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.
Today I’m giving my first TEDx talk in Richmond, Va., about violence against children. The preparation has been intense. I have done a lot of public speaking in my career, and I really enjoy it. I’m passionate about my work with ChildFund, and I love having an opportunity to tell people something about the work we do with children. Often I get much more excited than nervous when I speak. I get energy from speaking with and to other people, including audiences, which adds to my excitement.
But for today, I admit I’m a bit nervous. Who hasn’t watched a great TED talk and been impressed with the quality of the presentation? TED has set a high standard. TED talks rely on your memory – no notes or teleprompters allowed. What if I forget what I’m supposed to say? Everyone says just relax and have fun. That’s easy for them to say – they won’t be up in front of the audience and cameras. Wish me luck! If you’re interested, the talk will be streamed live around 1:15 p.m. EDT.
In the annual shareholder letter of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released recently, the couple made a confident prediction that has raised more than a few eyebrows and invited a chorus of cynics….
"The less than 1 percent of the U.S. budget that is spent on foreign aid (about $30 billion), is helping build foundational changes in countries around the world: building schools, roads and irrigation systems, providing life-saving vaccines, family planning and other vital healthcare services."
“This is a call from children all over the world,” ChildFund Alliance Secretary General Jim Emerson said. “Children are asking for an end to physical and humiliating punishment; sexual violence and abuse; harmful child work and child marriage; trafficking and other harmful practices.” Read more about this effort here on ChildFund’s blog.
Sunday, Feb. 16 marked the 100th day since Super Typhoon Yolanda — as Typhoon Haiyan is known in the Philippines — tore a path through the central Visayas region. One hundred days later, and the destruction I’ve seen since stepping off the plane almost makes it feel like Yolanda is still here. For such a small country, everything is larger than life here in the Philippines.
Hubert Par, a ChildFund sponsor relations officer who also serves on the Emergency Response Team, filled us in on the status of our response efforts in the Philippines, particularly in Tacloban City, where the devastation remains significant. The rest of the team in Tacloban introduced themselves, quickly affirming my confidence the relief campaign here was in good hands. Hubert mentioned that a local school would have a small presentation for us.
I hopped in the van that would take me to the Sto. Niño Special Education Center, an elementary school for differently abled children. This school, like many others throughout the island of Leyte, served as an evacuation center for hundreds of families displaced by Yolanda. ChildFund had established a Child-Centered Space, a safe place where ChildFund staff and volunteers could address children’s fears and emotions in the wake of the super typhoon, and also connect with teachers and local government for the protection of children living under these difficult circumstances.
A warm greeting at Sto. Niño for Anne and Philippines National Director Katherine Manik
When the van pulled into the school gates, I was greeted with a huge surprise: Several hundred students at Sto. Niño, their teachers and many parents had gathered in the school courtyard to greet me. I was ushered toward a podium, where a group of children began reading a story to the audience, describing my background.
A dance number and a few songs performed by hearing-impaired children followed the introduction. Hubert had called this a small presentation, but this was an amazing full-blown performance they’d prepared. I looked to the ChildFund staff members around me, and they seemed equally surprised over how big this “small presentation” was. My gaze darted from face to face until I found Hubert, who explained that this is how the community members wanted to express their thanks. Like other things I saw since arriving in the Philippines, the community at Sto. Niño’s expression of thanks was larger than life.
Then the community members showed me just why they were thankful. Inside a classroom was an exhibit showcasing just about every piece of material created at our Child-Centered Space established at the school. The immense volume of paper crafts, stories and other artwork on display was tremendous.
Students present a dance.
It’s been 100 days since Yolanda, but it felt like I’d walked into a collection amassed over a year. Each piece contained a message of hope or gratitude. Each story, though carrying hints of grief over what the child had lost, also reflected joy over what remained. I was particularly amazed by one child’s illustration of what he wanted to be when he grew up. His dreams were so big, he wrote that it would take three lives for him to live them all: as a fireman, a soldier and then finally a superhero.
Only then did I fully comprehend the larger-than-life gratitude the school community went to great lengths to express. If I was surprised to see how cheerful and resilient such a devastated community could be, they also surprised themselves, and they wanted to thank ChildFund staff and volunteers for dedicating the time and effort to work with their community and children to mount a response campaign that’s larger than life. Super Typhoon Yolanda still seems nearby in Leyte, but ChildFund’s still there too.
This week I’ve been in Timor-Leste visiting ChildFund’s programs for children. Not many people have even heard of the place. Timor-Leste is, in fact, a remote and small country in Southeast Asia. There are only a few flights daily to its capital, Dili, so it made me smile when starting our descent, the captain announced we would be delayed due to congestion on the airstrip.
Timor-Leste celebrated its status as a new nation only 12 years ago after a bloody conflict with Indonesia. In that short time, it has made great strides, given the scale of the development and security challenges it has faced. As a result of the violence that followed the 1999 vote for independence, most of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, the economy was devastated, and there were no functioning government institutions left. The country was essentially starting from scratch. Countries emerging from conflict can take 30 or 40 years to get to middle income levels and, as my experience in Somalia shows, many never make it, falling back into conflict.
Timor-Leste has come a long way, although it still faces many challenges. Despite the country’s growing petroleum wealth, the country is still one of the poorest in the world. Many people still lack basic services, particularly outside the capital. Private sector development remains constrained by a poorly educated population, weak public institutions and unreliable electricity, transport and telecommunications. These factors have made it difficult for Timor-Leste to move away from its dependence on oil and create jobs for its growing population.
But there are signs that things are improving. The number of people living below the poverty line is falling. More children are being vaccinated, and the country is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for reduced child mortality. More women are receiving care from skilled health workers during pregnancy and childbirth, and the number of children enrolled in school is increasing. Thousands more people have better water and sanitation services, relieving them of the back-breaking task of collecting water of dubious quality.
ChildFund assists communities in remote areas, and no visit is complete without a long drive on a bad road. West of Dili, the coastal road twists and turns, with jungle-laden hills to the left and bronze-colored beaches to the right. Today, I am visiting Maliana, where ChildFund sponsors 1,600 children. In this poor farming community, most parents grow rice, cassava and corn, and raise pigs, cows and chicken. Children have other ambitions. They tell me they don’t want to become farmers and work in the fields; they want to study at university in Dili.
Carlos, age 16 and sponsored through ChildFund, tells me he wants to go to university to study economics. Abaya has similar dreams. She tells me she wants to go to university in the capital, where three of her brothers are already studying, to study medicine and become a doctor. In Libania’s wooden house, I notice a computer. She says, “ChildFund provided my family with a cow a few years ago. Now we have eight cows. We recently sold one to buy a computer. It’s very important I learn how to use a computer if I am to get a good job.”
A visit with Libania and her mother.
Youth unemployment is a huge issue in Timor-Leste. Many young adults drop out of school with no skills. ChildFund provides market-driven training opportunities to help youths develop vocational skills so that they can provide for their families. In Maliana, ChildFund supports carpentry training, where I meet Felipe, a confident 25-year-old.
“I was keen to learn a new skill because I didn’t want to become a farmer like my parents,” he says. “The training gave me a way out and confidence. When I successfully completed the course last year, ChildFund gave me tools and equipment to start my own business. At first, it was tough. I had no money to buy wood. Now I employ two young people and pass on to them what I have learned. There is great demand for my skill. I make doors, beds and other furniture using local wood. I have made a profit of $1,800 in the last six months, which is a great help to my family. I hope to take on more staff in the future.”
Felipe, a participant in a carpentry program.
In Tunubibi village (literally “barbecued goat”), it looks like everyone has turned up for my visit. I’m here to inaugurate a new early childhood development center. In Timor-Leste, only one in 10 children has access to pre-primary education, and improving access and quality of early years development is one of ChildFund’s priorities in the country. As I cut the ribbon and open the new center, I am happy to see the bright classrooms, with running water and clean toilets. We are providing teacher training, educational materials, desks and chairs (produced by the youth carpenters!).
I also distribute shoes to excited children. The shoes were provided by TOMS Shoes, with whom ChildFund partners. TOMS’ One for One™ program gives a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes sold. And TOMS plans to send shoes for the children not just one time but repeatedly, as they grow. Today the children can barely contain their excitement as I fit shoes on their feet. “I go to school barefoot,” one child told me. “My friends will not laugh at me anymore.”
“I like my new shoes. I like the black color,” another child exclaimed. “Thanks to TOMS, I got a new pair of shoes.”
Trying on shoes.
Parents also voiced their appreciation. “ChildFund is doing a lot for our children. This will help retain our children in schools and fewer children will suffer from foot disease. Most parents are unable to buy a pair of shoes for their children,” one parent told us.
ChildFund is doing some great work in Timor-Leste, and I was happy to visit for the first time and see our programs. For such a young country, it has already made great strides.
The most effective way to maintain progress over time is to educate children so that they have their own set of skills, skills that can ensure a sustainable tomorrow, provide economic security and create a future….
In the early 1980s, I was stationed in Somalia, involved in efforts to support 1 million Ethiopians who had fled the drought in their homeland, looking for food and water in Somalia. I clearly remember taking my newborn son with me to the reception camp near the border, where the Ethiopian refugees received their first food after walking over semi-arid land for days and weeks while seeking help. I remember the embarrassment I felt having such a healthy baby in comparison to the emaciated children I met.
In the mid-1980s in Bangladesh, a “flood of the decade” hit the country, and I was tasked with coordinating the emergency response for my organization. I visited a school by boat, which literally floated through the front door of the school. Although the first floor was flooded, the upper two floors provided dry but extremely crowded living quarters for thousands of families. The expression “the size of a postage stamp” could have been invented there, considering the few square feet each family had and the total lack of privacy. I remember thinking that as crazy as it seemed, children would be conceived there – such crowding made the space insecure for women, and sexual assaults would surely occur.
Fast track to the Rwanda genocide in the mid-90s. As the chaos started, Rwandans started fleeing any way they could, and foreigners were evacuating the country, going by convoy across the border into Kenya. I had visited the country one month earlier but was back in the U.S. when the mass killings began. I was trying to arrange for our staff to leave, but our country director refused, as we had some staff members out in the field, and he wouldn’t leave until he was sure they had reached safety. Getting a U.S. flag for his car and some gasoline from the Embassy, he drove through the chaos to rescue them, redefining the word “hero” for me. At the same time, I was on the phone to his parents in California, trying to explain what he was doing during this horrific bloodbath.
In the late ’90s, I worked in what was for me a very strange emergency. NATO had just started bombing Kosovo, and thousands of Kosovars fled the fighting and crossed into Macedonia. Refugee camps were quickly set up. But these weren’t the refugees I was used to dealing with elsewhere – these were middle-class folks who suddenly found themselves without a home. In the camps, we were giving out disposable diapers and bottles of water. Diabetes was a bigger problem than malnutrition. I remember a woman asking for a nail file! But life is always miserable in a camp, despite everyone’s best efforts. With physical health not being such a huge problem as usual, the depression was so much more obvious on everyone’s faces.
Our response in Palo and Talosa, two hard-hit Philippines communities.
I wonder what my memories will be from my upcoming trip to the Philippines. Stay tuned for some blog posts and pictures that I will post about ChildFund’s work.
I will soon be celebrating my 33rd wedding anniversary, or as my husband likes to say, our 65th anniversary. You see, my husband and I were married twice — once in Kenya, where we met while I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and seven months later in the United States, surrounded by our family and friends at my church. Although we celebrate both anniversaries each year (that’s how we reach the number 65), the January anniversary is always special. It is not only our legal wedding date, but it holds such unique memories.
On our wedding day.
In January 1981, we married in a civil ceremony at the attorney general’s building in Nairobi. My memory of the very short ceremony was the presiding official telling us, in essence, “Polygamy is illegal; now, please sign on the dotted line.” My marriage certificate identifies me as a “spinster,” something I had a hard time swallowing with my “woman’s libber” mindset at the time.
After the ceremony, we went off to the Hilton hotel for some sandwiches with a few friends to celebrate. (Remember, volunteers live on very little money.) When we reminisce about the day, my husband always likes to remind me how I spent the morning writing up a report about a nutrition survey while he was off buying flowers and renting a car to take us to the ceremony. It’s proof, he says, that he is more of a romantic than I am!
The “romantic” Andrew buying flowers in Nairobi.
Although that first wedding day was somewhat unconventional, it was without doubt a joyous event for me. I was marrying the man I loved. What I have learned through my work at ChildFund is that not all marriages are such joyful occasions. Each year 14 million girls under the age of 18 are forced into early marriages, which leave them vulnerable to many risks, including domestic abuse, illness and dying during childbirth. Even if their husbands are not abusive, young married girls rarely get the chance to complete their educations or attain economic independence, which negatively affects the whole family.
In The Gambia, ChildFund and one of our local partner organizations helped a 15-year-old girl named Ramatoulie avoid a marriage to an older man. “My father said he didn’t have any money to pay for school,” Ramatoulie told a ChildFund staff member. “The teachers and the local community organization said they would support me.” Ramatoulie is now living in a safe home and remains in school today, unmarried. She also belongs to a club called Speak Out! that gives boys and girls the skills they need to deal with obstacles facing them in their educations.
To end, I want to share with you the secret I’ve learned to a long and happy marriage: Marry someone who shares your values. Over the lifetime of a marriage, many things will change, and many challenges will occur. But if you and your spouse share similar values — something more important than shared interests, friends, backgrounds or even religion — and draw on those values when making life decisions, then you will have a greater chance of having that long and happy marriage everyone desires.
Reflecting the differences in the range of responses from around the world, 90 percent of the children in Cambodia believe that alcohol is the chief cause of violence against children in their country.
"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals." — Martin Luther King, Jr.
As president of ChildFund, sometimes when I talk with people about the 1 billion children living in poverty globally, I see an uninterested shadow cross their face. It’s not their issue; their concerns lie closer to home.
When I say that 6.6 million children died before their 5th birthday in 2012, though, I can tell the pictures of their own much-loved children or grandchildren flash before their eyes. I imagine they say a quick prayer of thanks for the lives their loved ones live – and then move on with their own busy lives. When I tell someone that each year 14 million girls are forced to marry before their 18th birthday, or tens of thousands are forced into female genital cutting or child prostitution, I see their discomfort level rise — accompanied by a desire to look toward less painful subjects.
One of many “dedicated individuals” helping children in the Philippines. Photo by Jobeth Jerao.
I understand — and support — that individuals can be passionate and dedicated to the many other problems that plague our world and our neighborhoods. Having been a working mother my whole career, I can fully appreciate that people’s lives are way too busy, and that juggling the responsibilities of home and work can often leave energy for little else. And who wouldn’t want to turn away from things that cause us pain? Our lives can seem short on joy and happiness.
These things I can accept. But what I have a hard time accepting is that many people believe the world is made to be unjust and/or the problems these children face are too big, too far away and too complex for them — individually — to do anything about it anyway. So they choose to do nothing.
MLK Jr. had it right. Human progress is not inevitable, nor is it inevitable that millions of children must continue to suffer. Many steps have been taken in the last 25 years to improve the lives of children — the rate of children dying before their 5th birthday has been cut nearly in half since 1990. That happened because of the “tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Those many dedicated individuals include the more than 350,000 people here at home who support the work of ChildFund in the 30 countries where we work to improve the lives of children.
So, as we celebrate the life and gifts of Martin Luther King, Jr., throw away any beliefs you might have held that nothing can be done to help children living in poverty. Become a “dedicated individual” by taking an interest in your fellow humans, especially children.
You can visit our website for some information, or talk to your friends, neighbors or family who might already be one of those dedicated believers — and learn how they help.