By Nick Cavallaro
Omaha author, photographer and philanthropist Howard Buffet will speak at the annual underwriting fundraiser for Hike to Help Refugees at UNO on May 2.Buffet, the eldest son of Omaha billionaire Warren Buffet, will be keynote speaker at the event, which supports the work of the United Nations Refugee Agency. According to the UNHCR website, the organization aims to “lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide.” This includes providing shelter, food, water, medical care and sanitation to more than 34 million refugees.
“The Hike to Help Refugees provides an opportunity to help protect the world’s most vulnerable and innocent people,” said Margaret Hahn, founder and director of the program, on the organization’s website.
Founded in 2002, the fundraising program consists of a dedicated group of volunteers from Iowa and Nebraska who support the efforts of the UNHCR. Hikers gather donations from sponsors before the annual hike, scheduled this year from May 22 until May 29. The hike itself spans the 63-mile Wabash Trace Nature Trail in southwest Iowa.
Hikers average 12.3 miles per day, according to the HTHR website. After a long day’s hike, participants “camp out at night, sleeping to the music of owls, coyotes, crickets and the deep quiet of the Iowa countryside.”
As an active and supporter of humanitarian efforts worldwide, Buffet is an obvious choice for keynote speaker at Sunday’s fundraiser. Supported by National Geographic, his latest book, “Fragile: The Human Condition,” details life stories from 65 countries around the world. Featuring more than 400 photos taken by Buffet himself, the book attempts to capture the emotional and intellectual realities of people throughout the world.
“This book is about many journeys through life,” Howard wrote in the book’s preface.
Available at the Criss Library, the book is filled with full-color photographs of the people and cultures Buffet encountered in his travels. It documents his struggle to come to terms with a world filled with poverty, natural disasters and a lack of basic necessities for millions of people. He hopes, he wrote, that awareness will lead to change.
“The common denominator I have found to be true in every country I have visited is that people offer more than they can afford, and accept strangers with open hearts and open minds,” he wrote.
In a chapter titled “Food is Power,” Buffet argues in favor of food assistance for malnourished countries.
“Some may criticize food assistance,” Buffet wrote, “but I have yet to meet a critic who cannot find a meal when hungry.”
He draws on his travels and experiences, seeing the effects of malnourishment firsthand.
“I have been with hungry people,” he began: “I have been with mothers who have lost children from a lack of food. I can promise you that anyone who experiences these circumstances comes home and searches for a way to feed hungry people.”
Part of Buffet’s effort to raise awareness includes speaking at Sunday’s fundraiser. The event will take place in the Milo Bail Student Center Ballroom from noon to 2 p.m. with presentations beginning at 1 p.m.
Those wishing to support the efforts of the Hike to Help Refugees and the UNHCR can purchase tickets to Sunday’s limited-seating event. The options include a $50 ticket, which includes a luncheon with Buffet followed preceding the presentations, or a $20 ticket to attend only the presentations. Ticket costs are tax deductible, and can be purchased through www.ticketomaha.com.
Those interested in joining the hike can visit www.hiketohelprefugees.org for more information.