Alana met Beatrice in Kenya in 2009, when Beatrice was a featured child for the 40 Hour Famine.
Have you ever looked at a photo of someone you have not seen in a while and thought to yourself, ‘wow, they look great?’
This happened to me recently when I was emailed a picture of Beatrice, an 8-year-old girl I met while travelling in Kenya with World Vision in 2009. Six years after meeting her, she looked healthier than ever before.
When I met Beatrice, she was one of the 10 million Kenyans that didn’t know where their next meal was coming from and one of the one billion people across the world on the verge of starvation.
The GFC’s of 2009
At the time, the world was in the height of two GFCs – the Global Food Crisis and the Global Financial Crisis. Until I met Beatrice and her family, I only knew people impacted by the Global Financial Crisis; mainly friends who had missed out on securing graduate jobs. The day I visited Beatrice and her community, I was exposed to the brutal reality of being impacted by both GFCs – no jobs and no food.
That day, all Beatrice had in her stomach was a cup of tea. If World Vision had not visited Beatrice and dropped off emergency food supplies, it is likely that her and her family would not have eaten that week.
I learnt that Beatrice’s family and community live in one of the most marginalised areas of Kenya, with a poor road network and little agriculture production. Their income and livelihood were dependent on the amount of livestock they own but their ability to travel to market to sell their animals was limited – the three day journey on a bumpy road made for bruised and battered animals that don’t sell for much. But the biggest threat facing Beatrice’s community was climate change – the barren and drought stricken landscape affected their ability to grow food to feed their families, to access water, results in the spread of infectious diseases and can result in the heightened risk of conflicts over dwindling resources.
Did Beatrice go to school? I wondered. It turned out she did – under a tree not far from the hut she slept in. Learning under the tree, while better than no learning at all, was not without its challenges. Beatrice’s hunger, along with the heat and flies – made it difficult to concentrate.
Driving away after meeting Beatrice
I felt ‘hangry’ as I drove away after meeting Beatrice, a term used to describe the anger, irritability and frustration one might feel when hungry. I felt hungry for Beatrice and anger that this was her reality, every bump on the poor and rocky road a reminder of the challenges faced by her community. I was very aware that there was a real sense that the Global Food Crisis was considered to simply be ‘business as usual’ for the poorest of the poor.
What could I do for Beatrice? We came from two very different worlds. Within one month, I’d return to Australia to finish my last semester at university and begin looking for full-time work. The best that Beatrice and her family could hope for the year was survival.
Perhaps I could join her in Kenya as an aid worker? Years earlier, I had flirted briefly with the idea before deciding that was not the best way for me to contribute.
The other option was to share Beatrice’s story with as many people as I could.
And so I did. The year I returned from my visit to Beatrice’s community was one of the most purpose filled years of my life. I used Beatrice’s story to encourage people to participate in the 40 Hour Famine. Monies raised from the 40 hour famine in 2009 were channelled into communities like Beatrice’s where hunger was as prevalent as the common cold in Melbourne’s winter.
Since I left World Vision at the end of 2009, people often ask if the money they donate to World Vision makes a difference.
My answer? Absolutely! Do you recognise the pictures of the girl below?
It’s Beatrice. Beatrice turns 15 this year. The community she lives in, where World Vision has been working since I visited in 2009, has come a long way. Importantly, Beatrice is healthy and enjoying school which is in a classroom rather than under a tree.
People also ask me, how can I make a difference to the lives of people like Beatrice?
It is not necessary to work as an aid worker in Kenya, or in any other developing country for that matter, to make a difference.
Participating in the 40 Hour Famine and sharing Beatrice’s story with friends and family and encouraging them to donate is a great start. Given the impact of climate change on many of the communities World Vision works in, taking note of your carbon footprint and doing your bit to reduce it can be another step you can take.
Being aware of where your food and clothes come from and doing your best to ensure what you purchase is made or produced by people whose human rights are respected can also assist to combat exploitation and child labour in the food and textiles industries in the developing world.
Meeting Beatrice, participating in the 40 Hour Famine and working and volunteering at World Vision has had an enormous impact on my life. I hope it inspires you to take action as well!