By Jess Perrin, CARE Communications Officer
Made to Cheltenham Secondary College, 27/04/2008
On Saturday we paused as a nation to reflect on those who lost their lives in war – people as young as many of you here today. Standing amongst other Australians at the crack of dawn and listening to the last post, together we paid homage to those who fought for our freedom.
To close the service, Australians across the world collectively whispered, ‘Lest we forget.’ These three words swam around in my head all day. We all understand the importance and significance of them, but how do we reflect on these in our everyday lives?
Everyone is busy; for you guys, you’re at school Monday to Friday, maybe you play sport or an instrument, hang out with your friends, sneak in some Facebook and hopefully fit in a little bit of study to keep your teachers happy. It’s pretty easy to forget that even today there are kids your age fighting a daily battle simply to survive.
I work for CARE Australia, a humanitarian aid agency that fights global poverty with a special focus on women and girls to bring lasting change to their communities. In my job, I’m reminded everyday of just how lucky we are.
Last year I met a woman named Haleema. She’s a Somali refugee who now lives in Jordan. Sitting in her unfurnished, two-bedroom home in one of the poorest suburbs in Jordan, surrounded by her nine children, she told me her story, harrowing and heartbreaking. She fled Somalia fearful for her children’s safety as the civil war threatened her village. Arriving in Jordan, she didn’t know a soul. All she had was $140. She frantically wandered the streets looking for food to feed her hungry children and a cheap hotel that would house her family for the night. She had lost her country, lost her husband, yet on this day, she was hopeful.
Haleema spoke softly to me while her two-year-old twins climbed over her lap. She is all they know, yet she knew no one. She is a victim of war in her homeland of Somalia – yet she was lucky, she escaped. There were many innocent victims left behind, and unfortunately, they’re not only in Somalia. As I speak, there are women and children across the world who are literally trapped in poverty. Without opportunity, without the chance. It’s an endless cycle.
With tears streaming down her face, Haleema told me that her dream is to secure a home for her children away from war and bullets, where no one can abuse them. She said she wants them to have the best education – but any of these thing are beyond her wildest dreams. For many of us, this existence is unimaginable.
Today, as we commemorate those who fought for our freedom, I want us to think about a way we can make remembering part of our everyday day lives. As the world gets smaller and we become closer as a global community with growing communication – the internet, instant messaging – should we also be thinking about women like Haleema? As a global citizen, should we be taking steps to remember her situation and help?
Everyday, 25,000 children die due to poverty. To put that in perspective, if anyone’s ever been to a game at the old Telstra Dome that would be half the crowd if it was full. Or it’s the equivalent of the Boxing Day tsunami happening every 10 days. These children die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth. It’s a silent war – and the weapons are poverty, hunger, easily preventable diseases and illnesses. It’s doesn’t make news headlines, and most people don’t even know that it’s happening. How do we remember them?
At CARE, we believe the best place to start is by not forgetting them. Last year we worked with 55 million of the world’s poorest people across 66 countries. We provided emergency food, water and shelter to those in Myanmar who had their lives devastated by Cyclone Nargis. We helped women in Cambodia set up their own businesses so they can support their families and send their kids to school. We built fresh water supply systems for communities in PNG, giving them access to clean water for the very first time. We created the very first school curriculum in East Timor that’s written in the local language of Tetum so the kids can read it. These projects support people as they take charge of their lives, and equip them with skills and resources so that they can work toward a better future.
Let me tell you a story about a mother from a remote village in East Timor. My colleague Cosme noticed this young mum in CARE’s health clinic. She looked anxious, and when she was asked to have her baby weighed, she seemed very uncertain. He weighed the child and saw she only weighed two kilograms. When Cosme asked the mother how old the baby was, she said one year.
Cosme was shocked. A baby this age should weigh at least seven kilograms. Having already lost a child to malnutrition, the young mum was relieved when CARE offered to help her baby.
Mothers all over the world face many challenges trying to raise healthy children. Poor roads mean they can’t get to a doctor. Lack of clean water makes it difficult to clean and cook. Many are so poor that even if they know what a nutritious diet is, they cannot provide it because they don’t have the money to buy nutritious food or grow vegetables.
Fortunately, CARE was able to help this little baby. Today she’s fully recovered and is now strong and healthy. The mum even brings her kids in for regular health checks at the community health clinic. Cosme says you can see in her eyes just how precious her children are to her.
There is always hope and at CARE we believe we can help to bring this hope to life.
Earlier this year, CARE’s CEO went to Zimbabwe. She left on February 7th – I’m sure you all remember that day; the day we Victorians now call Black Saturday, the day where our state was ravaged by bushfires. Having been on the plane for 24 hours, she arrived in Zimbabwe unaware of what was unfolding at home. When she called home, her family told her the devastating news. As she travelled through Zimbabwe meeting the poor families CARE works with, people asked her about the fires in Australia.
In a country that is struggling with inflation of millions of per cent, where the currency has literally become unusable, where 1 in 3 people have HIV and where half the population requires food aid just to survive, the people she spoke to were genuinely expressing their concern and sympathy for Australians caught up in our tragic bushfires.
Additionally, an article I read in The Age echoed these sentiments. Following the bushfires, the newly settled Ethiopian community-based in Melbourne donated $30,000 to support the Victorian Bushfire Appeal. When asked why they said they wanted to support their neighbours.
For me, this really shows that we are a global village. What once seemed so far away and out of reach, really is on our door step. Our lives may be very different culturally and geographically – but we are still neighbours. Neighbours we can’t forget about.
As we honour those who died and served for Australia, today I’d also like you to think about the life you can save and the difference you can make to someone who might not be as fortunate as you or me. Although we don’t know them, and probably never will, the first step to change is simply remembering their existence, recognising their strength and doing what we can to help them overcome poverty.
Today, CARE is still working with Haleema from Somalia to help her and her children live a life in safety and dignity.
Together, we have the ability to make a difference.