Aidee Walker’s always been one to support a worthy cause. The actress cycled the length of New Zealand for mental health awareness, lived on $2.25 a day for disadvantaged children and recently filmed a short documentary to raise awareness of cat killers operating in Raglan.
Her interest in helping others started at a young age. “My mum said I used to come home from kindergarten with a social awareness. I was against racism even back then,” tells Aidee. “I’ve always been vocal about social issues.”
But it wasn’t until the Step Dave star visited Peru last month that her heartstrings were tugged on more than ever before. Now she’s on a mission to highlight the plight of orphaned children in the poverty-stricken nation.
Aidee (33) and her partner Dan spent two weeks volunteering at a community home designed to enhance the lives of disadvantaged children.
Their self-funded trip was in support of Nuestros Pequeños Hermano (NPH), a charity that provides a permanent residence for orphaned, abandoned and other at-risk children in poverty throughout Latin America.
“They keep brothers and sisters together in the same home, so they are not adopted out. Some of the kids need to be rehabilitated and the homes provide comprehensive healthcare, but there is no Government support – funding comes solely from donations,” she explains.
Now back in New Zealand, keen photographer Dan has documented their experience and plans to exhibit the photos in Auckland to raise funds for the charity.
Before leaving for Peru, the couple gathered unwanted digital camera donations from Kiwis to gift to the children, so they could run a photography workshop at the orphanage. The children’s photos will also be displayed at the exhibition.
The couple joined 10 other volunteers from New Zealand and during their stay at the coastal home mucked in to enhance the children’s living environment.
“We pulled down an old dining hall and turned it into a basketball court. We prepared the earth, we laid the grass. We painted buildings,” says Aidee, who speaks Spanish.
“I got to know the kids and fell in love with a two-year-old, who I wanted to adopt! After seeing the problems that these kids have, I changed. If I am complaining about something, I think, ‘What am I complaining about? Is this situation really that bad?’ It has made me wiser with my choices. I don’t want to live a hedonistic lifestyle any more,” Aidee confesses.
“While there’s poverty in New Zealand, with many kids going without breakfast, the level of poverty in a developing country versus a first-world country is different. Until you witness a three-year-old playing in rubbish, you can’t really understand,” she adds, her eyes welling.
The harrowing problems prevalent in the local villages she visited will stay in her mind forever.
“Some parents die, or have alcohol and drug problems, and are devastatingly poor. Kids have been abused or grow up in tarpaulin huts with bamboo roofs and no toilets. Children are malnourished and look much younger than they are.”
Aidee was introduced to NPH 18 months ago at a New Zealand charity fundraiser. She signed up for “Living Below the Line”, a week-long challenge to exist on $2.25 a day for to raise awareness of, and funds for, those less advantaged, with her donations going towards NPH.
“Sometimes you think, ‘Is the money you donate to charity even doing anything?’ But NPH has a child sponsorship programme and I sponsor ‘Leo’ – my 14-year-old ‘godson’,” she explains. “I met him in Peru and saw where my $40 a month is going. It’s making such a difference to his quality of life – before this, I was told he was certainly heading for jail.”
With a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts, as well as a philosophy degree in the works, Aidee’s now focusing on writing her first feature film Postie and her third short film Break in the Weather.
Brought up in Hamilton by her nurse mother and carpentry teacher father, Aidee has travelled the world in between taking on roles in TV shows such as Outrageous Fortune, Mercy Peak and Nothing Trivial.
Her visit to Peru came just two weeks after she visited Malaysia, selected as one of four filmmakers to launch a 48-hour short film competition in the Southeast Asian country. It was during that trip she contracted dengue fever, which left her bed-ridden prior to her South America visit.
Now Aidee’s taking on another challenge – training for the Auckland marathon held each November, and, of course, there’s a good reason for it – “to raise funds for NPH”.
Keeping active and travelling plays a large role in the actress’ life, who’s battled anxiety over the years.
“I have to put things in perspective and think about the bigger picture,” she says.
“I wonder if the children in Peru understood the ‘problems’ our society has when all they’re focused on is survival.”
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About Linda Shackelford
Linda has worked as a journalist for New Zealand’s best-selling weekly women’s national mass market magazines, leading national and regional newspapers. She has also worked in public relations, digital communications, web content writing and marketing, social media and event management roles for a range of companies, entrepreneurs and publications, including technology start-ups. Linda has always been keen to embrace new challenges, learn as much as she can and expand her networks and contacts both in New Zealand and internationally.more of this author