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What’s the impact?

World Vision
6 August 2015 by Abbey Mardon
What’s the impact?

Youth Ambassador Abbey in Timor-Leste. Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

Going to East Timor was confronting. Not because I saw the reminders of torture, war and hunger in the places we visited, but because I didn’t. It was confronting because I had to face up to the assumptions and expectations that I had of what East Timor, poverty and hunger would look like, and it was confronting because I realised I was wrong.

I thought that people would be shy and wary of us as Australians. They weren’t. I thought that because more than 45% of children under the age of 5 are thought to have chronic malnutrition it would be a barren country of dust and scrubland. It wasn’t. I thought that because we were visiting a country that is ranked 128th on the human development index that we would see hardship and suffering everywhere we looked. But we didn’t.

Instead, we met incredible people who were excited to share their stories with us. We adventured through a country that was lush and tropical, and we talked with families who had been working alongside World Vision for years to improve their communities. And yet, all you need to do is Google the country and you can see that things are far from perfect: only 36% of the population has access to adequate sanitation facilities, and only 62% of the country has access to clean drinking water.

Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

So while there are definitely problems, what I saw in East Timor was that we are absolutely making progress. There are tangible changes and countless success stories that I want to focus on because I think we hear plenty about the world’s issues, and not enough about solutions. We hear about everything that still needs to be changed, but not enough about what has.

It’s important to hear about the impact because it’s hard to be part of a movement that you don’t really believe in. If you aren’t convinced that doing the 40 Hour Famine or sponsoring a child is really going to change anything, why do it? In a world where ‘charity muggers’ and ‘voluntourists’ are often talked about, it’s no wonder people are concerned with the often-asked question “where does my money really go?”.

Although I reckon there is definitely a need to ask these questions and hold organisations to their word, I have also realised that this kind of thinking can be a trap. If we get too caught up in all the situations where aid hasn’t been effective, if we get too bogged down in the huge numbers of people still experiencing poverty it becomes completely overwhelming and we end up doing nothing. Then comes the guilt and eventually the avoidance because although you know in your heart that things need to change, you don’t even know where to begin.

Until I arrived in East Timor, that was how I felt.

Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision

Then I met Lala, our adored translator who patiently answered every one of our complicated questions. Then I met Mana Miranda, walking through her village rain, hail or shine (and I mean that) to look after the new mothers in the village. And then I met Mana Theresa who ran the local Collective initiative with efficiency, skill and care, and I realised that I was looking at three women who had each achieved incredible things not because they had access to huge amounts of money but because rather than trying to fix everything all at once, they decided to start small.

What does that look like? Think of it like this. Each parent that Mana Miranda and her team spoke with was given information on the subject of nutrition and healthcare (how to avoid malaria, what signs to look out for etc). Often, parents bring this information home and implement it, meaning it is then passed on to at least to their immediate family members, but most likely neighbours and friends as well. The more people who are aware of these issues, the more widespread the changes.

Between 2013-2014, Mana Miranda’s team improved the wellbeing of 4321 people across the Baucau district – and that is huge. That’s over 4000 families in multiple villages, 4000 families who have been since working (successfully) to reduce the number of mortalities of children under the age of 5 in their area. This to me is a beautiful example of aid working. It’s not a wildly expensive project built in a moment of goodwill and then handed to a village with no means of maintaining it. It’s an ongoing, sustainable, community-led project that once started can be handed entirely to community leaders to maintain and evolve.

 

So when we’re sitting back here in Australia knowing we want to end world hunger but thinking it’s just too big a problem, we need to remember Mana Miranda, Mana Theresa and of course Lala. If they started small, so can we. $10 can help provide healthcare for 10 new and expectant mothers – which I now know means giving someone like Mana Miranda the opportunity to reach ten more women. Ten women who’ll then tell their families and their neighbours. If just a few of us did that, we could help Miranda reach a whole village and that’s pretty exciting.

The thing to remember is that doing nothing is a choice – although often it doesn’t feel like it. We talk ourselves into thinking that we don’t have enough time, the money might not get there or that community development doesn’t work anyway. But thinking like that is definitely a choice. If we decide, we can instead focus on the success stories and educate ourselves about not just the issues but the solutions too. When we all do something small, or even when lots of us do something small, the impact is anything but.

Abbey Mardon Abbey Mardon

Abbey is a 2015 World Vision Youth Ambassador.

 

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