For most Americans, the highlight of every summer – besides their own vacations – is the Fourth of July. It’s the perfect time to get together with family and friends, have a great barbecue and take the kids to see fantastic fireworks (which many parents will admit they themselves enjoy).
Before joining ChildFund International, I celebrated almost 20 U.S. Independence Days in developing countries. When you are far away from home, the celebrations take on a special meaning. The American community usually organizes a daylong event of food, games and music – often held at the American school where all our children attend. The American Ambassador is always on hand, and he (yes, it was always a he for me) reads the president’s Fourth of July message – something that most Americans probably don’t pay much attention to back home in the States. But being far from home, it always brought a tear to my eye.
One year in Indonesia, we organized something special – a parade of states. We divided into home state groups, with one person holding a state sign, and then marched into the school grounds to start off the day’s festivities. I was always amazed how many states were represented.
The countries where I lived also had their own versions of independence or national day celebrations, which citizens rightfully celebrated with pride. I guess most countries on earth (not every, but most) have at one time or other in their history been under the domination of a foreign power. Gaining sovereignty is one type of independence.
The other type of independence – the one I have spent my life working on – is independence from poverty. Many children are born into poverty – they inherit it at birth. But unlike political independence where all citizens of a country can gain freedom simultaneously, independence from poverty is fought for and earned one person at a time.
The children with whom ChildFund works came into poverty through their parents. It is not something that they chose, and the depth and overwhelming nature of this poverty is something that many Americans, I believe, have a hard time fully comprehending. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty and every year, 3.5 million children die from undernutrition.
As we work with communities and also focus on individual children, ChildFund’s goal is for each child in our care to grow up healthy, educated and with opportunities to contribute. We want them to break the bonds of generational poverty, so their own children will inherit opportunity. With the help of many supporters, ChildFund is getting the job done – one child at a time.
Imagine one day the countries of the world celebrating “Independence From Poverty” day. I hope I’m around to join in the celebration.