When ChildFund called make-up artist Alarna Bell for an interview, she had just finished applying the finishing touches to Miss Universe Australia.
Visitors stumbling across Alarna’s social media pages will discover photos of beautiful and glamorous models from around the globe, but the make-up artist’s life is anything but superficial.
A long-time ChildFund Australia supporter and ‘country girl at heart’, Alarna has dedicated much of her professional and personal life to giving back to people in need. In her words, “just doing a lot of little things to help” when she can.
Over the past seven years Alarna, who grew up and lives in Victoria’s Gippsland region, has been sponsoring Ekiru, from Kenya, through ChildFund.
When ChildFund left Ekiru’s community in late 2021 to early 2022, Alarna did not hesitate to continue her support and sponsored another child. “It’s important that we help when we can,” Alarna says.
ChildFund had been working in Ekiru’s village, in northern Kenya, since 1978. Back then, many of the children in the community were malnourished and unable to read, families had few opportunities to earn income, and hygiene and sanitation conditions in the community were poor.
Ongoing donations from Australians such as Alarna over the past few decades have helped to improve the quality of life for children in Ekiru’s village. Families’ incomes have increased, and children’s access to education and clean water has improved. Preschools, dormitories, and school toilets have been built, and scholarships to help families with school fees have been introduced. Young people in the community have also been supported to undertake vocational training to improve their job prospects. Several boreholes and shallow wells have also been built in the community, providing families with clean water.
“It takes a lot of people doing little things to get us to where we really need to be,” Alarna says.
“Every dollar I give doesn’t just go to one child, it’s going to the community.”
After ChildFund left Ekiro’s community, Alarna began sponsoring 10-year-old Mtayo, who is from a community in south Kenya that is still very much in need of support. Mtayo lives with his parents, four brothers and sister. His mother sells milk for income. In a year the family earns less than $US400, which is not enough to cover the costs of their basic needs.
A lesson in compassion
Reading the stories of children like Ekiru and Mtayo helps keep her family “in check”, says Alarna.
“I’ve put Mtayo’s picture up, so there’s that little constant reminder that there are children in the world that need our help. It’s not necessarily just about Mtayo, it’s about children in general. It keeps my girls in check when they start worrying about things like spray tans going wrong.
“We need to keep ourselves in check.”
Sharing the photos and letters from Ekiru, and now Mtayo, over the years has helped to teach Alarna’s daughters (pictured with Alarna in photo above) compassion. The girls are now 17 and 19 years old, and both of them hope to become paramedics.
“Being with ChildFund and having that photo up of Ekiru or Mtayo at home has sparked conversations with my daughters,” Alarna says.
“Sponsoring a child was a way for me to ease some suffering in a small way. For the girls, the letters took them on a journey on how other people live.
“They’ve grown up to be good kids, and they’ll come home and tell me stories of how they’ve helped someone.”
Giving back at home
As the director of make-up and national judge for Miss Universe Australia, Alarna also supports children in need in Australia through the pageant’s charity partner, Camp Quality.
“For me, make-up has never been about the superficial part,” Alarna says. “It’s about making people feel really good for a moment in their lives, and that’s why I love working for Miss Universe – the make-up is not just for the girls, but who we work for.”
Alongside her Miss Universe Australia work, Alarna has worked with people with disabilities and also does the make-up for sick children and their families staying at Ronald McDonald House.
“I can’t make them well, but I can bring a bit of joy to them,” she says. “Making someone feel good for a moment can be a confidence boost for them, and when we’re confident we’re better at doing a lot of things.
“If you can ease suffering and create joy – if you can do those two things in life, the reward is always your own.
“You feel so much better when you give.”
Alarna’s dedication to giving back has not gone unnoticed. In 2007, she was anonymously nominated Australian of the Year for her contribution to the community.
“Doing something that is simple for me can have a significant impact on someone else.
“If there’s a message I could give – it’s do the little things. You won’t even notice it. It won’t be a big deal, but it can have a big impact for children like Mtayo.”
For Miriam’s birthday this year, it wasn’t about the cake or the presents she would get but what she could do for others.
Miriam celebrated her 40th birthday in October by organising an online fundraiser for ChildFund Australia. Instead of buying presents, she called on her family and friends to help children living in poverty around the world.
“I saw these posts on Facebook about a birthday fundraiser, and I thought what a brilliant idea: instead of getting a lot of presents that I don’t necessarily need, let’s see if we can put the money somewhere else,” Miriam says.
Together, Miriam and her family and friends raised $250 for children in need this October. “I found it an easy way to get money where it’s needed.”
The high school teacher from the Northern Territory is no stranger to community fundraising. At the same time last year, Miriam enthusiastically took part in ChildFund’s Choose Your Challenge event.
Miriam had been playing the guitar for about a year when she came across the Challenge as an opportunity to take her skills to the next level. For the month of October last year, Miriam made it her goal to learn to sing and play 20 songs. She took her family and friends along with her on the journey, by recording and sharing short videos of each song on Facebook. She raised more than $800.
“I wanted to get faster at playing the chords,” Miriam says. “I was a bit nervous as I’m not the one to ever video myself and put it out there, but I was very happy with how it went. It was really encouraging to see other participants encouraging one another.”
In addition to rallying her friends and family for community fundraising events, Miriam has been a child sponsor with ChildFund for more than 15 years. In 2014, after several years of sponsorship and correspondence, Miriam visited her sponsor child, Turumpet, in Kenya.
“It was an amazing experience,” she says. “We saw first-hand that the work is really strong there. The visit motivated my ongoing connection with ChildFund.
“Turumpet really warmed to us, especially my husband. There was a connection there. It was lovely to see him as a boy making his way in the world.”
Generations of giving back
Helping people runs through Miriam’s family. She grew up in Zimbabwe, where both of her parents worked in the areas of social justice and community development.
“Giving back was something that I was brought up with,” Miriam says. “There was always a focus on helping disadvantaged people and recognising that we were privileged, and that meant we had an obligation to help those less fortunate than us.”
Today, Miriam lives in the Northern Territory with her husband and three children, and is a teacher at a high school in central Australia. Every now and again, she and her family will return to Zimbabwe to visit loved ones.
She hopes to pass on her values of giving back and charity to her children, as well as her students.
The original idea to sponsor a child came about after looking for new ways to teach students about these values, and about the world around them, she says.
“I thought it would be a good that my class at the time could write letters to Turumpet,” Miriam says. “As a teacher you’re always trying to give new experiences to your students. Rather than just telling them about this other world out there, and how we’re quite blessed and lucky here, I thought they could experience it themselves and hear from somebody who is living in Kenya, and find out more about organisations like ChildFund.”
The correspondence between her class and Turumpet lasted for only three years, but the bond between Miriam and Turumpet continues to this day.
Turumpet is now 22 years old and wants to be a teacher, says Miriam.
“We are lucky and blessed to have the resources to help people who need it,” she says. I am committed to seeing Turumpet launching into the world. After that, I’ll be on the lookout again on where my funds will have the most impact.”