The youth ambassadors visit and interact with sponsored children in Bhimnagar in Kanpur.
Let me begin by explaining something very important about myself: I was born and spent my formative years in India, exposed to extreme poverty but indifferent because I was too young to understand. If I did not understand, how could I care? It took my family immigrating to Australia coupled with my life as the average Australian teenager to realise that some of the things I witnessed as a young child were unjust.
Recently I travelled back to India with World Vision and six other passionate young Australians, visiting various projects similar to those funded by the 40 Hour Famine. I had the privilege of witnessing World Vision transforming the lives of those most in need. This trip challenged and confronted me more than I could imagine, exposing me to the side of India I never understood.
It took me years to understand how massive an issue global poverty is. Although I may have known that 795 million people go to sleep hungry, I only knew it as another statistic. I did not realise that 147 million pre-schoolers experience stunted growth due to malnutrition. Although I knew that poor nutrition takes the lives of 3.1 million children every year, I did not consider the injustice of this. What I now understand is that every single statistic represents people. People who, like you and me, bleed red and feel the same hunger. Unfortunately, their hunger, unlike ours, is not so easily satisfied. I did not realise that malnutrition doesn’t just mean being constantly hungry, it means putting your health at risk every single day. Malnutrition means increased expenses through medical treatment for families who barely have enough to begin with.
To say that I am not overwhelmed by those numbers as a single 18-year-old would be untrue. However, whenever these gargantuan statistics seem overpowering, a single story of tremendous hope encourages me.
In the foothills of the Himalayas exists a town called Pauri, in which lie several villages where the people live extremely simple lives, humbled by what used to be a lack of access to education and clean water, sanitation issues and the most debilitating: malnutrition. I remember sitting under the rays of the summer sun on a worn rug, surrounded by the monumental mountains and infinite dirt tracks. I felt so insignificant at that moment. The smell of steaming chai was mingling with the earth we were sitting on as I observed small huts, each maybe smaller than our bedrooms but these were the houses of the members of a women’s group I met.
“How did this group form?” we asked. Enthusiastically, this group of 12 inspirational women explained that they could not accept the conditions in which their children were living. They desired one thing: to completely eradicate malnutrition in their entire village, however, were completely unsure about how to accomplish that.
World Vision extended the helping hand they needed. World Vision not only provided the initial training and materials required for the business to function but also acted as a medium, connecting this group to government bodies who support and advance such initiatives. I was amazed and inspired to see that the project was a collaboration between the villagers and World Vision.
The group purchases raw nutritious food (such as legumes), packages it and delivers those packages to children and pregnant women in their community. Incredibly, I’ve witnessed these determined ladies carrying baskets of packaged food up those hills to have them delivered.
In a situation where women are traditionally marginalised and do not hold jobs, these ladies have proactively taken the initiative to not only improve their own standard of living but also to advance their entire society by working to eliminate one of its most pressing issues. By solving one problem, this group has erected a path to success for younger generations that is much less steep and winding than the dirt tracks in their village.
The initial profits were invested into the business to further the cause and two years later, the group is publicly recognised for the work they do. The universality of success was striking: you start from the bottom and climb the ladder, one rung at a time. I was compelled to think, “Are we that different?”
Despite their success, the group was most excited about their simplest investment: uniforms. These uniforms symbolise the fact that they are all the same – equal. The realisation then hit me like a truck: they are people, just like us. Their children are teenagers who have the same problems. Is this not the uniform that we all wear? It is not the people who witness the greatness of the mountains, rather, it is the mountains that witness great people conquering battles against poverty.
I felt the barriers that had been built by social stigma and my own self-doubt about being insignificant crumpling. It’s extremely easy to distance yourself from a situation and think that the things you do don’t matter, but through empowering one group of 12, a whole community has benefited. The self-help group sustains itself. World Vision’s work involves making communities independent and self-sustaining, empowering people to extents where they no longer require support but rather lend their own support to others.
I never expected the solution to a complex problem like malnutrition to be so simple. Yet, by doing something as simple as the 40 Hour Famine, so many people’s lives can be changed. The direct effect – one family’s food production for an entire month can be increased from just $20 – but the indirect effect is started through the initiation of changes in a society’s mentality. From this, the chain reaction of help is started, and is unimaginable and invaluable.
In the words of the women’s group: “Alone, it is really difficult – almost impossible. But together, we can do anything.” Every drop makes an ocean and many seas already exist. It is now time for us to join and create waves – tsunamis, even, of change.