MLK Jr. Had It Right

"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.

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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. 

Only about two in five children under 6-months-old in the developing world are breastfed. ChildFund is working to change that statistic. Read more in my recent HuffPost.

Presidents, Mud and ‘Stickiness’

President Obama is wrapping up his trip to Africa, which included a visit to Senegal last week. Although my own visit to ChildFund’s programs in Senegal a few years ago did not get the same kind of press coverage that the president’s did (actually, it had no press coverage at all!), it was still a memorable trip.

ChildFund has been working in Senegal since 1985, offering many programs to improve the lives of vulnerable children. We are placing major emphasis on extending basic health care services for mothers and children living in remote, rural areas. Working in partnership with USAID and other community development organizations, ChildFund is supporting establishment of more than 2,000 fully functional health huts and 1,717 outreach sites in Senegal, while helping develop a national community health policy. At the end of this five-year project, ChildFund will have assisted more than 9 million Senegalese people in 71 districts.

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My trip was focused on those rural communities, meeting with children, parents and community leaders and touring the health huts we helped establish to provide those much-needed basic health services like vaccinations, treatment of diarrhea and malaria and other lifesaving interventions.

Although I prefer to arrive quietly in a village and have a low-key visit, it was not to be in the villages I visited in Senegal. Once they heard the president of ChildFund was visiting, an elaborate and warm welcome was planned. However, Mother Nature didn’t cooperate on that day. The welcoming speeches had just begun in the local schoolyard when the skies opened up and it started to pour. Hundreds of people made a mad dash for the school buildings and crowded into whatever dry space they could find. The welcoming ceremony continued as best as it could in the crowded space; it was a little chaotic, but spirits were high, with lots of singing and laughter.

Of course, just as things were wrapping up, the sun came out. As I made my way out through the crowded and drenched schoolyard, trying as much as possible to avoid the mud, I was stopped by a big mud puddle, too big to jump over. Suddenly a traditional band with four or five players appeared on the opposite side of the puddle. Obviously disappointed that their performance had been cancelled due to the rain, they seized the opportunity of finding me still on the grounds and began to play.

What stands out most in my mind from that day was one of the dancers. As he was getting into the music, he glanced down at the enormous mud puddle, shrugged his shoulders slightly (as if to say, “whatever”) and flipped over – dancing to the music on his hands in the middle of the muddy water. Hand dancing was obviously a big part of their act, and he was determined not to let a little mud stop the show!

I don’t know what will stick in President Obama’s mind after his trip to Senegal. For me, in addition to my “mud dancer,” it is the warmth of the Senegalese people and the determination of the families I met to bring up happy and healthy children. ChildFund is proud to be their partner.

Let’s End Preventable Child Deaths

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In the past year, more than 170 governments have renewed their commitment to ending preventable child deaths. This movement began last June when the governments of Ethiopia, India and the United States, together with UNICEF, gathered more than 700 public, private and civil society sector partners for the Child Survival Call to Action.

That meeting energized a global movement for child survival, with the goal of reducing child mortality rates to 20 or fewer per 1,000 live births in every country by 2035. Furthermore, leaders across the world are taking strategic steps in their own countries to provide lifesaving care for mothers and newborns to achieve better rates of child survival.

It’s encouraging news that in one year’s time, 173 governments have pledged to redouble efforts on child survival. More than 200 civil society organiations, including ChildFund, 91 faith-based organizations and 290 faith leaders from 52 countries have signed their own pledges of support.

To learn more about A Promise Renewed and to join the global movement, visit http://www.apromiserenewed.org

5thbday:

John Elder, Distinguished Professor at San Diego State University, discusses ways to ensure children ensure children survive and thrive. 

Good to see the dialogue around child survival continually expanding.

ChildFund Participates in World Bank and IMF Spring Meetings

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Every spring, thousands of government officials, journalists, civil society representatives and other interested observers gather in Washington D.C., for the Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

As part of those meetings, the Civil Society Forum conducts a series of events hosted or co-hosted by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups to foster creative dialogue among civil society participants, government delegates and senior World Bank and IMF officials.

Timothy Opobo, a child protection coordinator with ChildFund Uganda, served as a panelist at the session focused on gender issues. He used the opportunity to profile ChildFund’s work in this arena, and, specifically, to discuss the on-the-ground impact of World Bank projects on gender issues, including gender-based violence and education.

These are important conversations to have. Right now, ChildFund and other NGOs and civil society organizations are joining for the “50 Days of Action for Women and Girls” campaign. From prevention of violence against women to improving the health of women and girls worldwide, it’s important that we advance progress in U.S. foreign policy efforts on these issues and make them visible on the world stage.