She’s one of Britain’s best-loved television actresses and now, renowned TV actress Samantha Womack is putting her notoriety to good use by teaming up with children’s charity ActionAid. As Child Awareness Week draws to a close (12th-16th November) we caught up with Samantha to learn how she’s supported the cause, her charity trip to poverty stricken Burma and how we can help at home this Christmas.
You’ve been working with ActionAid for the first Child Sponsorship Week. Tell us about the partnership and cause?
I am supporting the anti-poverty charity ActionAid to take part in their brand new campaign, which celebrates child sponsorship all this week. I think this is a very personal way to give to charity. Essentially, for 50p you have a direct connection with one child, but the money you donate goes to their community for the benefit of them all.
You recently visited Burma with the charity to see the child sponsorship in action, tell us about your trip.
ActionAid took me to see their work in Burma because it’s the first time that they’ve been allowed to introduce sponsorship there due to the recent changes in the country. My knowledge of Burma was of a mysticism, a kind of exotic culture that was seductive in terms of the people and the land and it doesn’t disappoint. However, there’s a kind of poverty there that’s sitting right underneath that’s baffling. We went to the Meikhtila region of the Dry Zone and the land there looks lush and rich, but it’s almost impossible for plants to flourish, as the earth is actually like sand.
As a mum yourself was it difficult to see children living in such extreme poverty?
It was heartbreaking. I met children of all ages – especially at one primary school that taught five classes all in one building. I wondered how on earth they could all learn properly with no wall partitions or on the limited food that I’d seen them being given by their parents, who were often going without. Some of the little ones had to walk miles and miles just to get to school.
You must have met some inspirational people on your trips, were there any strong women that stuck out in your mind?
So many I couldn’t begin to name them all. But this one group of women I met called themselves ‘new strengths’. We all sat in a circle and talked about the changes they wanted and, as everywhere I travelled, it always came back to the same things for the children: education. As is part of their culture at first they were so shy, but eventually I saw them all building each other up and they got excited and started talking, and then there was an eruption of finding their voice.
Did the trip and your work with Action Aid put in to perspective how lucky we are in this country?
Absolutely, I know that in the UK we are constantly asked for help but having seen first-hand just what the money you can donate can do, and how far so little can help, puts everything into perspective.
How can our readers help and support the cause?
Sponsor a child like I do. On my last day there I met Nandar. She’s a thirteen-year-old who had been forced to drop out of school to look after her alcoholic father, after her mother had moved away to the borders of China to earn money. She had to suffer the indignity of having to beg to support his addiction. But, what was worse, she was at risk of being sent to the border to work in the sex industry. I knew though that this was a girl who wasn’t past the point of no return, she was so willing and able to get back to school and that if somebody were to sponsor her she’d be able to get back on track. That somebody turned out to be me. It only costs 50p a day. Go to www.actionaid.org.uk/child to find out more.
You’ve got two children yourself, do you tell them about your charity work? They must be proud of their mum.
I tell them about the work I do for charities so they feel like they are completely involved. In fact, the next trip I take I’m tempted to take my son with me. I think he may be old enough to see the world’s injustices for himself now. My daughter is younger but she’s super bright and she knows who the photos on our fridge are of and why they are there. I want them to understand that the world is a big place, without making them feel scared.
Christmas is around the corner and it’s the time for giving after all. How can we give something a little extra this year to help those much less fortunate?
If it’s too hard for you to find 50p a day to sponsor there are other ways to support ActionAid, just go to www.actionaid.org/child to see what else can be done.
How will you be spending time with your family this festive season?
As I always do, at home – and yes, I do the cooking. I love it. So does my daughter – it’s something we really enjoy doing together. My family is made up of friends as well as blood relatives but I consider them to all be family. I make a mean red cabbage with apple dish that always gets included in the Christmas dinner. We love Christmas in our house.
Will you be making any New Year’s resolutions this year?
Yes I always do and this year it’s to try to worry less and just be. What will be will be.