I first got to experience Convoy of Hope at their annual “Vision Summit” in March, 2016. It was a weekend of joyous companionship, sharing and such powerful testimonials that it took my wife and I far beyond the scope of my usual speaking appearances, and made us both determined to find out more about this organization, its work and the dedicated people behind its success.
So, we were thrilled when Convoy contacted us a few weeks later to ask if we would be interested in joining them on a trip to Arusha, Tanzania. We accepted immediately, and counted the days down until early October, when we boarded the plane for the rather brutal flights from our home in Los Angeles to the tiny airport of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.
One of the aspects of Convoy of Hope’s work that I really admired was their insistence on using local people to operate and oversee their work in each of their global locations, rather than simply imposing policies from the United States. We experienced this straight away when we were met at our hotel on the first morning by Convoy’s Regional Director for Africa. With the U.S.-based team, he had planned an itinerary for us to experience their work in two powerful programs; to prevent childhood hunger and to provide empowerment for women. It was the beginning of three days that I think both my wife and I would describe as life-changing, as we met person after person who shared accounts of how they had, with the help of Convoy of Hope, managed to create businesses and provide food and security for their families. There were so many stories shared with us that it seems almost unfair to single any out for special attention. However, two experiences do remain very much in my memory, even now, some three months after our return to the United States.
On the afternoon of our first day, after spending time buying ingredients in the small Ngaratoni Market, we arrived at the home of the appropriately named “Mama Happy”. She had been helped by Convoy of Hope’s Women’s Empowerment program to set up her own small roadside restaurant, and wanted to share with us a traditional Tanzanian meal. As someone who loves to cook and has dedicated the second half of his life to a quest to “Go Everywhere, Eat Everything” this was too perfect an opportunity to miss. I was pleased when I was invited to help prepare dinner with Mama Happy in the small garden of her home. It was a simple meal of beef stew and dried shrimp accompanied by mounds of Ugali, a maize-based porridge served with just about every meal in Tanzania. However, as I have found on my travels, simple meals shared with good people are often the most memorable and, as we sat around Mama’s fire as the sun set, this meal was firmly planted in my heart as one of my most enjoyable.
If the evening had been about sharing food, then the next morning was all about seeing the positive impact of Convoy of Hope’s programs to prevent childhood hunger. On a planet that grows enough food to feed its entire population three times over, the fact that anyone ever has to wonder where their next meal is coming from is shameful enough. When you realize how many of those who are food insecure are children, we should be offended to the very core of our beings.
At the Ngaratoni Primary School, Convoy of Hope and the school authorities have instituted a program to provide almost one thousand meals a day to the young students. As we found out, it is a program that has not only resulted in a 98% attendance rate at the school (as parents make sure their children attend to get the only meal they might receive that day) but has also led to huge physical and educational benefits for the children as the meals of rice, protein and micronutrients help rebuild bodies and focus minds. The energy of the children we met during our visit was extraordinary and, as I helped portion out lunchtime meals, I was greeted by so many smiles that it would have taken a man with a stone heart not to reciprocate.
Our stay in Arusha was all too brief, but it confirmed to me that anyone can play a part both in helping to empower women to protect their families and change their communities, and in bringing an end to childhood hunger around the globe. You can do this too, if you are lucky enough as we were, in person, or simply by donating to organizations of excellence such as Convoy of Hope.
As for my wife and I, we are just waiting for the next phone call from our friends at Convoy and, wherever they need us, we’ll be there.
~ Simon Majumdar