Because of one almost 14-year-old American girl’s insight, many children in Ghana, Africa have new schools and medical centers. Their communities are healthier, better educated , and more self-sufficient.
Hannah Salwen in Atlanta, Georgia stopped at a light in her dad’s car saw a homeless man with a sign “hungry, homeless, please help” on one side of her and a man driving a black Mercedes coupe on the other. She told her father if the man with the Mercedes had a less nice car, the homeless man could have a meal. At dinner that night, she told her family, “we should fix this.” Hannah chided her family at dinner three days later when she said,” I really don’t want to be the kind of family that just talks about doing things. I want to be a family that actually does them.”
The Salwen’s story is recorded in the book The Power of Half written by Hannah and her father, Kevin Salwen. She wanted them to make a difference even if it was a small one. And it happened. Her parents put her and her younger brother Joseph to the test when they offered to sell their luxurious home on Peachtree Circle, move into a smaller home and give half the proceeds to a deserving project.
After research and interviews, they selected The Hunger Project. They committed to giving $80,000 as the first installment due within one year. Their goal was to adopt two set of villages, about 20,000 people in a five year program. The project funds building of an epicenter which contains a meeting room, a bank, nurse’s quarters and a food storage facility. The villagers may take months laying the cinder blocks and wiring them for electricity for the future even though the electric grid may be miles away.
The Hunger Project does not just drop a load of food in a poor country. Before any structures are built or money goes into accounts, the villagers must hold workshops and take “Vision, Commitment, Action” training. They create a management board which must be 50 percent women. They are taught to show that they are working to help themselves and then encouraged to demand services like literacy classes, water, electricity, and agricultural support from their local authorities. They must experience teamwork, shared sacrifice and faith in one another.
Goals of The Hunger Project are ending hunger, poverty, gender inequality, and preventible disease. They empower community members to become self-reliant for their own needs and better futures
for their children. The essential pillars are:
“Start by empowering women as key change agents
Mobilizing entire communities into self-reliant action
Fostering effective partnerships to engage local government.”
A major problem occurred because the Salwens moved into a smaller house without having first sold the large one. It was when the real estate market went through the major bust and their house had sat on the market for over a year. The family gave equal voting rights to Hannah and Joseph and they voted to satisfy their commitment by taking the money out of their college fund to write the donation check.
The Salwens did not give up half of everything they own. They did give away half of their house and found that in this country of excess, they not only had enough, but learned a better way of serving others. The book is full of suggestions on how to choose the best way to change the world.
Other effects of the projects are infant mortality drops; more students, especially girls, go to secondary school; parents are trained to treat their children more evenly instead of gender reliant; and more businesses, many run by women, are successful from the epicenters’ microfinance programs. Read the book to see how it changed the lives of the Salwens, individually and drawing them closer as a family. Mr. Salwen writes that each day the more modest home reminds them of their shared purpose of sustained giving.
See The Hunger Project website to read some success stories, to learn more about their epicenter strategy, and to contribute to their work.