You can't end the world's woes but you can make a difference.

There's a lot going wrong in this world and the rise of social media means it's becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. We're bombarded with news about violence, poverty, political uproar and environmental catastrophe. It's so easy to get overwhelmed.

I've been fortunate enough to visit several African countries in the past few years. The trips had different purposes, some focused on humanitarian work, with others looking at conservation as an issue. These experiences have, without a doubt, shaped my outlook on the world today.

During my first trip to Ethiopia, I was hit by a wave of culture shock. It was my first time seeing this extent of poverty and there was too much to process.


The second time, I was more adjusted, it enabled me to see a truer scope of the socio-economic troubles that so many African nations face. Just driving through the streets of Addis, you see so much. Homeless kids, often less than 10 years old, the blind selling lottery tickets to afford the smallest amount of food for their families. It's devastating to see this and you can't help but feel powerless. There are millions upon millions of people living in poverty and, unfortunately, one person can't help all of them. That's not to say one person can't make a difference.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo / Getty Images
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo / Getty Images

When I was visiting mothers involved in a project that fought against infant mortality, I saw a baby who was about 8 months old. She was sponsored through the project and had access to many "luxuries" like baby formula, and medical check-ups (things we might call necessities). She looked healthy, maybe a little on the smaller side compared to the New Zealand standard, but healthy.

What really shocked me was then her mother's friend entered the hut with her 1-year old twins. Although older than the other baby, they were almost three-quarters the size. After chatting with their mother, I found out that they weren't part of the project and didn't receive the same support. It's ludicrous how much something like $45 a month can impact the development of a child.

She then showed us her living situation. Many of the homes in Ethiopia aren't exactly contenders for the next issue of Home & Garden - they're framed with sticks and then coated with a mix of mud and hay. This young woman, however, couldn't afford a home like that. She was living in what you could essentially call a box, made up of corrugated plastic and shopping bags. The structure could barely fit a single human inside, let alone a family of three. After the encounter, we told the appropriate people about her situation and I can only hope that the next time I visit, their situation has improved.

Kiwi actor William Deane with Tear Fund sponsor child Arsema in Sebeta, Ethiopia. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi actor William Deane with Tear Fund sponsor child Arsema in Sebeta, Ethiopia. Photo / Supplied

What travel has really taught me is to take a step back and remember that you can't fix everything. You just can't. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't contribute; it doesn't have to be big. Maybe you sponsor a child (you'll be changing a family's life), maybe you offer your support to protecting an endangered species. Maybe you don't have the time or money to do that, instead you choose to buy more ethically sourced products, or reduce your carbon footprint with public transport.

Small changes are still just that: changes. Every little contribution can make a big problem just a tiny bit more manageable.

William Deane stars in We Will Rock You, playing August 20-September 7 at the Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland. He visited Ethiopia with Tear Fund.