Outstanding Young Alum: Martin Histand ’05

By Steve Shenk | July 20th, 2015

Martin Histand at the site of his company’s peanut butter unit in Ghana

Martin Histand at the site of his company’s peanut butter unit in Ghana (Photo courtesy of Martin Histand)

When he was young, Martin Histand ’05 may have been the only kid in America who didn’t like peanut butter. Who would have thought that someday he would be part of an effort to save Africa’s malnourished children through peanut butter?

Histand, 31, is the operations manager for Project Peanut Butter (PPB), an 11-year-old nonprofit agency based in St. Louis. He spends about one-third of his time at PPB’s factories in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Malawi.

“He oversaw the establishment of a factory in Ghana,” says his sister, Maria Histand Daly ’04. “He was in charge of everything from obtaining the facility and getting all necessary machinery ready to ensuring that the local staff had proper training and support.” And that was before he turned 30.

Project Peanut Butter is the brainchild of pediatrician Mark Manary, a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. After many years of treating malnourished children in Africa, he became convinced that a ready-to-use therapeutic food, also known as RUTF, could save a lot of lives. His preferred RUTF is peanut butter fortified with milk powder, vegetable oil, vitamins, minerals and sugar.

Histand heard about PPB from his brother Mark, who was a member of the Mennonite Voluntary Service unit in St. Louis and attended St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, where Manary and his family worship. PPB needed more staff, Mark told his brother.

Martin Histand moved to St. Louis in 2010 to volunteer with PPB, living at the Voluntary Service unit. After a year, his job became a paid position. He now specializes in peanut processing and RUTF production.

“Around the world, severe acute malnutrition is the largest killer of children under five years of age, contributing to nearly half of all childhood deaths,” says Histand. “The problem occurs mainly in families suffering from the impact of grinding chronic poverty.”

When he’s home in St. Louis, Histand is an active citizen of his adopted city. In the bitter aftermath of the killing of a young black man by a white police officer last August in nearby Ferguson, he participated in several peaceful rallies that promoted racial equality and social justice.

Histand’s first contact with needy people overseas was through his EMU cross-cultural experience. He spent the summer between his junior and senior years in Guatemala, studying Spanish and going to a remote area for service learning in an indigenous community. “There was no electricity, and we slept on the ground with tarantulas and snakes,” he says. “It was pretty wild, but the experience helped shape my worldview and has impacted the decisions I’ve made since college.”

After graduating with a degree in history and social studies and a secondary-education teaching license, Histand went to Ethiopia under the Serving and Learning Together (SALT) program of Mennonite Central Committee. He worked for a year at a school for orphans and other underprivileged children. “It’s difficult to ever let go of an experience like that,” he says, “and it piqued my interest to remain involved with work in Africa.”

“Martin is a champion of the marginalized and voiceless,” says Jason Good ’05, a friend from their days at EMU. “He connects with people across cultural, linguistic and socio-economic divides in a genuine way that is vitally needed in our world today.”

Does Histand still hate the taste of peanut butter? “No,” he says. “I’m a born-again peanut butter lover!”

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