Facebook challenge invites people to live simply, save lives

September 28, 2011 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | National Correspondent
Winnipeg, Man.

Two young Winnipeggers recently challenged nearly a hundred people across Canada to donate to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank in order to support those suffering from famine in the Horn of Africa.

Tamara and Johanna Petkau, sisters who attend Charleswood Mennonite Church and Augustine United Church, respectively, felt compelled to donate to the Foodgrains Bank when they realized that, due to a mere geographical difference, they do not suffer from malnutrition while people in East Africa are starving.

Tamara, the mother of 14-month-old Maelle, says that, while she cannot imagine being in the shoes of East African mothers with starving children, their circumstances hit home as a fellow mother. “I feel like I’m bonded to other mothers,” she says. “Realizing that the only difference between us is that [Johanna and I] were born in Canada and they were born in Africa, the famine hits close to home.”

Therefore, the choice between something like a Starbucks coffee and donating money to mothers and fathers who are helplessly watching their children die was an easy one.

They created a Facebook event inviting people to give up a daily food expenditure or luxury for a week. The money that would be used for these treats would then be donated to the Foodgrains Bank. The event spanned the week from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4. By inviting people to live more simply, they were helping others to simply live, their Facebook event page said.

Whatever people donated to the challenge went much further to help victims because the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) matched Foodgrains Bank donations four-to-one through the government’s special East Africa Drought Relief Fund that ended on Sept. 16.

Johanna’s coffee addiction, for one, at five dollars a cup, added up to $35 dollars for the week. Although it might not have seemed like much, giving up this daily beverage added up to $175. It worked similarly for Tamara’s ice cream cravings.

Others decided to give up more than coffee and ice cream. Tamara’s close friend gave up her child tax credit.

“Another woman gave up her weekly Costco run and a family decided to give their Christmas budget,” Tamara says.

Ninety-five people attended the Facebook event, although more people participated in the challenge, raising approximately $16,000 when the matching grants were factored in.

Over the course of the week, the sisters learned a great deal about their responsibility to help those in need. “With privilege comes responsibility,” Tamara says. “We are now more aware of our global community.”

Even after the challenge ended, the sisters invited Mennonite Church Canada congregations to send in their donations before the Sept. 16 deadline for matching CIDA funds. They also called on congregations to urge the government to extend the deadline.

Tamara and Johanna are daughters of Canadian Mennonite Manitoba correspondent Evelyn Rempel Petkau.

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