Youth Ambassador Meg Howe gives us the inside word on World Vision’s 40 Hour Famine
WORDS VANESSA FENTON
Meg in the Xaybuathong
district, Laos, with
Kaisong, 7 with her familyThe World Vision 40 Hour Famine, the annual weekend without food, is a rite of passage for many Australian school kids. Remember stocking up on barley-sugar lollies, the growling stomach, bailing up your family and friends with your sponsorship book – and the speed at which you scarfed down mum’s roast after the whole thing was blissfully over? The Famine is on again this year (17-19 Aug), so now’s the time to sign up, get a group of friends together and start raising money, whatever your age! Things might have changed since you last did it: did you know that you can now choose to go without technology or furniture or talking for the weekend, instead of food? But some things haven’t: every AU$40 you raise helps to feed and care for eight kids for a month, which is a pretty good return in anyone’s book. It’s all about going without something that really matters to you.
We chatted to World Vision’s 18-year-old Victorian Youth Ambassador Meg Howe about the event, her experiences in South-East Asia with World Vision and how the money you raise helps some of the world’s less fortunate people.
How long have you been doing the Famine?
I’ve been doing it every year since Year 5 except one: this will be my eighth year.
Tell us about your trip to South-East Asia with World Vision.
I went to three districts in Laos, and the differences between them were astounding. In Louangphrabang, a lot of the [World Vision] projects were really new, but schools and hospitals were being built, village health workers were undergoing training, safe water supply was being established… We even saw a village with the makings of a toilet – which is an amazing thing in Laos! The kids in Louangphrabang, you’d ask them what they wanted for their future and they’d tell you ‘Doctor,’ ‘Nurse,’ ‘Teacher,’ ‘I want to do this with my life.’ Whereas the children in the Xaybuathong district, where World Vision doesn’t currently work, but where the Famine money will be going, you’d ask them what their hope was, and they’re like, ‘My hope is to eat. My hope is to go to school. Just to survive.’
Was that your first time in South-East Asia?
I’d been to Thailand before, for a holiday. I did cooking classes and went shopping and things like that. There’s a lot of poverty; I just didn’t get a chance to see it. But I’ve been very fortunate with my travel. [At home] everything I need is within a 5km radius of me, but if I stayed in that 5km radius,
I’d just be in my own little bubble. So I think travel’s really important. You can always have concepts of poverty, and concepts of other cultures, but there’s nothing like the actual experience of seeing it.
Did you make changes as a result of the trip?
I did. Once you see a child starving to death, that will never leave you. It makes me feel sick that I spend AU$1.50 on a Curly Wurly [chocolate bar] when AU$1.50 sends a kid to school for a year in central Laos.
I make a conscious choice about need versus want. Do I need the grande size coffee at Starbucks? I really want it, that’s for sure, especially in the caramel variety! But I don’t need it. It makes choices simpler for me. If I came back to Australia and lived a highly consumeristic life… what’s life about then? My sister’s studying Earth Sciences and she’s taught me a lot about the ecological footprint [the amount of land and resources needed to sustain a person], so I’m trying to reduce my ecological footprint and [increase] the amount of things I do to help those who don’t have enough.
It’s only by chance that I was born into the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Poverty is chance.
Tell us about the non-food 40 Hour Famine options: is it wimping out?
No! I do something different every year. I’ve done furniture: think about no beds, no chairs, no pillows. That’s reality for people – when I went to Laos, we stayed a night in the chief’s house in a village, and we did sleep on the floor, and we did sit in the dirt. It’s funny, because it’s not something you think about. I jump into my queen-size bed, and it’s bigger than some people’s houses that I saw. It makes you think outside “people are hungry” – they are hungry, but there’s so much more to poverty: social poverty, political poverty, environmental poverty. It’s not, “I’m hungry, I need to be fed, but everything else is cool.”
People go without electricity, without furniture and without sight. I met a young girl called Kaisong [in Laos]. Her mother was blind, her grandmother was weak and frail and could barely leave the house, her father was dead. She was six or seven, and it was her and her sister’s job to find food for the family, because her mother couldn’t do it. They either walk through the landmine-infested jungle to dig up small frogs, or they’d walk through the [dried up] rice paddies and go through dung with their bare hands to find dung beetles to eat that night.
And poverty is boring! We met a boy called Sangchen. What he did every day was collect firewood, maybe help with the cooking, forage for food in the jungle, maybe walk to the market to beg, play with his one and only toy – which was a brass bombshell casing left over from the Vietnam War – and maybe play soccer. If that’s all you’ve got to do in a day – every day, for the rest of your life – it’s pretty damn boring.
What do you do on a typical Famine weekend?
I like to get together with my mates, maybe organise an event…there are often different events during the Famine. [Last year] we had the World Vision Formal, an alcohol-free dance party to kick off the weekend. If I’m not doing the “technology” famine option, I’ll spend a bit of time on the phone to my best friend, who also does the Famine every year.
So it’s a team thing?
Yeah. Not only is it fun to do it that way, but it does give you a sense that this is making a difference. Sometimes you question if going without food for 40 hours and raising a couple of hundred bucks is actually doing anything, but when we all get together…nationwide I think we raised AU$5 million.
I guess that’s what the Famine’s about. I mean, you can’t experience poverty by going without food for 40 hours – you have fruit juice and tea and barley sugar; it’s luxury.
It’s meant to give you a bit of a taste, but it’s mainly meant as a prompt, to get people to think about poverty. And obviously financially it’s beneficial to the communities.
And it’s easy to raise the money with the Famine?
Sure. I email and chat to family and friends. I still send the book to my Dad’s work; get him to circulate the email from the famine website with the credit card link. It’s not hard. If you tell someone that instead of having that coffee and a muffin they can help to feed a hungry kid in Laos for a month, they’re gonna be like, “Kids, hunger– let’s go!” Ask as many people to support you as you can. There are very few people I find that just say, ‘Stuff it’.
And it’s not just for kids?
Everyone associates the Famine with youth, but since when is justice a youth thing? Everyone should do the Famine. Choose something that really matters to you, and that will give you a taste of going without. Do it for the right reasons, do it because you want to help and achieve justice in the world.
|“Just AU$40 will help feed and care for eight children for a month. Do the 40 Hour Famine this year – it’s an easy way to make a big difference.”
- Stephanie McIntosh, actor and singer
Top tips for the 40 Hour Famine
Jetstar employee Bernard Mills is doing his third 40 Hour Famine this year. A corporate relations and communications adviser at Jetstar’s Melbourne office, Mills grew up “all over South-East Asia” as a result of his father’s work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and says: “You couldn’t avoid seeing the poverty. I think if you travel, it gives you a sense of perspective, and you feel a responsibility to give something back to those communities. The Famine’s an easy, fun thing to do, and the difference your money makes is really tangible.” Here are Mills’ tips for your Famine weekend:
Choose your Famine carefully – make it into a personal challenge, whether it’s a food, technology or furniture famine.
Team up and do the Famine with friends -plan activities and make it fun!
Use mass email using the template from the 40 Hour Famine website - I’ll be emailing everyone at work asking for support – the staff at Jetstar are really receptive anyway, but awareness is especially high now because of the new StarKids program.
Keep yourself well hydrated – lots of water. Make sure you eat your barley sugar every four hours – you never thought it could taste so good. Sign up today at www.40hourfamine.com
Launched in June, the StarKids initiative aims to raise at least AU$3 million over three years for World Vision to fund programs assisting children in Australia and countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. It will raise awareness of the causes and effects of poverty on children and families, and how we can all make a difference.