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40 Hour Famine: Breaking the poverty cycle is about more than money

World Vision
24 July 2014 by Daniel Ffrench-Mullen
40 Hour Famine: Breaking the poverty cycle is about more than money

Daniel helps to make mudbricks for a family home in Rwanda.

One day, back when I was in primary school, a friend brought in a Chinese Finger Trap: you know those toys where you put a finger in each end of this braid and when you try and pull them back out the trap tightens. The only way to escape is to go the seemingly counterintuitive route of pushing your fingers to the middle so the trap opens. Just like everyone else I fell victim to the prank until I figured out that the solution wasn’t the obvious one that we all thought to try.

I was reminded of the finger trap solution when I was in Rwanda, because we talk so often about poverty in terms of money – living on less than a dollar or two a day etc. But poverty is so much more than that: poverty is the inability to decide how you live your life, it’s the lack of opportunity. If World Vision simply gave all the 40 Hour Famine funds to communities in hard cash, then very little long-term change would actually be achieved, since you can’t buy food that hasn’t been grown. Indeed the solution, just as with the finger trap, is a little less obvious. Think of the idiom “give a person a fish and they will eat for the day, teach them how to fish and they will eat for a lifetime”. It’s the same in Rwanda, when we talk about how $40 can feed a family of six, that $40 isn’t plates of food being handed out; that $40 is classes on farming, that $40 is livestock and veggie gardens, that $40 is education, and that $40 is the tools people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Daniel plays with bubbles with Promesse, 5.

Daniel plays with bubbles with Promesse, 5.

In Rwanda I met a man named Cyprien who represents this idea perfectly. A few years ago Cyprien, his wife and three children had nothing, they had no stable source of food or income and lived similar lives to the families of Promesse and Chantal. But through World Vision Cyprien and his wife attended classes on farming and income generation. Today Cyprien is the head of a farming cooperative that has acres of perfectly grown crops that feed the community. He teaches many others in his community how to grow food like he does, and donates some of his excess harvest to – and is a councillor for – people who live like he once did. Cyprien’s family, through their hard work and determination, and with a little bit of help from World Vision through Australians like us, have created such an amazing life for themselves. He’s a part of the solution. And he’s proof that the solution to poverty and hunger isn’t just money, it’s things like agriculture and education.

Now you would think that what the families of Promesse and Chantal lacked the most was money, and at first I did too. But while money was certainly a problem, Promesse’s father told us that the first step to improving the family’s situation was a plot of land on which to grow food, not cash. You see, growing food in Rwanda is difficult on the erosion-prone hills, so if you’re working on someone else’s harvest then stable work is nearly impossible to find. But if you can grow your own food effectively then you can ensure that the family gets enough to eat; money for other basic needs is then more available through work; and the family can buy things like books and uniforms so that kids like Promesse can get to school.

And so what thousands of young Australians and I are going to be doing this August 15-17th is giving up and raising money so that Promesse’s mum and dad can learn to grow crops just like Cyprien. This means that when work is hard to find, Promesse and Florence still get enough to eat, and they still get to go to school. We’re not giving up to make sure that Promesse and Chantal get enough to eat this month, we’re giving up so that they will get enough to eat every month, so that their children will always get enough to eat, so that every child in Rwanda gets the opportunities for life that every single person on this planet deserves.

Join Daniel in bringing down hunger for the 40 Hour Famine here

Daniel Ffrench-Mullen Daniel Ffrench-Mullen

Daniel is a Youth Ambassador for the 40 Hour Famine.


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