A local weekly newspaper in Peterborough, where Trent University is located, has published a short biographical article on me, of all things. It is somewhat embarrassing, but here it is.
Trent University professor has travelled the world trying to rouse global empathy
By Kathryne Miller
Haroon Akram-Lodhi remembers sitting with men in Africa, in the fields they farm which have produced little or nothing, leaving these husbands and fathers broken and in tears because they are unable to feed their families.
In Asia, India, everywhere he has traveled he has been confronted by poverty and inequity – situations so horrendous and powerful that they have changed his life and driven him to try and change the world.“The fact of the matter is that you get confronted by this wave of inhumanity, you have to think about how the world is going to solve it and I do think that we are teetering towards a situation which, if we don't solve it, it will destroy us.”
Mr. Akram-Lodhi has brought his vast knowledge and experience to Trent University as professor of International Development Studies. He teaches his students about human inequality, agrarian change, and gender and economic policy.
Born in Glasgow, Prof. Akram-Lodhi was raised in Canada. He finished high school in Thunder Bay by the age of 15.As he got older, he would save his money to feed a passion for travel. But his trips were very different than those vacations most young people look forward to.
“I traveled to a lot of poor places and I had to confront my own feelings about the poverty that I was seeing, particularly in India and Bangladesh. The sort of poverty that you see there is something which is very degrading to the human spirit but at the same time you see this incredible resilience of people and the way in which they struggle to maintain dignity in the face of incredibly adverse circumstances. When I started university I knew that this is what I wanted to work on.”
Prof. Akram-Lodhi did well in his studies.He ended up working for more than a decade at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, the Netherlands.Then he felt the itch to find a new professional challenge and was eventually offered a position at Trent University.
“I must be frank and confess that before I looked into Trent, I did not know very much about it. However, once I started looking into it, I was struck by several things: the fact that it had the oldest international development studies program in Canada; and that it was, in many ways, from a teaching point of view, quite similar to the Institute of Social Studies, in that teaching was rigorously critical and interdisciplinary--which I liked, a lot.”
Professor Akram-Lodhi did not make the decision alone to take the post at Trent.His wife Catherine and their two children, aged eight and six, also had a say.“The position at Trent was an important position for him.” explains Ms Akram-Lodhi.“We talked about it as a family and I thought that he could do a lot for Trent.”
The professor now commutes from the family home in Toronto to his job here.The couple have decided to settle in Toronto to give their children more of a geographic anchor.Their son was born in London, their daughter in Thailand and they have travelled extensively.
Now Prof. Akram-Lodhi is sharing his experience and knowledge with students here.“The students at Trent are, in my experience, quite remarkable. They are committed, motivated and challenging. This comes together nicely in my classes, I hope.”
And the professor also hopes he sparks in his students the same kind of passion he holds to make the world a better place.“For much of humanity, life is brutal: it is short, it is filled with violence, it is filled with poverty, it is filled with injustice. However, it does not have to be this way. There are reasons why the world works the way it does, and I want my students to have a better understanding of how poverty processes are not inevitable but are made by people.”
When they understand that, they come to understand that we have the imagination, the knowledge and the people that could make the world a far more tolerable place, in a very short period of time. There is good reason to hope for a far, far better tomorrow: but it requires that we all work towards it, collectively, for the good of all. So let's get to it.”
For his students, learning under such an avid tutor can be a challenge. At least, so says Vincent Heney, former student and current teaching assistant to Prof. Akram-Lodhi.“He's incredibly knowledgeable and he's a brilliant academic. When I was a student it was intimidating. But as a colleague it's quite a privilege to be around someone who is so revered in the academic circles of development. Yet Haroon's a very personable guy. He's very down to earth.” It is his fierce commitment to humanity that makes Prof. Akram-Lodhi such a remarkable teacher and man.
“I think Haroon is a beautiful human being,” muses his wife.“He is completely selfless.”And it seems almost impossible to separate the man from the scholar or the humanist.
“I am very fortunate. I really enjoy my work. However, it is not a job, it is a way of life. It never goes away, it is always there, and I am always learning, thinking, communicating and disseminating ideas and advice based upon those ideas.”
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