Bonnie Wright: They've had to cut their meals down from three to one a day

One child was so gaunt he looked almost like a corpse

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The Independent Online

The actress Bonnie Wright, 21, best known from the Harry Potter films, has just returned from Kédougou, Senegal, where the food crisis is at its peak.

"This was the first trip I had ever done of this kind" she said. "We arrived at the health centre first – five doctors to look after 200,000 patients. It was quite overwhelming, as I saw people really far down the stages of malnutrition. I met a young mother, Fatoumala Fofana, who was my age, with three children. Two of her children were with her, and while they are both about a year old, they looked so, so young. One child, Dihassan, was severely malnourished. He was so gaunt, his skin completely scabbing over, and he looked almost like a corpse. His mother was telling me how she had lost so much weight too and had another child at home. They had travelled four hours to get to the health centre – you can't even bring yourself to understand what it's like.

"Like most people I met there, she hadn't seen a harvest last year. She had no money, nothing to eat, and her husband had to go away to find money elsewhere – which isn't at all part of their tradition. Most people in Kédougou are from farmers' families, and suddenly they are being thrown into trades like mining, which are alien jobs to them. Some men stay away for three or four days at a time, because they are too embarrassed to admit they have nothing to send home.

"One mother, Dieynasa Ba, 35, had six children. She told me plain facts: her family had cut their meals down from three to one a day. Only one of her children was left at school and he has to cycle three hours there and back on just one meal a day. He comes back exhausted, but has to do the same all over again the next day.

"The mothers all knew what would help their children break out of poverty: education. They see it as the only way to empower their children and help them find work that is more stable than farming in the village. All the people I spoke to were so incredibly dignified, upbeat and hopeful. One woman, Fatima Diallo, 20, with five children, was receiving Oxfam's cash transfers of about $80 to last a few months. She had no other form of income and said she split it three ways: one part for food, one for health and for education. It has provided stability for her family.

"The energy there was palpable; people wanted to help now rather than wait for things to get worse later. They are about to go into harvest again in September – when they'll have even less food and less energy.

"It put so much into perspective. The people I met never complained and showed so much solidarity. If, as a nation, we spoke louder to help these people, the Government would understand the responsibility they have. They would realise this is what Britain wants. It is about highlighting the situation, and talking about it across different platforms – especially in my generation. It's about saying we don't just care for ourselves, but also about people thousands of miles away. If you can't give your money, you can give your voice."

Bonnie Wright is an ambassador for Oxfam GB