Youth Ambassador Lucinda with Promesse, 5, and Florence, 3, in Rwanda.
For a little while you were a single cell. And then that cell multiplied and multiplied and became a tiny version of yourself. Skip forward some months and you enter the world.
A newborn child anywhere in the world, I think, is quite the miracle, but for a part of the population this child comes with a caveat.
A caveat that says –‘I can’t make any promises’.
‘I don’t know if I can make it.
I need food to survive.
I need shelter.
I can’t make any promises.’
So we’re in Rwanda. A small boy leads us to where he lives.
His name is Promesse.
We sit with Promesse’s family on a small dirt patch outside the room they rent at the back of a shop. We listen as they generously share their story.
Later in the day, we play games with Promesse and demonstrate how to blow bubbles with mixture we brought from Australia.
Promesse had never seen a bubble before and unsure what to think, he puckers his lips, blows softly and stares up at his creation. Though he soon lit up and began giggling and catching the bubbles in his little hands, I remember his initial confusion as a bubble hovered on a nearby object and then popped. I wondered if he understood it’s too risky to hope it will stay alive –it’s too fragile.
But the bubbles don’t surprise Promesse’s father, as we ask this strong man with gentle eyes; ‘What is your hope for your son?’ He explains to us given their current situation he can’t afford to hope. He looks over at his son, as though to say, ‘can’t you see, it’s too risky?’
While the family understands their life is not fair, this doesn’t seem to affect their compassion. You see, Promesse had been holding a plastic bag with two bread rolls. He’d eaten one but saved the other. When his younger sister Florence woke from her nap and their mother brought her outside, Promesse immediately handed Florence the now soggy bread roll; it was precious and he wanted to share it with her.
We ask one more question: ‘If you could say something to the people in Australia, what would you say?’ Promesse’s father turns to us, his voice strong and clear: “Please tell them on the other side of the world, people are suffering; if you can, please help.”
As we leave, I realize we heard a story that isn’t usually told, because usually when we hear about stories from the other side of the world, they come to us in the form of facts and figures.
And when we hear these statistics about how many people live in extreme poverty and how many children are chronically malnourished in Rwanda and around the world, it’s often really hard to think about all the actual people the numbers represent.
The statistics aren’t just about ‘hungry people’, but people with a sense of humor. People with likes and dislikes. People who maybe snort when they laugh too hard. To use a cliché, people no different to you or me.
I’m not suggesting this is new information because of course they’re people.
However if I accept that the people I met in Rwanda are ‘no different to myself’ just born into different circumstances, what is the appropriate response?
I don’t think anyone chooses the circumstance of their birth. The people I met in Rwanda are some of the strongest people I have ever encountered, they don’t want my pity; like anyone, they want hope and empowerment.
To recognise no one can choose the circumstance of their birth is to recognise that just as I was born in Australia, I could as easily have been born in Rwanda. It is to consider those hungry and in danger not with pity but with the thought, “That could be me, and how would I feel if it was?” My response is to at least try to speak up for those who often don’t get a chance to be heard.
I am certainly not alone in this; I have seen oceans of young people listening and wanting to know what it’s like on the other side of the world. I have met endless people with a fierce passion and determination to do all they can to help those who were born into unjust circumstances beyond their control.
Since each of us, for a little while, was just a single cell.
Find out how you can join Lucinda in bringing down hunger with the 40 Hour Famine.