From Fashion to Feed the Children: A Conversation with Silvia Andena

Editor’s Note: We continue our series of posts highlighting some of the people who make up the Feed the Children team. Here is an interview with Silvia Andena, Country Director for Feed the Children Tanzania. Other blogs in this series can be found herehere and here.

How did you first get into this work? Why focus on children specifically?

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Silvia Andena

My first work experience was in the fashion sector, coming from Milan in Italy. That kind of work is a very easy road to take, and many people aspire to it, but I always had the idea to do something that would help other people. This first work experience helped me understand that desire even better, and I realized clearly that fashion was not the right sector for me!

With the support of my family, I decided to enroll in a Master’s in International Relations degree program in London, UK. That seemed to be the best way to shift towards working in the international sector.

I’ve always had a passion for traveling and living in different countries, and my idea was immediately to aim for Africa. I wanted to live there and understand the culture before finding the best way to be of help. It took me some years to get here, but finally I was able to make it!

The choice of children came naturally—they are the nicest thing on earth. But they are also fragile, and adults have a duty to help them protect themselves by empowering their lives. Even now, talking to children is one of my favorite things to do. I learn a lot from them about life and the best ways to help them.

Recently I have even decided to study children’s rights, in order to have more tools to help them. Working in this sector is not an easy thing, and without the right instruments and skills, you can’t have nearly as much positive impact.

What motivates you in your work? Is there a person, story or statistic that gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you going?

People keep telling me that I am a good person for what I do. I feel I am actually a bit selfish. When you can do something to help others, you are the one benefiting the most from it. The smiles and warmth of people can make you feel alive, like you’re in the right place.

There is a sentence that I always try to remember in my work and my life from Terence, the Roman playwright: “I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me.”

That is what motivates me—my interest in other people, and spending my life doing something worthwhile for them. We all have a duty to help people in difficulty. Each of us, in our own lives, can find a small way to accomplish this.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing children and families in Tanzania, and how does Feed the Children address those challenges? 

Access to proper food, clean water and educational tools are the biggest challenges for children and their families. By supporting schools and communities through our four pillars, we can give children a proper education, which is their right. Also, by working to empower schools and communities, we can help solving other big problems present in Tanzania such as early pregnancies, child marriage and youth delinquency.

Is there a recent story you can share about the work being done in Tanzania on behalf of children?

We recently participated in the celebration of the Day of the African Child in one of our beneficiary schools. On that occasion children from other nearby schools participated, and Feed the Children provided all of them with juices and snacks. The children were able to dance and sing in front of adults and express their own views about the problems they have to face in their everyday life as African children. It was amazing to see small children expressing their thoughts with such energy, and then they all listened carefully during our speech about children’s right to education, particularly girls’ rights. I see this little event as a sign that this country might really see change happening. Children are our future!

What’s one misconception people in the United States might have about Tanzania? What would you want us to know about this country? 

FEED03Tanzania is not Africa; it is part of it. There are things Tanzanians share with other African populations, and things that are unique to them, such as their language and how it defines them as a culture and an independent nation. In Tanzania, the first language is not English; it is Kiswahili. People of different tribes, languages, and religions have been united under a language and a name. Nowadays, compared to other nearby countries, Tanzania is a peaceful one, where different people share their lives together without any conflict.

The general attitude of Tanzanian people is one of kindness and peace. This population has taught me what really means to be humble and patient. When you smile at them in the street they do not think you are weird or wanting something from them—they simply smile back.

Letter to My Feed the Children Family

Dear Feed the Children family,

As I write these words, I come before you with a heavy heart.

As I shared with all our staff during the Global Town Hall meeting this morning, I have chosen not to renew my contract with Feed the Children when it expires on May 31, 2015.

On June 1st, I will begin my new role as CEO of the American Diabetes Association based in Alexandria, VA.

This is not a decision that Elizabeth or I have entered into lightly or without much prayer and even sadness.

I began my work with you back in 2012 out of a deep sense of calling to this organization. I worked late nights, early mornings and weekends — out of that sense of calling.  My wife Elizabeth also felt called to support my work here. Together, over the last three years, we’ve given this mission of no child going to bed hungry our absolute all.

But now, we both believe that our calling has changed. We feel like the next chapter of our lives will be with the American Diabetes Association to lead the fight against the deadly consequences of this disease. Diabetes is a disease that has personally touched my own family, including my own parents. I am hopeful and would love to see a cure for diabetes in my lifetime.

But, please know, all of this does not change how Elizabeth and I feel about you, the Feed the Children family. We love you. We love the children our mission serves. And these past three years have been some of the most joyous ones of our lives.

We’ve done such important and life changing work together. Children have been fed. Schools have been built. Water has come to communities without any. Entire communities have been raised out of the cycle of poverty. And hear me say, I am so proud of you. I am so proud of the work we’ve done together. Any accomplishments I’ve achieved in this place are because of you who have made this journey alongside of us. While I know it may be difficult to understand our decision, sometimes the greatest thing a leader can do is know when to step aside so that the focus stays on the mission and not on them.

So, while I may no longer be the President and CEO of Feed the Children come June, the mission of Feed the Children is not one that I will leave behind. My wife and I will continue to support Feed the Children with our monthly donations, prayers and wishes for great success in the future.

And not only this, we have made many friends both in Oklahoma and in the field offices around the world—these are relationships for which we will forever be grateful. The joy of being in community with you, the global Feed the Children family, has taught us so much about what love really means. No matter where we come from or what our individual stories may be, we’ve connected in our common mission. No child should ever go without life’s essentials. And, I know we’ll continue loving the children who we’ve met along the way.

So, as the Hagan family enters into this new chapter of our lives come June, we ask for your prayers.

In the meantime, know that from now until May 31st, I will continue to do everything I can to pave a great path for your next President and CEO. Now, more than ever the children in our programs need all of our unified support.

Gratefully yours,

Kevin

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Hunger Headlines- Week of September 25

See what is going on in the world of hunger this week. Check out these headlines:

Thought Leadership

Leadership Lesson: What Questions Are You Asking?

Feed the Children President and CEO Kevin Hagan writes this week about what forward-thinking organizations are all about: being curious. Though it might feel easier to assume or project to others that we have all the answers, Kevin says that we must be willing to ask great questions. Read more about some of the questions Feed the Children is asking itself, right on Kevin’s blog.

Poverty News

The U.S. is losing a generation to poverty

This week, when the United States Census Bureau released its poverty data for the year 2013, it showed the first significant decline in poverty since the Great Recession hit: down from 15 percent to 14.5. Greeted more cheerily by economic observers was the news that child poverty had made its biggest drop in years: down almost 2 whole percentage points. It was better news than observers expected. It’s all relative, though, and enthusiasm was qualified. These numbers are still higher than they were before the recession. Read the rest of the article at The Daily Beast.

Hunger News in the U.S.

Who can afford to eat healthy food in the United States?

We all know that good food for kids comes in the form of fruits and vegetables. But what if families don’t have access to these kinds of food? What if families who do have access to these kinds of foods can’t afford to buy them? A new study examines what it takes to eat well in the United States. Read more about this study on Business Cheat Sheet

Hunger News around the World

World hunger easing but 1 in 9 people undernourished: food agencies

Who is hungry in the world? The number of hungry people in the world has fallen sharply over the past decade but 805 million, or 1 in 9 of the global population, still do not have enough to eat, three U.N. food and agriculture agencies said recently. The number of chronically undernourished people dropped by more than 100 million, equivalent to a country the size of the Philippines, according to a report by the United Nations food agency (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and World Food Programme (WFP). Read more of this article on Reuters.

Brazil Removed from UN World hunger map

Do you know what countries are on the UN hunger map? You can download it here

The Brazilian government Tuesday hailed a new United Nations report that for the first time removed Latin America’s biggest country from the World Hunger Map. “Leaving the Hunger Map is a historic milestone for Brazil. We are very proud because overcoming hunger was a priority for the Brazilian state,” Social Development Minister Tereza Campello said in a statement. Read this article on ABC News.