Manheim Township Middle School student wins international ‘World of 7 Billion’ video contest

If there’s one problem Ayush Iyer hopes to solve in his lifetime, it’s world hunger.

And he’s in eighth grade.

The Manheim Township Middle School student has become somewhat of an expert in vegetarianism, climate change and the responsible use of natural resources — all of which, he said, play a role in world hunger.

In May, Ayush was named one of 18 winners of the annual “World of 7 Billion” student video contest sponsored by Population Connection and received a $500 cash prize. More than 5,000 students in grades six through 12 participated. Students were to create videos exploring population growth as it relates to one of three challenges: feeding 10 billion, preventing pollution, and advancing girls and women.

A panel of 61 judges — including college and high school educators, filmmakers and experts — selected the winners.

Ayush placed first in the feeding 10 billion category with an animated video highlighting the issue of world hunger and ways to provide food for everyone around the globe.

His first suggestion to consider: vegetarianism.

“That’s one way we can really work to eliminate world hunger,” Ayush, a vegetarian, said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The process of which farms use to raise cattle and kill them for meat is a very polluting process.”

The lengthy process of raising cattle to shipping meat to stores causes more pollution than all automobiles combined, he said.

Another concern is the amount of food the U.S. wastes, which Ayush said can feed 10 billion people. One-third of the food we produce, he said, is wasted.

“It’s such a big problem – more than people realize,” Ayush said, “especially here in the U.S.”

Despite his passion about the subject, Ayush wasn’t always interested in producing a video for the contest, even after the teacher in his gifted class, Melissa Reifsnyder, gave him a flyer and suggested he participate.

“I took the flyer and I wenhome and it just laid there on the counter for a while,” Ayush said. “Then I read into it and said, ’This is going to be a lot of work,’ and it went back onto the counter.”

So the flyer sat on the counter as the thought stewed in Ayush’s brain. Eventually, he decided to make a video – “for myself,” he said, “and I’ll just pit in the contest.”

When he was notified at the end of April of his accomplishment, Ayush and his family were shocked.

“That was completely unexpected,” Sukeshi Iyer, Ayush’s mother, said. “None of us actually remembered he even submitted it.”

She added: “We were just thankful and I’m glad his teacher recommended it.”

Ayush one day hopes to go into a STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — field, just like his parents who both work in computer science.

In his free time, Ayush likes to act, sing and play the piano, saxophone and Tabla, an Indian percussion instrument. He also enjoys playing tennis and hiking with his Boy Scouts troop.

“And obviously all the feed the Earth stuff,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”