Youth Ambassador Jordan learns to carry water at the Rutare ADP, Rwanda.
When I left for Rwanda, I thought classroom education was the most valuable asset anyone could attain. Having been educated in one of the most encouraging, proud, energising school environments, I was certain that formal classroom education was the most valuable resource on the planet, and I was passionate about doing everything I could to make it more widely accessible in our world. My perspective shifted slightly after visiting Rwanda, not that my passion for education had been minimised – if anything it gave me an even greater appreciation for the gift of education, and for those passionate teachers who dedicate their lives to educating and mentoring young people. However it did challenge me. I left for Rwanda thinking that school was the solution to poverty, but I returned to Australia identifying classroom education as just one piece in a complex mosaic of factors that combine to break the poverty cycle.
I think a guy called Maslow had the right idea back in 1943 when he created his Hierarchy of Needs. This basically outlines the order in which basic human needs should be received in order to create a whole and healthy person. It starts with basics like food and shelter, progresses to things like security of employment, then to friendship, to self-esteem, and then to the final stage of ‘self-actualisation’ or a greater understanding of the self in relation to the world around them. Each stage builds on top of each other, like building blocks, with the basic physical needs as the firm foundation.
My mother often quotes to me Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because I am really bad at remembering to eat. How silly of me. But the principle still stands that I have my basic needs fulfilled, just by virtue of being born into the socio-economic position have been. The only reason I’m ever hungry is if I’ve slept in too long to have breakfast, or been too busy at uni to have lunch. Some people aren’t hungry by their own poor time management, but because of the straw they drew in life. How, then, do they build on top of this weak foundation things like formal classroom education? Without food in their bellies, children can’t even concentrate in school. I had identified a deeper issue.
This was made real for me when we travelled east in Rwanda to a tiny community who had experienced radical change. After almost 20 years of a slowly increasing malnutrition rate in the area (45% at its highest), World Vision Rwanda had spent some time with this community, equipping families to grow their own vegetables and fruit, to make an income so they can expand their agriculture, buy livestock and put a roof over their heads. They were targeting the basic psychical needs of the community to facilitate the other social and emotional building blocks.
While playing with the children there I recognised one of the little girls from a school we had visited earlier in the week, and everything clicked. It was amazing to see where she had come from, and it helped me to properly understand the order in which these needs have to arrive. Without the income her family was making from the garden that was putting food in her belly, would she be at school? Would she have the strength to be playing with me? When you’re malnourished, the answer is ‘no’.
Now I think I get the order that these resources must come in, even though it seems pretty straight-forward. If targeting hunger is the most valuable thing we can do to assist our brothers and sisters who are struggling, then the 40 Hour Famine is way cooler than I realised. The more I meditate on the time I spent in Rwanda, the more I learn about development, and the more I am convinced that the teenagers I meet at schools are having the greatest impact on the lives of people living in poverty around the world. Projects like the community garden exist because of the 40 Hour Famine, and this year I’m participating with even more joy and excitement because I know that the money I raise really is changing lives and facilitating growth; I feel honoured to be a part of that. I hope you do too.
Help Jordan bring hunger down for the 40 Hour Famine this August 15-17! She will be giving up food and the use of her left arm for the full 40 hours to raise money for Rwanda.