The youth ambassadors visit and interact with sponsored children in Bhimnagar in Kanpur.
This was one of many things I learnt during my time in India earlier this year as one of the seven young Aussies chosen to be a 2016 Youth Ambassador for World Vision. On this life-changing trip, I got the opportunity to visit some of the poorest communities in rural towns, city slums and Himalayan villages in the north of the country.
Many would describe India as the perfect setting for a fairy-tale with its vivid array of colourful fabrics, enticing scent of mixed spices and rhythmic music that is sure to get even the worst of dancers on their feet. Whilst I heard many incredible stories throughout my journey, they were far from the average “once upon a time”. They were definitely not mystical tales of pirates, princesses, fairies or magic. They did, however, feature a villain and hero; just not in the way that we would expect. One of these stories belonged to a young girl whose name is Soni. What I didn’t know was that our conversation that morning would change my perspective forever.
Like any teenage girl, Soni loved makeup. I remember laughing as we discussed the very important topic of our favourite lipstick colour: “Coral?” I suggested, “Hot pink is much nicer!’’ she decided. Anyone would’ve thought she was just an average 18 year old girl who, like many of us worries about what to wear, complains about how frizzy hair can get in humid weather, and occasionally dreads waking up in the morning to go to school. But unfortunately, she was not just an average girl.
At just 14 years old, Soni was taken out of school and forced into child labour in order to provide an extra source of income for her struggling family. Her mother’s eyes welled with tears as she described making the heartbreaking choice between putting food on the table and her daughter’s education. Child labour is the illegal employment of children, in some of the world’s worst working conditions. Can you imagine slaving away for eight hours a day to make iron products that lead to you suffering many cuts and bruises? Can you imagine experiencing all this pain and only receiving 20 cents a day in return? While many of us find this difficult to even picture, Soni was faced with this reality every day. And she wasn’t alone. Many children in her community also suffered from a lack of education, clean drinking water and the excruciating pain of hunger.
Extreme poverty; this is the villain of our story. Because of it, over 100 million children around the world do not get an education. Malnutrition, a lack of clean water and hygiene has caused over 100 million kids, nearly five times the entire population of Australia, to face an uncertain future. The full scale of this statistic didn’t reveal itself until I realised that we are not just dealing with a number here; we are dealing with 100 million stories. Soni was only one. There are still so many stories that have been left unheard. For all we know, one of these stories could be of a future Einstein, a Malala or a Mandela; someone who could greatly impact his world. The bad news? If they do not go to school, we are unlikely to ever hear their story. The good news? Any action movie or fairy-tale tells us that the villain can be defeated. All we need is a hero.
Unfortunately, Superman isn’t always available so we need someone else to step up. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. As the future leaders of our planet, we need to be the heroes. We can ensure that the story of the fight against poverty, the fight to educate every child, has a happy ending.
When I visited World Vision’s projects in India – I realised the power that one person holds. That one person is an essential part of a worldwide team of everyday heroes that make a real difference by joining forces. Although it may seem like we are so far away from the problem and cannot defeat poverty on our own, absolutely nothing is impossible if we work together. Soni’s story is living proof of this. Because of the passion and generosity of Australians who support World Vision, she was able to finish school, enter university and start working towards her dream of becoming a nurse in order to help others, just like her, escape poverty’s grasp. This inspiring individual was empowered to dream big and now only wants to empower others to do the same. From the 19-21 August, I’m giving up food and easy access to clean drinking water for 40 hours to raise awareness and funds for kids like Soni’ who are denied such vital human rights. By doing this, I am taking a stand against such injustice, and I call you to join me.
As our conversation ended that day, Soni put on a huge smile and said, “We are now close friends; we are all fighting for the same thing.” It was then I realised this; smiles are universal. Unlike language – happiness, laughter and friendship have no barrier. A smile here in Australia means the same thing as a smile in India, and touches one’s heart in the same way. This mutual understanding emphasises our own humanity and reminds us that we are all in this together. It’s the closest thing we have to magic.
We can fight this villain, and we can win. By taking part in the 40 Hour Famine this year we can all be heroes and bring a smile to the face of so many children around the world. Together, we can take a stand and defeat global poverty and hunger; making it nothing more than something that existed once upon a time.