“We are moved by what we see in children [affected by Ebola], the way they suffer, the way they are stigmatized. Sometimes they are abandoned by their relatives and communities.”— Billy Abimbilla, ChildFund’s national director of Liberia and Sierra Leone, speaking to BBC World Service about the Interim Care Center started in Monrovia, Liberia, to assist children orphaned by Ebola. A survivor and center volunteer, 23-year-old Decontee Davis, also speaks about her work. You can listen to the story until Oct. 20 — go to the 44-minute mark to hear it.
That famous old observation - “Everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it” - has reminded me of the ongoing discussions about protecting children from violence.
I believe that it is our moral imperative to see that protecting children against violence - in all its horrific forms - is included among the next set of U.N. priorities beginning in 2015. Read more of my HuffPost article here.
Last week I attended my fourth Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting. It is a three-day event in New York City that gathers about 1,000 leaders from across the corporate, philanthropic and government worlds “to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
President Clinton, a masterful convener, draws together the widest diversity of people you can imagine from around the world. In crowded rooms and hallways, you bump shoulders with many, never being quite sure who you will meet. Over the years, I have run into Gerry Adams (president of the Irish Sinn Féin political party), South African activist Desmond Tutu and Michael Jordan’s mother.
This year, I met actor Forest Whitaker and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And that list doesn’t include the current and former heads of state that President Clinton entices away from the competing annual U.N. General Assembly meetings happening blocks away from the CGI meeting, as well as the CEOs of many, many major companies (from Barclay’s Bank and Monsanto to Cisco Systems). This year, Jack Ma, chair of China’s Alibaba company, which just had the largest IPO in history, making him the richest man in China, even showed up and spoke on a panel. He is quite a character – who pledged to set aside $3 billion raised in his IPO for philanthropic work!
(Note – if you ever think about visiting NYC during the last week of September, when these two events take place, don’t. With all the security and limos, traffic is at its worst. When I ventured out of the hotel for other meetings, I ended walking more than taking taxis – it was faster.)
So, why are we all there? In one way or another, people are looking for ideas, connections, money and opportunities to work together on major social problems – from providing education and health care to bringing power to Africa and everything in between. This was the 10th such meeting, and the CGI staff did a good job of summarizing and sharing the commitments to action made to date and ideas for the future. Combating Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was a big issue this year, and I’m proud to say that ChildFund’s efforts were acknowledged on stage during the closing plenary session.
Although the official CGI meeting takes place on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the 7th Avenue Sheraton Hotel, an unofficial, and just as well-attended, meeting spills out through the lobby and cafes on the hotel’s first floor. Heavy networking occurs in every nook and cranny during the day and well into the evening hours, primarily by those who accompany the CEOs. Everyone has a cause they care about, and they look high and low for fellow believers.
Making a world safer and more supportive of children is a very slow and sometimes frustrating business. That’s why it’s good every once in a while to get out and meet some powerful people who care about the world as much as you do. It reinforces my belief that if you get the right people working on a problem, anything is possible.
A World Free from Violence and Exploitation against Children: Targets and Indicators for the Post-2015 Development Agenda
ChildFund Alliance’s acting Secretary General Andrew Johnson speaks at the 46-minute point in this U.N. discussion, held this week in New York City. The Alliance supports including a goal to keep children free from violence in the U.N. post-2015 global agenda.
“Don’t protect the past.
Don’t be defined by your product.
Start with changing yourself.”—Ginni Rometty, first female chairman and CEO of IBM, speaking Monday at the Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York. Stay tuned for more notes from the event!
The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is the largest and longest Ebola outbreak in history. This Ebola outbreak has killed more people than all other Ebola outbreaks combined. The majority of cases are in three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Nigeria and Senegal reported a small number of cases. Latest CDC reports show at total of 3,707 suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola and 1,848 deaths (as of August 31, 2014).
We’re proud to be among the members of InterAction who are responding to the Ebola outbreak. Please read more here.
Today, Halima’s first visit is with Nadzua, age 35, mother of 11; she is a second wife, married into a family who lost their mother to HIV. In her packed-dirt front yard, she greets Halima warmly, a sleepy toddler balanced on her hip. Her 2-year-old son, Mbega, is the only one of Nadzua’s children home this morning — the others are at school, and her husband is in town. Read more about HIV and AIDS in Kenya.
The Ebola crisis is affecting countries where ChildFund works, and we’re finding that community involvement — volunteers with our local partners who spread the word about good hygiene and early medical attention — is making a difference. We’re working with governments and other NGOs. You can read more about our response here.
When violence among adults causes the death of children, when millions of children are dying from causes we can prevent, and when children are being subjected to untold forms of abuse, we must examine our priorities and recommit ourselves to ensuring…
Does our collective empathy for children stop at the border? Read more of my HuffPost article here.
The question was posed by a donor representative speaking at the Girl Summit 2014 this week in London. The speaker’s answer to his own question – that smart girls can change the world – matched the mood of the event, which was upbeat, energetic, and ambitious in its goals.
My daughter’s 22nd birthday is coming up soon. As a recent college grad, Emma’s birthday celebrations are obviously very different now than when she was young and growing up, when each new year represented a different milestone achieved.
One birthday that sticks out clearly in my mind was her 8th. We were living in Egypt at the time. We invited all her friends from the international school to her birthday party. There must have been 10 little girls from about eight different countries. When it came to singing “Happy Birthday,” it came out in six or seven different languages. At the time, I thought that if only more kids could experience such multiculturalism when growing up, the world would be a more peaceful place.
I had the same thought recently when UNHCR announced that the total number of people currently displaced by conflict has reached a new peak of 33.3 million people, breaking the record for the second year in a row.
Think of all those children who are frightened and living away from their homes, many missing school, separated from friends and left vulnerable to sickness and violence. Think about what they are hearing from the adults in their lives, who are worried and angry at whatever groups caused them to flee. These young children are not celebrating diversity. Just the opposite. Their lives are filled with learning about “us” and “them” and learning to hate the “them.”
ChildFund knows childhood is a one-time opportunity. Young children pay a terrible price when violent conflict breaks out. And the whole world continues to pay that price for many years to come.
This year, more than 6.5 million children will die before age 5. That is nearly 18,000 children each day.
While the United States has taken a leading role in helping children living in poverty reach their fifth birthdays, a sustained commitment to foreign assistance is needed to ensure that we continue to move in the right direction. Read more in my June Huffington Post piece.
I love this picture of me at five. In my very formal attire of cap and gown, if you look carefully, you can see that the gown is on backwards.
The picture was taken at my kindergarten graduation. It was my mother’s first experience with a cap and gown. My family had emigrated from Ireland about two years earlier, and formal graduations were a whole new experience for my parents, who had both finished school when they were about 13. On my graduation day, my mother dressed me up in the cap and gown, took these pictures (in front of my neighbor’s house, next to the one my family was renting) and sent me to walk the mile to school. She came up later for the ceremony with my baby sister. When I got to school, one of the classmates’ moms took one look at me, called me over and helped me to turn the gown around. To my mom, it made sense that the zipper always went in the back!
Since that first graduation, over the years, my mom probably had more than 30 encounters with caps and gowns. With eight kids in my family, it always seemed like someone was graduating from someplace — between grammar school, high school, college and beyond (I was the only one who had such a formal kindergarten graduation experience). If I were to start adding in the graduations of her 18 grandchildren, that number would only grow. That first graduation day, however, has forever been immortalized with her proud picture of me in the backwards gown.
Although life was not easy for my mother, with a limited education raising eight children in a new country, there was never a question in the USA of her children surviving beyond their fifth birthdays. From my work in ChildFund, I know the same is not true for millions of children around the world. In the past 24 years, fantastic progress has been made in reducing the number of children dying before they reach five — from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 deaths per 1,000 births in 2012.
We should celebrate that progress with pride and deep satisfaction knowing we’ve helped make the world a safer place to be a child. At the same time, since 6.6 million children are expected to die this year before they reach five, we need to shout it from the roof tops that more can — and should — be done to have more children celebrate that special day. This week, more than 100 groups (including ChildFund) are participating in 5th Birthday and Beyond to recognize both the successes and the challenges facing children worldwide. That’s why I’ve changed my avatar temporarily to my graduation picture.
We know how to help children survive beyond their fifth birthdays. We don’t need caps and gowns to make that possible but we do need the U.N., national governments, donors, NGOs, the private sector, local governments, communities and parents working together to ensure more kids celebrate that all important day. Who knows, maybe we can get another of those backward gown pictures as proof that we succeeded.
Health for the world’s adolescents a second chance in the second decade
Teens from around the world participated in the World Health Organization’s adolescent health report (a good read, even for non-scientists). Caio, a Brazilian boy sponsored through ChildFund, even contributed photos of his community. See one of his pictures here.
Maya Angelou's Words Were a Comfort to Abducted Aid Worker
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” — Maya Angelou
These words gave comfort to Margaret Hassan, the Irish-Iraqi aid worker who was abducted and murdered by unidentified kidnappers in Iraq in 2004. I know this because Margaret told me so a few months before her kidnapping. Before I joined ChildFund International as CEO in 2007, Margaret and I worked for the same humanitarian organization, CARE International. While Margaret ran the office in Baghdad, I ran the operations in Egypt. We met for the last time at a regional meeting held in Cairo in early 2004.
Margaret Hassan, courtesy indymedia.org.uk.
During the meeting, national directors shared the statuses of the programs and operations in their countries. When it came to Margaret’s turn, she said the whole world knew about the chaos that was consuming Iraq since the invasion of the country the previous year. News about the war was sometimes more available outside the country than inside. So, instead of focusing on the depressing situation of the day, Margaret shared that sometimes the lack of news gave her hope.
Coming home from work each day, Margaret’s habit was to turn on the radio and listen to the BBC. On a recent day she was drawn into listening to an interview with Maya Angelou, who shared her view on her life’s mission: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Margaret said those thoughts lifted her spirits, made her realize that even in the terrible conditions in which she was living and working that she needed to keep focusing on moving forward.
Margaret never struck me as a particularly funny person or someone who really cared about style. She dressed very simply. But she was VERY passionate and compassionate about the plight of children, particularly young people and disabled children. After her abduction in October 2004, protests were held in the streets of Baghdad by ordinary Iraqis, who said the wrong person was taken and demanded her release. Unfortunately, the protests were unsuccessful and Margaret was killed. Her body was never found.
Although to my knowledge Maya Angelou and Margaret Hassan never met, they did share things in common — their passion to live life fully and not just survive. They also shared an ability to reach out and give hope to others both by their words and by their deeds.
I think of the work we do at ChildFund. It can’t just be about children surviving. Children thriving must be our goal.
The abduction of more than 200 girls from a school dormitory in Nigeria has understandably shaken the world’s consciousness. This reprehensible attack by Muslim extremists offends our collective sensibilities at so many levels, not only putting the …
Attacks of this kind on school children - as well as on their teachers and other education officials - are unconscionable, and our efforts should not stop with the safe return of these girls. Read more at HuffPost.
In a major effort to accelerate progress in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition, NGO alliance InterAction and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have forged a first-of-its-kind agreement designed to leverage the unique assets of NGOs for greater impact.
ChildFund is among 30 NGOs participating in this effort, a three-year agreement that aims to fight hunger, which an estimated 842 million people experience worldwide.
For many years, Ethiopia was the poster child for futility. Hip deep in the mire of cross-generational poverty, the eastern African nation never could find the kind of traction that was allowing so many of its sub-Saharan neighbors to find a foothold…
At ChildFund, we have been witness to entrepreneurial spirit firsthand. In Gulele, a sub-city of the capital, Addis Ababa, a group of 20 young people have started a car wash. Read more of my April piece at HuffPost.
A mother and child in Senegal. Photo by Jake Lyell.
There is a commercial I frequently see on TV selling financial planning services. A husband and wife sit in front of the desk of the financial planner, and he explains how he can help them plan their finances and reach their dreams. The couple, immediately and simultaneously, utters their dreams out loud: him, a motorcycle, and her, a home remodel.
Whenever I see this ad, I think about how true it is! This ad encapsulates one of the many stereotypical but yet true differences between men and women. Women often prioritize their home and family, and men often have other interests (in my personal experiences, a cooler, newer, faster car or motorbike can be one of them). That’s not a negative on men; we are just hard-wired differently.
I know the same is true for men and women in countries and communities living in poverty around the globe. Mothers have the greatest impact on how well children survive and thrive in life. At ChildFund, we call it the Mama Effect.
In honor of Mother’s Day, we are launching the Mama Effect campaign today. Our theory is that when a mother is healthy, safe and empowered, her children are likely to follow in her footsteps. We’re aiming to raise $80,000 to make life a little easier for mothers, helping their sons and daughters have a brighter future. To learn more, visit our donations page.
Personally, I love the name Mama. My kids generally call me Mom, but when they are being especially affectionate, they call me Mama. That name always sends a little thrill through me.
Our partner in this new program is ChildFund, with whom we’ve worked in many settings and countries to provide clean water. Our partnership efforts mirror the CSDW Program’s overall focus areas as we’ve provided clean water in emergencies - droughts in Kenya, floods in Mozambique, and after volcanic eruptions in Indonesia - and in rural communities without sustained access to clean water in Sierra Leone and Zambia.
We’re thrilled and proud to hear that Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water project has delivered its 7 billionth liter of water to a family in Brazil. ChildFund has had a longtime partnership with P&G in efforts to disrupt poverty worldwide, and this project — part of P&G’s commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to save one life an hour by 2020 — is very close to our hearts. Clean water is a necessity for children everywhere to achieve their potential.
The dreaded and deadly Ebola virus has raised its ugly head again. This time the breakout has occurred in West Africa, starting in the country of Guinea and spreading rapidly to neighboring Liberia. Sandwiched between these two countries, Sierra Leone’s people are naturally nervous it could cross its borders as well. ChildFund works with children, families and communities in all three of these countries, and we have started educating communities so they can protect themselves.
According to Davidson Jonah, our field operations support director, ChildFund has mounted a response to the outbreak in these three countries, providing hygiene kits to families and running awareness-raising activities. We are working with the national governments, the World Health Organisation, Doctors Without Borders and other health-related NGOs.
The medical answer to “Where did this virus come from?” is easy yet frustrating: They don’t know. The real-world answer is also simple: poverty. The virus lives and travels around in animals of the forest; no one is sure which ones, but bats are suspected. From time to time, the virus is transmitted to humans. How? Because poor, hungry people eat bats, apes and other wild animals — found dead or captured alive — because they have little other food to eat. The virus has to find a home in only one human host before it can start spreading rapidly to others through bodily fluids.
A U.S. Army researcher works with the Ebola virus, 2011.
Because Ebola is so threatening to our closely intertwined world and so deadly to whoever gets infected (death rates are often as high as 60 percent to 80 percent for those infected), I’m confident that WHO staff and our own CDC officials are already making progress in these countries. By providing their impressive technical and logistical knowledge, they will be able to isolate those infected, stop further transmission and find the first case. That index case will help answer the medical question — “Where did this virus come from?”
But what about that underlying cause of extreme poverty and hunger? Is the world doing enough to answer that question and solve that problem? Hunger and poverty are not as deadly as the Ebola virus but they’re no less serious, particularly to the one out of every four children in the world who are malnourished. Many of them would eat a bat or an ape if they could, rather than letting their stomachs go empty.