine. Many of these countries lack social safety nets like food stamps, so the WFP is a vital lifeline for millions of food-insecure people worldwide. The organization’s primary focus is crisis response, but crises often become protracted, so the WFP continues to serve in places for years as they help people emerge from dire circumstances.
Following the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Stephen and the WFP helped with logistics that included getting food into remote mountain areas. In Yemen, where Stephen served as the WFP’s country director from 2017 to 2019, he oversaw a staff of 1,000 that responded to the world’s largest humanitarian emergency by feeding 12 to 13 million people every month who lived under the weight of famine and conflict. His days began at 6:30 in the morning and did not end until 10:00 at night for the duration of his tenure there.
In 2019 he took on the country director role for Myanmar where he leads a team of 310 in service of 1.3 million people who have been displaced by genocide, political unrest, and economic turmoil. They fed 1 million people in August and have a goal of meeting the needs of 4 million on a monthly basis.
Stephen’s leadership in Yemen and Myanmar was the driving force behind the WFP receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
Stephen’s life is marked by sacrifice. His family was unable to join him in Yemen and now Myanmar due to safety concerns, so time with his wife Kaori and his three children, birthdays, and holidays have been given up to serve the needs of others. He lives and works in theatres of war where shootings, bombs, and shrapnel are commonplace and where his home is sometimes a bunker.
Stephen views his role simply as a bringer of peace, saying, “When someone is starving, that is all they can think about. We want to help break cycles of poverty and hunger to help people reach their full potential.” In meeting the most basic of human needs, Stephen and the WFP are doing just that.
Stephen credits his time at Stony Brook with helping prepare him for the work he does every day. He specifically recalled his workjob–kitchen crew in Johnston Hall–teaching him about responsibility, communication, teamwork, and service. “Stony Brook helped me learn how to care for others and prepared me for the ethical dilemmas I have to navigate.” He also credits teachers like Fred Jordan, Don Fonseca, and Judy Oulund with instilling a thirst for knowledge, teaching him how to deconstruct a problem, and helping to fashion his moral compass.
Stephen is walking alongside and serving the needs of so many, living out our school’s mission to raise up men and women who will “serve the world through their character and leadership.”
If you would like to learn more about Stephen’s work and ways for you to get involved, feel free to visit WFP.org.