World Food Day | Interview with Paul Newnham

Today, is World Food Day around the globe. Each day, 795 million people wake up food insecure, uncertain how they will feed their families over the next year. We recently interviewed Paul Newnham of World Vision and HungerFree. Learn more about his story and the new approach to tackling hunger in Kenya and South Sudan. Together we can end hunger, even in heard to reach places.

1. Tell us a little more about yourself? Where you are from and where do you currently live?

I’m an Australian living in Texas. My passion is youth engagement, and after some time in the Australian Army, and as a pastor, I had several opportunities to work with youth in multiple spheres, including roles with World Vision in Australia, New Zealand and Latin America.

In my work I’ve been fortunate to visit nearly half the world’s countries and live in the developing world for long periods, including Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

I’m married to my high school sweetheart and we have four adventuring children. My wife Keren and I write about life’s challenges, adventures and opportunities at www.thisonedayislife.com.

My latest project as the World Vision International Global Youth Engagement Director is a global collaboration to forge a new approach to tackling hunger with a focus on youth livelihood’s in Kenya and South Sudan. You can check that out at www.hungerfree.org.

2. Where did the idea for HungerFree come from?

HungerFree originates from a belief that a hungerfree world is possible. For far too many people, hunger is the only reality they know, and while we’ve made some significant progress over the last few decades, there are still generations of people who are still stuck – they either don’t know where their next meal might come from or don’t know whether they can withstand life’s setbacks.

HungerFree aims to break those cycles by unlocking the potential of young people. In my capacity as Global Youth Director for World Vision, I look at how we can engage and connect young people globally –from developed and developing countries. What I’ve learned is that no matter where you are in the world, this generation doesn’t want to be your traditional supporter or traditional beneficiary. They want to be on the front end of change.

It’s no different on the issue of hunger. The young people I’ve met in Kenya and South Sudan are looking to be free of hunger so that they can provide for their families and make their communities a better place.

When we looked at what it would take to live in a hungerfree world, we found there was a real gap in serving young people. In Kenya and South Sudan, where we are piloting this initiative, more than half of the population is under the age of 25 and are disproportionately affected by hunger, extreme poverty and unemployment. Luckily, we also found some phenomenal stories that are the basis for the work we are looking to grow to scale.

3. What projects will HungerFree be directly supporting?

The primary means in which the HungerFree initiative will come alongside young people in Kenya and South Sudan is through programming typically called “Food for Assets” or “Cash for Assets.” This programming provides access to immediate food needed today while also providing the skills, education, and productive assets to become hungerfree for a lifetime. Typically, this programming has not targeted younger adults – but by coupling it with youth life skills and livelihood programmes, we believe this can be used to give young people the investments they need to be viable and successful.

In addition, HungerFree will integrate young people into existing World Vision food assistance programming, such as agriculture production, safety nets, and advocacy work.

4. Practically, what will be accomplished on the ground in Kenya and South Sudan?

Young people will go from not knowing what their future might look like to cultivating their own to cultivating their own asset – such as raising chickens, growing pineapples and fish farming – in order to provide food and generate incomes. This type of work makes all the difference in food insecure communities, where food is expensive and scarce. It provides a way to have food in the present while generating income to have food in the future. We are also providing the tools and education young people need to continue to live HungerFree for a lifetime.

5. Are there other countries you will be focusing on in the future?

There’s a lot of interest in how we can better invest in young people and address the unprecedented youth unemployment gap that is happening in the developing world. More than half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25 – and as much as 80% of the unemployed our youth. Our hope is that our initial pilots in Kenya and South Sudan are successful, so that we can then take this approach and build on World Vision’s extensive food programming in other countries as well.

6. Explain your thoughts behind the approach the help HungerFree through celebrating food.

When we were planning the launch of HungerFree we brainstormed a lot of ideas. We have some good friends from the Misfit Foundation and the idea came up with them to celebrate food on World Food Day by gathering people to share a meal around a table.

We think God created a world a world where everyone should get to enjoy good food, so we wanted to lean in on the idea and see if we could use HungerFree to unlock that reality for others. We are all for fasting as well but believe it is an "and," not “either/or”!

7. Why do you think having a meal together is of value?

Gathering around food is a universal way to show we value each other; the table is a place of great conversation and engagement between family and friends. It is also the place where we discuss issues we all face. In my family we prioritise gathering to laugh, share and discuss life. It is a great place to engage on the issues of hunger and inequality, then discuss ways you, your friends and your family can make a difference.

8. Are there other ways people can support throughout October or long-term besides hosting a meal?

Absolutely! This is just the first step in launching this new platform. We are going to have year-round opportunities for people to get involved. You can stay up to date on those and help us now by:

- Telling your friends – help us get more people on board by sharing content from our social channels: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

- Learning more by signing up - Keep in touch and be given tools to understand more how your choices and actions can help make a difference to reduce hunger and create hungerfree communities at https://www.hungerfree.org/#jointhemovement

- Partnering with us – We’ve had some amazing partnerships develop with restaurants, food bloggers and amazing communities like Socality. If you’d like to use your influence to support our vision for a #hungerfree world, we’d love to partner with you!

9. Can you give us one story from your efforts so far in Kenya or South Sudan as it relates to a individual or community? a testimony?

I met a 24-year old man named Erastus in an isolated community inland from the Kenyan coast. He is regularly food insecure, the sole supporter of his family (having lost his parents at a young age), and had to mature rapidly in order to keep his family together. However, Erastus is unique in that he completed high school through the help of World Vision and is part of the Cash for Assets programme, which allowed him to purchase a small clutch of chickens.

Beside his small, 2-room house he has built a chicken coop.  He raises the chickens, and then sells them.  His chicken business is growing very quickly, as chickens are a popular commodity, and he uses the money he makes to pay for his siblings to finish school. As we chatted to him we could see that despite his difficulties, he had an inner hope.

It was when we walked inside the house that we saw an example of this hope, and it will stay with me for a long time to come. He had drawn up - in amazing detail - the house he is hoping to build with the profits from the chicken business.  He shared the details with me and the excitement he had was infectious.  I was so encouraged to see his dream – a dream that we all have in some way: to prosper, to move forward, to be successful and to provide for our families. HungerFree helps make these dreams possible for young people like Erastus.

You can read more of his story here.

10. What lessons do you think North American culture can learn from those in Kenya/ South Sudan?

What always blows my mind when I am in very remote communities is the generosity people show. They may be only able to have one meal a day, but will offer to share what they have with you. I think this generosity is very humbling and makes me realize the responsibility we with plenty have to model this.

The other things are joy & faith. Many people I meet who have very little show such joy and faith in the way they live. Despite the challenges they face, they demonstrate a joy in the way they work, live, and engage and a strong faith that God will provide and look after them.