What food insecurity means to teenagers like Jennifer

Oct 10, 2017
7-Minute Read
Last summer I was in Nairobi, Kenya with a team of young Canadians to learn about the projects and initiatives young Kenyans were making to combat food insecurity. 

We were visiting parts of the country where people's ability to produce, sell and buy food were impacted significantly by climate change and lack of rain. 
It was at a youth forum where I met Jennifer, a World Vision Kenya volunteer.  She was 17 years-old and introduced herself to the group as someone who loves jokes. Jennifer was an entrepreneur who, despite being a teenager, already ran a hair salon out of her home in one of Kenya's largest slums.  

This was no small feat in an area where access to clean water and electricity is not a certainty. Many of her her clientele were suffering the same food insecurity she herself was working to overcome. 

The resilience of a child

Jennifer had learned resilience and determination when facing hunger at a very young age. She shared with us that she continued to live with her parents but that employment was a challenge for them. Without a steady income to support the family, everyone in the family had to take care of themselves. 

By the age of nine Jennifer was expected to work every day or go hungry. 

What is “free time?”

At some point during our time together as a group, someone asked Jennifer the question "What do you like to do in your free time?"  There were many different responses around the room but Jennifer answered, "I like to watch movies with my friends." 

Canadian and Kenyan youth and young adults smiling
Our Canadian team with new Kenyan friends

She described how her friends would gather in one house around a television set to watch a movie. But as she described the scene, her tone changed and she hesitated. 

"But I really don't do that very often, because if I'm watching movies then I'm not working and if I'm not working I will not eat that day,” she said. 

Many of the youth participating could relate to Jennifer’s experience. Most were eating an average of one meal per day, and that was only possible if they worked that same day. There was very little free time and and taking time off work because of illness was not an option, because without work there would be no food. 

Time is a sacrifice that they can’t afford...but do

Jennifer and all of the young people at this forum have not made the decision to be World Vision volunteers lightly. Giving of their time to help improve their community comes at a high cost. Wasting time is not an option, so volunteering is something they have placed a high value upon and prioritized, even above their own needs. 

How often do having access to clean water, healthcare, and education give me the privilege of wasting time? 

This Day of the Girl, I’m remembering Jennifer’s courageous commitment to a Hunger Free world, and I’m even more determined to join her in making that a reality.