The Girl Next Door
Katie visits Africa for Tommy Hilfiger
It all started with a call from designer Tommy Hilfiger; he wanted Katie Holmes to go to Africa. “Tommy said his own trip to Uganda really had an impact on him,” remembers Holmes, 33. (The Hilfiger Foundation has given $2 million to the nonprofit Millennium Promise for new schools, clinics, and a maternity ward there.) “The more I learned, the more I wanted to go. I just wanted to see for myself what was happening and be a part of helping to create change for people who really need it.” And so on January 24 she found herself bumping along a rutted road toward Ruhiira, in southwestern Uganda, where nearly all villagers live on less than $1 a day and life expectancy is just 53 years.
What I first noticed was their
I had never been to Africa. When we drove to the village, we were greeted by singing and dancing. It was such a warm welcome, so pure and genuine. Their voices were beautiful. There was a language barrier. But really, smiling at someone and them smiling back—you’re communicating.
Here, if you’re sick, you go to the doctor. It’s not as easy there.
The second day, we visited the health clinic; hundreds of people traveled to be there [for a special wellness day]. In one area they were doing a class on healthy cooking. It smelled delicious. They make this corn; it’s white, thick, and almost like grits. And it’s so nutritious. [With support from Millennium Promise, childhood malnutrition has plummeted.] In another room they were testing for HIV and tuberculosis. To see people who were so appreciative of this day and the chance to be tested was eye-opening; it’s something we take for granted.
I had never seen such extreme poverty.
In some areas of Uganda children go to schools without a proper bathroom—it’s quite something to take in. [As a result, girls often stop going to school when they begin menstruating.] You see that and you realize how fortunate you are to be born in a country that has your basic needs met. I was very grateful to come home and have running water and a clean house. It makes you think, Gosh, why isn’t this a huge emergency? When you take away the politics and you just think on a human level, it’s like, we have to do something.
Women are so strong.
I met a young nurse who travels every day to all the houses to make sure everyone’s OK. I saw women carry huge water jugs and make three or four trips a day to a spring. Yet they have a real calm in their eyes. It was powerful, and I took away from it that women are powerful. We can handle a lot. We can all, no matter what our problems are, be powerful despite the roadblocks.
Set a good example.
It’s hard to describe this kind of poverty unless you have seen it. I didn’t get home and [say to Suri], “You need to be grateful! Eat your broccoli!” You try to set a good example. If someone needs something, help them, and that will escalate into whatever it becomes.