The Importance of Age Five

image

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. 

united-nations:

June 16th is Day of the African Child, commemorating the children who were killed in 1976 while protesting for a better education in Soweto, South Africa. The road to quality education for all children is still long. Learn more here.

united-nations:

June 16th is Day of the African Child, commemorating the children who were killed in 1976 while protesting for a better education in Soweto, South Africa. The road to quality education for all children is still long. Learn more here.

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

unicef:

It’s been 50 days. They must be released. They must not be forgotten. Raise your voice for them: http://wefb.it/C3C6CE

unicef:

It’s been 50 days. They must be released. They must not be forgotten. Raise your voice for them: http://wefb.it/C3C6CE

I spoke in March at the TEDxRVA conference about helping children become free from violence. Today the speech is available on video, and you can see some of my fellow speakers 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.  

image

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.