Patricia Heaton's humanitarian trip to Kenya required nearly a nine-hour commercial flight, followed by a two-hour flight on a smaller plane and then nearly a three-hour car ride. An arduous trek, for sure, but nothing compared to the dire predicament facing children in those drought-stricken regions desperately attempting to stave off a malnutrition crisis.
The Everybody Loves Raymond star teamed up with World Vision to help provide aid in the communities she visited, particularly in Kalapata and Nakorio. Heaton tells ET she got "quite an exuberant welcome" following the long journey, and the people's good-hearted nature was immediately on display when they took her hands and started dressing her in exquisite beaded headdresses.
"It was sort of unexpected," she tells ET. "It was pretty moving. We were pulled into a beautiful church with every pastor from the area there where there was dancing, speeches. It was quite an exuberant welcome. We had a great time."
But behind the laughter and warm embrace lies an unrelenting reality -- a severe drought going on for four years now. What's more, the conflict in Ukraine has caused a ripple effect that's also being felt in Kenya, with soaring wheat (58 percent) and corn prices (47 percent).
Heaton spoke to one mother of three in the region who not only built her own home with her own hands, but also walks hours to retrieve material she then uses to make baskets and sells for $5. In the region of Nakorio, families visited a clinic where World Vision provided food supplies and other medical aid. The need there is immense, what with children so hungry their arms barely reach four inches around. The sacrifice is enormous, as one mother told Heaton she's gone days without food in her stomach.
Faced with such adversity, Heaton grew emotional at their ability to still give what little they have to offer.
"It's been very difficult and yet they still had an offering during a church service and people who have very little given the little that they have," said Heaton as she choked up. "You know, it's very humbling, and it's a real lesson to all of us who have so much."
Heaton asked one of the mothers how World Vision will help her family, and her answer echoes that of any parent -- whether in Kenya or the U.S. -- just trying to provide for their children.
"I know through World Vision, my children will get an education and the resources to provide the school fees," the mother said through a translator. "Through World Vision, I know they are able to provide food for us when there's food distribution."
Heaton also met Pauline, a mother of six who has been left alone after her husband left to find food for the animals that also are victims of the severe drought. The actress connected with her in the simplest form.
"She's been left alone like so many women are left alone as their spouses go off to look for food and work and money to support the family," Heaton said. "So, the women are left alone and that means they have to feed them and clothe them and try to get them to school. This crisis just affects everything, and a lot of the burden has fallen on women. It's very difficult, and [Pauline] just has a beautiful family, a lot of boys. Some of them have the same names as my boys. She has a John and a Dan, which I do too, and it's little things like that that help you bond with people who you think you don't have much in common with."
Back in Nakorio, Martha Losike, a nutrition officer, sat with Heaton and opened up about the need for more supplies to help properly feed malnourished children, but supplies at the Nakorio clinic are low. Heaton said that while the crisis has resulted in severe struggles, it's an opportunity for those who would like to help.
"Her kids chose their sponsors after seeing pictures of them, so that's gonna really help with their nutrition, with their school fees, just to make sure that she can get through this difficult time," Heaton said, "and she's not alone."
Heaton has partnered with World Vision for about six years now. ET and Heaton traveled to Rwanda with World Vision in 2019 helping bring clean water to that area. It’s coming on those trips that have made all the difference to her, and why she keeps coming back.
"I think when we're in the Hollywood community we can get sort of isolated and insulated," she said. "And when you fly over this beautiful country its' dry and it's very big and it's hot. It's not an easy place to support a family, and it's really a reminder we need to keep reminding ourselves of how much we have and how less fortunate other people are. To be part of the solution and bringing hope to people, there's nothing more wonderful. And I think that's what we saw when people were coming and singing and dancing, because, in us, they see hope, and it's a privilege and an honor to be able to represent that to people."