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XL Exclusive: Drew Barrymore

By • Nov 16th, 2008 • Category: Latest

When Drew Barrymore was growing up, she was pretty light on formal education, and the education she did get was on movie sets and at night clubs such as Studio 54, where she was a regular when still a child. What she did learn set her up pretty well for making money — she is now one of the highest paid of Hollywood actresses — but on a personal level the lessons were somewhat rough. While still in her teens, she had to go to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. Related to the renowned Barrymore family of actors, she grew up with her mom, Jaid Barrymore, who had split from her husband before Drew was born (February 22, 1975). It was the child’s acting that largely supported mother and daughter.

Gertie Teaches ET

In an interview with actress Carrie Fisher for Glamour, Drew said that by the time she was three, she “had done five or 10 commercials and three TV movies” which had a lot to do with her mother dragging her around to auditions, and was the reason she didn’t see much of the inside of classrooms. The movie that launched her career was E.T., the Extra- Terrestrial, in which she played Gertie. It was Gertie who taught ET how to speak.

Elliot: What?
E.T.: Elliott! Elliott!
Gertie: I taught him how to talk. He can talk now.
[Elliott sees electronics and supplies together in the closet]
Gertie: Look, what he brought up here all by himself. What’s he need this stuff for?
Elliot: E.T., can you say that? Can you say ‘E.T.’? E.T.
E.T.: E.T.
Elliot: Aha!
E.T.: E.T.! E.T.! E.T.! Be good.
Gertie: Be good! I taught him that too!
Elliot: Maybe you should give him his dignity. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

Education is Light

Probably because of her lack of a formal education, Drew has  a deep appreciation for the value of a good education and the dignity it provides. She ended her article for Marie Claire: “I remember the sign painted on the wall of the school I saw yesterday. I walked up to it and photographed it. I felt it conveyed everything about finding a path to doing something meaningful. On any scale. In big letters, it said, ‘Education Is light.’”

It seems that Drew has been teaching herself. In the Marie Claire article, she noted: “I didn’t go to school, so the older I get, I choose different college courses in life.” And in a magazine article about home decorating, she said, ‘You can never have too many books.’ Behind the glamour, there is a sensitive and dedicated person who has gone beyond acting to producing and directing and to having her own production company, ‘Flower Films’. She produced a documentary about her African trip that was about to give her an education that even the nightclubs of California couldn’t come close to providing.

World Hunger Campaign

In 2005, Drew travelled to Kenya to see first-hand the impact of hunger on the poor — especially girls and women in the slums. In the Marie Claire article, published as part of the magazine’s ‘World Hunger Campaign’, you can see her move from idealism to realism. It is a moving article that reveals much about the young actress.

On her way to Nairobi, she had a stopover in Heathrow Airport. While waiting, she wrote: “And I want so desperately to ask the questions: Why is there so much excess in some parts of the world, and such a lack of food and basic needs in others? How is there ‘all you can eat’ and starvation? How can you, the individual, make a difference when governments can’t tackle the horrors of our world?”

Contrast this to how she feels in the middle of the journey: “Later that afternoon, we go deeper into the slums to film more footage. At one point, our car gets stuck, and we are so crowded in by the shacks and the people that a sense of danger washes over me. I feel like I shouldn’t be here. I want to go back to the hotel. I feel trapped and claustrophobic. After a while, we move on. As soon as we get out of the car and into some open space to film, I feel fine.”

Quiet Tears

She feels ‘fine’ for awhile, but there is more to come and it moves her deeply. She visits schools and goes with students to their homes to meet the rest of their family, which is often a single mother and several siblings. She learns of the sexual mutilation the young girls are inflicted with, she hears of the horrors they endure and sees first-hand how little they live with.

“We pull up to the store,” she writes, “and everyone gets out. I sit there paralysed. How can everyone speak about these horrors with such a matter-of-fact tone? I think about how much fear and pain there is for these girls, and I start to cry for the first time on the trip. In this strange little parking lot, I sit by myself and just cry for a while. I feel helpless and sad and angry that anyone has to suffer through such absolute torture. Every time I try to collect myself, I realise the quiet tears are still coming, and I just wait for them to stop. Then I take a deep breath and go into the store.”

The issue with Marie Claire’s ‘World Hunger
Campaign’ became one of the magazine’s best-read features of all times. Readers wrote thousands of letters and emails asking how they could help. Drew and photographer Evelyn Hockestein did an auction of photos in New York at the International Centre for Photography in 2006, and along with a charity campaign in Marie Claire, over $50,000 was raised for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kenya.

Honoured & Humbled

When it was announced in May 2007, after two trips to Africa, that Drew had been named ‘Ambassador Against Hunger’ for WFP she stated: “I can’t think of any issue that is more important than working to see that no schoolchild in this world goes hungry.”

She joined world marathon record-holder Paul Tergat, from Kenya, as a WFP Ambassador Against Hunger, and it was with Tergat, a former school feeding recipient, that she travelled in Kenya on her second visit to Africa.

“I am honoured and humbled to accept this challenging and rewarding assignment,” Drew said. “Feeding a child at school is such a simple thing — but it works miracles. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. “School feeding not only fills stomachs, but has a proven track record of boosting enrolment, attendance and academic performance. For just pennies a day per child, this programme changes lives — and ultimately can impact the futures of poor countries around the world in a profound way,”

Passion & Commitment

WFP’s Executive Director Josette Sheeran said: “We are delighted to have Drew Barrymore join our team. Her passion and commitment to changing the world for the better — and of course, the respect and admiration she commands — will make her a wonderful champion for school feeding.” Drew followed this up by joining Tergat and Sheeran in Washington to raise awareness about school feeding — and to advocate for passage of draft legislation in the US Congress that would expand and regularise funding for US- supported school feeding programmes. Once the legislation is passed, it would increase funding from the current average of US$100 million a year to about US$300 million a year within five years. In 2006, WFP fed 19.4 million children in 71 countries through school feeding programmes.

Fill the Cup

In March 2008, Drew announced that she would donate $1 million to the United Nations World Food Programme to help the agency feed thousands of Kenyan schoolchildren. The donation kicked off WFP’s ‘Fill the Cup’ challenge to raise enough funds to help feed 59 million children around the world for a year. Drew made the announcement on the Oprah Winfrey Show, saying she had witnessed first-hand the impact hunger has on poor children during two visits to Kenya in the past two years. “I have seen with my own eyes what a difference a simple cup of nutritious porridge can make in a child’s life. It helps them learn, stay healthy and sets them on track for a bright future.”

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran noted that for only 25 cents a day, WFP can provide an entire school meal to a child in a developing country. “Just $50 fills a child’s cup for a year, and we call in everyone to click on wfp.org and make a donation,” she said. WFP is trying to jump-start school feeding programmes in many developing countries so that local communities can run them once they have the capacity.

Spreading Her Wings

In her article for Marie Claire on that first life- changing journey, Drew wrote: “I read an article in the New York Times last year that said there are schools that can change a young person’s life with the help of very little money. Cents and dollars can feed and educate these children. Four dollars can put one child through school for one year or buy that child a uniform. When I read this article, it made me feel that just one person can help another person and on and on. Economist Jeffrey Sachs says that when you close your eyes, the problems seem so big, but when you open your eyes and really look at them, the solutions become clear. I want to open my eyes. And with that, my flight is taking off, and I am on my way.” Charlie’s Angel has opened her eyes and spread her wings. Drew has found a way that she, as an individual, can make a difference, and there are a lot of children in Africa that are a lot less hungry as a result. She is on her way.

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