2030 Leaders Program with The Hunger Project
When I first started out as a photographer, I knew it was important for me to work with people whose values aligned to mine, working towards a brighter future for humankind. Even as my hands were tied, being a Mum and just starting out in business, I knew the bigger picture was to eventually contribute towards a future of equality for all. Starting with women.
I always believed that if there were more women in power, making the big decisions in our world, it would be a different - if not better - place.
I believed we would need to build this world from the ground up, starting having more girls in education, then going into higher education, and gaining leadership positions in influential companies that could change the world. This year I have found myself in a place of security and strength, both in my business and in my daughter’s schooling. In this new, positive mindset, I know I can make an impact and work toward something bigger than myself and my own personal goals.
After learning about The Hunger Project (THP) and their work, through Kemi Nekvapil and Cathy Burke, two incredible women in my life, I couldn’t say no to being a part of the 2030 leaders program. I didn’t yet have clarity around what the program was about, but the first step was showing up, putting my hand up and jumping in wholeheartedly with an open mind, eager to learn.
The next step to becoming a part of the program was to fundraise $10,000. I’d never fundraised more than a few hundred dollars when I was a child, so this was the first step to becoming a leader. As you may know, I raised 70% of that amount through a 100x100x100 campaign (100 headshots of 100 people for 100 dollars). It nearly burnt me to the ground. I decided that I would ask people to support The Hunger Project instead.
Lessons I learnt:
With the resources available to me, living in Australia, I can do anything I put my mind to.
The power of asking for what you need (thanks again to Kemi with her book “The Gift of Asking”)
I have the power to influence and share stories to a large network of people who together can make a difference.
The importance of collaboration and how interconnectedness creates change.
In October 2018, a team of twelve of us headed to Uganda, on the other side of the world, to experience the Hunger Project’s work on the ground.
On the first day we were met with THP’s Uganda staff, we were welcomed with open arms and a rooftop party, where dancers moved joyously and drums filled the air with good vibes and love. In the next few days, we would meet the village partners and community members. But that first day was all about laying a foundation for our leadership journey, facilitated by Kemi. It prepared us to listen deeply, and to have a beginner’s mind, so we could immerse ourselves fully.
Day 2 - Mpigi Epicentre
On the road to our first epicentre visit, Uganda’s magnificent landscapes took my breath away. Before visiting a place, you create a vision of what you might think it will be - dusty, dry, vast. Instead, it actually reminds me of my hometown in the far north coast of NSW, rolling lush green hills and a temperate climate.
As we arrived into Mpigi we were greeted with song, dance and smiles everywhere as the community members and children ran towards the bus to celebrate. The energy was high, and I do get emotional at moments like this, I could only imagine if when we visited our friends and family it was always in song and dance.
First up we toured the epicentre, each centre is built with a similar layout / plan that includes nursery school, clinic, bank, activity hall, pharmacy, clean water and gardens. We were honoured with the gift of being offered to take part in the gardens by planting four mango trees.
We then had the opportunity to hear from the community leaders and their stories of how THP has made a difference.
Maggie gave birth to her first child in a small hut, with only natural herbs as medicine to relieve the pain and no medical attention from a doctor or qualified nurse. In the year following THP had come to Mpigi and was mobilising their village through their Vision, Commitment, Action Workshops, and partnerships with the local government.
Maggie was there from the beginning, becoming a leader and doing everything in her power to encourage the rest of the community to join. From there, she helped with the building of the epicentre. Now, she’s the school teacher.
By the time Maggie gave birth to her second child, it was in a delivery room at the centre. She had a qualified nurse and doctor with her, and the necessary medicine to ensure the safe arrival of her child.
The core of THP work comes from the VCA’s workshops - enabling a vision, commitment to realise that vision and the identification of a clear set of actions necessary to achieve that vision.
Day 3 -Kenshunga Epicentre
Day three was a complete whirlwind of interaction and immersion, connecting with many people. We began the day by visiting a local village near the centre that was being opened.
The previous day we had met a community who were on their way to being fully self-reliant. Today was about phase three, program implementation and solidifying partnerships with local government.
We visited three families at their homes in the local village. This was to gain an understanding of their daily life and the vision for their families.
The first woman we met was Florence, she was at home alone with her 1.5 year old boy, Isaac. When we arrived Florence was in the process of hulling maize by hand to sell at the local market. Maize is also the main source of sustenance for her small family. I had a go at hulling the corn myself, though meditative, it is hard and hurts your fingers. For Florence, while taking breaks to breast feed her toddler it is relentless work.
Florence has two older daughters that go to the nearby school, which is a two kilometre walk away, she would walk them to school carrying her baby. The children would walk home alone. When we asked about what her husband does, and if she knew about the epicentre, it was as though she was kept isolated from what was going on, not only the financial situation of the family but being connected with her community.
I have had the experience giving birth in a new city, with no family and friends around me. It can lead to mental health issues making daily life and parenting a challenge. In situations like this, when Florence is the primary carer for her children, having a community to connect, learn and grow is so important. In future, now that The Hunger Project is close by, Florence can learn how to best take care of herself and family supported by THP animators (leaders).
Jaclyn & Evan
As we walked to the second family’s home, I was loving how the garden was filled with a profusion of stunning orange and purple flowers. Their mudbrick home was surrounded by a plantation of bananas, beans, cassava, and papaya. We were greeted by Jaclyn and Evan, a couple in their early 50’s who had been married for 30 years. Together they had 4 children, from 5-19 years of age, and all lived in the 3 room home that Evan had built.
It was fascinating to hear their story. They had only been on this property for two years, after being literally kicked off of their land. They purchased this acre block, and have made a living off the land. I couldn’t believe how incredible the garden and crops were, all planted and maintained by Evan.
Evan provided the main source of income for their family, wholesaling the crops. Jaclyn took smaller amounts of produce to the nearby town and retailed on a daily basis.
They showed such a beautiful commitment to one another, I could see how well they had worked together, supported and loved one another after all these years.
Jaclyn spoke of the vision she had, for her children to go on to become doctors and lawyers and together were working towards saving so they could go on to do this.
With the epicentre being set up it would allow Jaclyn and Evan to microfinance a loan and grow their business. They can also learn new entrepreneurial skills and farming methods to increase their profitability though THP’s workshops.
Justice & Family
The third family we met also had a property filled with thriving produce. We met their son Justice, whose eyes were filled with light and positivity. He had just completed higher education, where he enjoyed mathematics and economics. His dream was to go to college, to further his strengths, and hopefully get a career in this field.
This is when I truly realised the opportunity we have living in Australia. We can further our education in a field we wish to study through government financial support. We all have an opportunity. The likelihood for Justice at this point in time is that he’ll continue working on his family’s property, the dream slowly fading. What THP can offer for a situation such as this is to help grow the family business, meaning that they could then pay people to come and work for them allowing Justice could go onto study. Getting over that hurdle is quite a leap, because I know that once he does get into that position, he will be able to also support his siblings, helping them to reach their vision and goals in life.
We invited all the families we had met to the afternoon’s celebrations: the opening of the Kenshunga Epicentre.
As our bus approached the epicentre (which ended up being a few kms down the road) we could hear music. There was a brass marching band that took us on the walk into the new epicentre. Most of us ran off the bus to join them and dance our way down the street, waving and shaking hands with all the people running outside their homes, businesses and school to say hello.
When we reached the epicentre there were over 700 people from the community gathered together for the special day. This epicentre was a lot larger than the other one we visited. It was perched on a hill overlooking a lake where the water was pumped up and filtered to give to the locals.
The energy was vibrant and celebratory. The kids from the local school were playing music and dancing, and members of national parliament were there, including the Ugandan president’s brother and advisor.
After being greeted with so many beautiful songs and dances, we felt as a group we wanted to give back our love and support through song and dance. So we gathered and made up a few songs and dances of our own. Rain came out of nowhere, so we went inside with a group and sang and danced together till the rain left us. It was a sign of good luck and strength, in keeping the community together and building positive relationships.
This day made me feel so excited about how The Hunger Project’s work. Their holistic program truly combines confidence building with tools and training. Men and women gain a sense of leadership, and become authors of their own development, taking the steps to end their own hunger and poverty.
We were treated on day four to experience what Uganda wildlife and nature had to offer. We stayed at Rwakobo Rock in the Lake Mburo National park. At sunset we watched Zebras drink from the nearby pond, as baboons chased one another across the rocks. We went on a safari, and saw giraffes walk gracefully across the field, waterbucks graze with their families and a pod of 20-30 hippos resting in the water.
Our last day was spent sharing the stories of what we had learnt. We created a vision for what we want in our own lives,discussed how we can bring awareness to The Hunger Project’s work, so they to can continue empowering people all over the world to step out of poverty and hunger and into self-reliance.
From being a part of THP’s leadership program I have gained a new sense of self and humanity, as an individual in Today’s society when coming together and learning from one another as a community is how change is created. It is not so much about being a saviour and helping someone, but working together and understanding the needs of an individual and empowering them through knowledge and action to to create their best life.
If you are interested in being a part of the next hunger project leadership program, visit https://thp.org.au/unlock/ to register and find out more.