Kiwi-born actress Danielle Cormack, most well-known for her roles in Shortland Street, Wentworth and Rake, has returned from a 10-day tour of some of Africa’s most impoverished nations, where she saw first-hand the positive effects of ChildFund New Zealand-funded programmes to improve self-sufficiency in communities stricken by drought and poverty. She also met with the child she has sponsored for 13 years, for the very first time.
“In Turkana, Kenya, it has rained just three times in three years,” says Danielle. “One family I met walks for 45 minutes and digs a metre into the ground twice a day just to access clean water. Life is hard for many of the people I met in Africa, even at the best of times. During a drought, it becomes desperate.”
Danielle has a longstanding relationship with ChildFund, and has been an Ambassador for the charity for a decade. She was drawn to ChildFund based on its sustainable approach to development, and is hoping to raise awareness and spread hope by sharing the story of her time in Africa.
In August, she spent a total of 10 days visiting Kenya (Nairobi, Emali, Turkana) and Uganda (Lira) to see how ChildFund runs its community-based programmes.
“ChildFund initiates programmes based on specific needs and community plans, with the end-goal of building self-sufficiency in those communities. I’ve seen first-hand the change in communities where ChildFund New Zealand has given support. They’re focused on lasting change, and it makes a lifetime of difference to those communities.
“During my visit to Kenya and Uganda, I found some of the conditions people live in incredibly confronting. It’s dry, hot, and dusty, and there’s is no running water, no toilets, and just an open fire to cook on.
“The weather is increasingly dry – a direct result of climate change. It’s a stark contrast to New Zealand, where although we experience irregular weather, we have far better resources to cope,” she says.
Thanks to the generosity of New Zealanders, ChildFund runs a number of projects in Africa, to help communities become more resilient in the face of extreme weather and drought.
“In Turkana, ChildFund New Zealand is installing bore holes to improve access to clean, safe water. Nutrition programmes have been set up through early childhood centres so children can be guaranteed of a daily meal. They’re educating young families about breastfeeding and nutrition and providing pregnant and breastfeeding mothers special high-protein food.
“In Emali, where ChildFund has been working for longer, improvements are being made to how livestock is managed, drought-resilient crops are being planted, and irrigation systems improved so they can grow food such as highly-nutritious moringa and orange-fleshed sweet potato. This means the community can move from solely subsistence farming to generating an income.”
In all of these projects, ChildFund New Zealand works directly with the communities themselves and Danielle believes this is the key to ChildFund’s ability to make an effective and practical difference.
“Unless there is an emergency, which was the case in parts of Kenya in severe drought, it’s a ‘hand- up’ rather than 'hand out' approach. Parts of Africa are facing some serious challenges – no rain means no crops, no crops means no food for livestock, and that ultimately means no income and no food for people to eat.
“These communities need specialised skills, training, crops, and education to be able to fight back against the conditions they had no part in inflicting upon themselves,” says Danielle.
ChildFund New Zealand CEO Paul Brown explains the targeted approach.
“In Kenya, New Zealand’s donations are directed where they’re most needed – towards setting up long-term solutions such as creating easily accessible water points in communities and providing resources for education. We work with local partners from the community, making sure our work complements that being done by the government.
“We are incredibly thankful for Danielle’s involvement. We hope by Danielle sharing her experience, more Kiwis will learn about the work we are doing. It’s also very important to us that our existing supporters hear about the progress being made through their generous donations.”
Danielle’s trip to Africa had another important purpose besides seeing the progress being made through ChildFund projects. After her time in Kenya, Danielle travelled to Lira, Uganda, to meet Akullu, the child she has been sponsoring for 13 years – for the very first time. Danielle says it was an emotional occasion.
“Meeting Akullu and her family was overwhelming. I’d felt so much anticipation leading up to that day. I couldn’t initially see her; there was a huge crowd and all the women were ululating (traditional vocal call), but then I saw her and we couldn’t stop laughing, hugging, and crying. It’s not often you write to someone for 13 years before you meet them, so it was almost like a reunion with a really close friend.
“Akullu introduced me to her family, and showed me around her village, to her family’s land and home.
“Eventually we had time to sit and talk alone, share stories as we perused all of our letters. At times we weren't saying anything, I think we were just taking in the moment of finally being in the same place as each other.
“I didn't think that I would ever meet Akullu. It’s one of those rare and unique connections.”