At the Clinton Global Initiative conference, Bono is advocating for “Publish What You Pay,” a public transparency effort focusing on industries that extract natural resources in developing countries.

At the Clinton Global Initiative conference, Bono is advocating for “Publish What You Pay,” a public transparency effort focusing on industries that extract natural resources in developing countries.

More shots from the U.S. Global Coalition Leadership conference today in D.C.

Top: Mike Forman, who was just sworn in 30 minutes earlier as U.S. Trade Representative by Vice President Joe Biden. Speaking about the Obamas’ upcoming trip to Africa, he said: “First stop for the president will be in Senegal, focusing  on food security.”

Above: U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, who said a new $5 bill will be out this fall with his signature!! When I met him before he spoke, he said that he enjoyed coming to a USGLC event with people who got how important the international affairs budget is.

Motherless Children

This is my first Mother’s Day without my mother, who passed away a few months ago. She died just a few weeks short of her 92nd birthday, having lived a long, happy and productive life. She was the matriarch of a large family of eight children, 18 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

No one is ever prepared or ready to lose their mother – even if she is in her 90s. But I feel so blessed that she was such a big part of my life for so long. She taught me many things – from the everyday (how to fold a queen-size sheet by myself) to the useful (how to make a good apple pie) to the very important (how to manage family finances and live within your means). But most of all she taught me what it means to be a mother – how to care for a baby, instill confidence in children and give youth the wings to fly when they are ready – all the time watching over them and helping out whenever they need it.

My first child was born when I was living and working in Somalia. My mother, 65 years old at the time, came to Africa to be with me for the birth. Although she had flown many times before, it didn’t mean she wasn’t nervous about going to a place she knew little about. She was. She described getting to JFK airport, checking in her over-packed bags filled with baby gifts and then going to the ladies room and throwing up. She said she felt better afterwards. Years later she told me she came to Somalia because if something unexpected happened during the birth, she didn’t want me to be so far away from family. That’s what mothers do. Regardless of their own fears, they love and care for their child in whatever ways they can.

What about children who grow up without a mother?

Because of my work at ChildFund, I think about this issue all the time. Every day, approximately 800 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries. The new baby and any older children at home are deprived of the mother they need to nurture them.

In the last 20 years, great strides have been made as maternal mortality rates worldwide dropped by almost 50 percent, reports WHO. But we still have a long way to go to help the remaining half of mothers whose lives are at risk simply because of their economic position.

If motherless children are lucky, they are raised by a loving grandmother. Certainly that happens in countries where AIDS has claimed many parents. Grandmothers often step in to fill that vital role. Other times, widowed fathers marry again, as it is not common, in my experience in developing countries, for men to raise children alone. In the worst-case scenario, we encounter “child-headed households” – children raising children. These children live in poverty that is hard for many to imagine.

Although we cannot ever replace the role of a mother, ChildFund’s programs can be a great help in ensuring children have good health, go to school and have the skills they need to face adulthood. But a unique part of ChildFund’s approach – matching an individual sponsor with an individual child – can bring an added benefit to a motherless child. Sponsorship reassures children that someone is watching over them from afar and is concerned for their well-being.

Isn’t that’s what their mothers would have wanted? I know my mother would have.

image

Children in developing countries have an innate sensibility when it comes to environmental stewardship. They have been the victims of mudslides caused by the denuding of trees and vegetation needed to stabilize the landscape. They daily tote clean drinking water for miles for their family to cook with and drink. They regularly inhale dangerous soot particles from indoor air pollution. They understand, perhaps even more profoundly than their parents, that there must not be a choice between survival and stewardship. Read more about ChildFund’s Small Voices, Big Dreams annual survey is my Huffington Post blog this month.

Yes, signs like this can make Americans smile. But, in truth, clean water and sanitation are serious issues, and it’s great to see countries around the world placing emphasis on the health of children.
Join me in observing World Toilet Day and read more about our work in today’s ChildFund blog.

Yes, signs like this can make Americans smile. But, in truth, clean water and sanitation are serious issues, and it’s great to see countries around the world placing emphasis on the health of children.

Join me in observing World Toilet Day and read more about our work in today’s ChildFund blog.

Sandy’s Setbacks

Photo: Reuters/ Eduardo Munoz, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet

The impact of Superstorm Sandy is horrendous. Although we escaped major damage in Richmond Va., headquarters for ChildFund, my home state of New Jersey hasn’t been as lucky. I’ve learned my three sisters, their families and my elderly mother are fine, but talking by phone isn’t yet possible. None of them have electricity; and their homes, while thankfully dry, are surrounded by fallen trees. One sister, who lives in a rural area, says it could be four weeks before her electricity is back on. She is grateful for her wood-burning stove and a small generator that keeps the refrigerator going and a few lights on.

After the immediate response of rescuing those in danger, contacting relatives and getting electricity and basic services restored, our concerns will once again turn to the bigger picture. How much of a setback will the storm and its aftermath have on our still-fragile economy?

We tend to think of setbacks like this on the macro level. But many folks will also endure financial setbacks at the family level. People will lose income because their job is closed or they can’t get to work. Even for those who have insurance to cover the damage to their homes, repairing their houses will require them to hand over cash to cover that ever-present deductible.

My firsthand experience with emergency responses – from droughts to floods to war – came during my decades of working in developing countries. I have worked in refugee camps as well as centers for internally displaced people. The pictures we see on the news from New Jersey remind me of the ugly side of disasters. During all of those difficult times, I was always focused on the moment – what I had to do to get people water, food and shelter – that’s always the order of priorities. During my time overseas, I always knew some children died but I also knew we helped many children survive.

Several years ago I realized the true significance of the setback such emergencies caused for the long-term survival of children. Through the eye-opening analysis done by international health professor Hans Rosling, the decreasing rates of infant and child deaths in most countries were traced over several decades. At the same time, you could clearly see spikes when rates starting rising again. All of those spikes correlated to emergencies – both natural and political. In addition to the children who died during the emergency, many more died afterwards because of the turmoil the emergency caused for the family as well as the destruction of local health centers, water systems and infrastructure.

Here at home we have to ensure that after the emergency phase of support to families affected by Hurricane Sandy winds down, we continue to help families get back on their feet. For those near the bottom end of the economic ladder, the financial setbacks will be real. Keep in mind that these same circumstances hold true when you hear of the next disaster in a developing country. ChildFund works to help children survive the immediate effects of disasters, and we stay for the long term to ensure children survive through the recovery period as well.

We can’t accept those spikes, these setbacks, in our progress toward reducing the deaths of children.