Partnering to Help China’s Children Thrive

 

Last week, as China was busily preparing for a visit from President Obama, I was busy witnessing some excellent programs helping children in the most populous country in the world.

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As we’ve seen in so many countries around the world, China’s inequality gap is growing quickly and millions of poor children are getting left out with little opportunity to catch up as China’s development speeds up. Save the Children is working in China alongside some of our strongest corporate partners to improve access to health and education for children so that they can have the best chance of success.

 

While China has already reached Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, child mortality is still an issue given the huge numbers of children. In the rural Sichuan province, we visited a great program funded by Chevron that supports the training of local village doctors on vaccinations. This program also uses mobile phones to collect data and send reminders to patients—a great way to use technology to link into an existing health system, already demonstrating impressive results in vaccination coverage.

 

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The next day, in Chengdu, we visited a school focused on inclusive education. Basic and secondary education opportunities for China’s children are improving at a rapid pace, but early education for poor children is still not widely available—and education for disabled children is lagging dramatically.  The majority of disabled Chinese children do not go to any school and those that do are generally in a specialized school, but the IKEA-funded program we visited shows an increased commitment to serving the needs of disabled children. We visited an inclusive education school where mildly disabled children were learning with other students and a special school with more severely disabled students, and it was wonderful to see children of different levels of learning ability engaged and excited to be learning.

 

Also during my trip I visited Accenture’s local Skills to Succeed program, which is doing excellent work in training migrant children with skills that will help them find meaningful work, and a school health and nutrition project funded by P&G to improve hygiene knowledge and behavior practices in a school on the outskirts of Beijing.

 

It’s natural that China work closely with corporations as part of the country’s ongoing economic development—and it’s wonderful to see that this partnership extends to strengthening children’s access to health and education, so that they can be a part of China’s future. Save the Children is proud to work alongside China’s government, business and social leaders to make a difference today for the leaders of China tomorrow.

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The World’s Ebola Crisis: Disastrous for Mothers and Daughters

 

In the course of a regular day with my 13 year-old daughter, I check in on how her day went and tell her I love her.  It’s pretty standard stuff for moms.  And as President and CEO of Save the Children, I’ve seen how children’s health, happiness and safety are paramount to mothers in every corner of the globe. That’s why last week, when I called my daughter from Liberia, I stayed on the phone a little longer than usual—so grateful to hear her voice and know she was safe and well.

 

The conditions in Liberia, where Save the Children is responding to the Ebola epidemic, are some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Children are always among the most vulnerable in a crisis and this is no exception—2.5 million children under five are living in the hardest-hit areas across the region, and 75% of all children infected in the current epidemic have died. Even those who are not infected themselves risk losing their parents to this terrible disease and often end up alone and ostracized by their communities. Fear, like the virus, is spreading rapidly.

 

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Martheline with her three younger siblings, who she is now caring for in the wake of their mother’s death from Ebola.

I met a young girl named Martheline, who is about my own daughter’s age. When her mother became ill with the Ebola virus, there was no money for a doctor and no way to access local services. Martheline nursed her mother at home, and then mourned her when she passed away.  Having lost her father several years before, Martheline was left to care for her three younger siblings—while a fearful community left them to fend for themselves. Even though they were not infected by the virus, every day has become a struggle for survival.

 

This crisis is also taking a toll on the incredible progress the world has made to reduce maternal, newborn and child deaths in Liberia and around the world. Already weak health systems are collapsing under the strain of the outbreak and many health facilities are closed—meaning that children are missing out on vaccinations and basic health care, putting them at great risk for preventable childhood diseases, and more women are giving birth at home in dangerous conditions. The effects of this virus are devastating and far-reaching.

 

The people I met in Liberia are no different than those I’ve met anywhere else in the world. They want the chance to be self-sufficient. They want to be able to support their families. They want to live with dignity and pride.

 

The most important thing we can do now is to focus on giving those affected by Ebola the chance to live safe, healthy lives once again. That’s why Save the Children is joining forces with those in the region to halt the spread of Ebola. In Liberia, we’re building Community Care Centers to provide community-based care closer to home, training health workers, and providing medical equipment and protective kits to families. We’re also working with orphans and other vulnerable children to ensure they are protected in this time of crisis by providing survivor kits to meet their basic needs and reuniting them with extended family whenever possible.

 

I know it can be easy to feel hopeless in the face of such devastating death and disease. But the global health community has already proven that by working together and partnering with people on the ground, progress is possible. Together, we eradicated smallpox. We are well on our way to do the same with polio, yellow fever and measles. 17,000 fewer children die each day than in 1990. There are millions of children alive today because we believed in the power of local health systems and we believed in the power of working together.

 

We must act now to support mothers, daughters, families and communities in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Martheline didn’t just lose her mother to Ebola—she lost her childhood to the virus. It’s up to us to make sure she doesn’t lose her future too.

 

Donate today to help Save the Children build and manage Community Care Centers for Ebola patients and their families and distribute Survivor Kits to meet orphaned children’s basic needs.  

 

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Inside the Heart of an Epidemic

 

I am not sure that in my 16 years with Save the Children that I have seen—and felt myself—such  palpable fear in a place as I did last week in Liberia.  But it is a fear that comes at you in waves, an undercurrent that runs under what looks on the surface to be the normal daily life of a very poor country in West Africa.

 

In the market, people are going about their business, buying and selling wares, going to work, cooking in small sidewalk stalls. But right away you start to notice the billboards, the signs, all calling out that Ebola is real and what to do to keep safe. You see the washing stations at every store, every stopping point—and after just a few hours, the fear starts to seep in. My colleagues point out the sirens, signaling another Ebola case has been picked up, and images of the victims flash through my head.

 

The fear comes as I wash my hands in chlorinated water from a small bucket with a spout everywhere I go, as my shoes are sprayed with the same chlorine solution each time I get in and out of a vehicle or go into a building, as I try to remember to shake hands with no one, to touch no one, to not get too close, even to my own colleagues. Fear comes with the constant message on the radio inside the car as we drive—”Ebola kills”—over and over again.

 

But the real face of fear in this epidemic is in the faces of the families and children I met – children and families that have lost mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters.  Those who have survived quarantines, but who are now shunned by their communities and cut off from basic services.  I see the fear in the children I met who have been orphaned by the virus and are living in makeshift shelters, under houses, inside storerooms.  Whole families of children living day-to-day as best they can without their parents. Their fear, and the fear of those around them, shows starkly in their eyes. WP_20141003_13_34_02_Pro

 

There are an estimated 3,700 orphans across the three hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.  In Liberia alone, the number is estimated at 2,000, with new children becoming orphans each day as the virus ravages mothers and fathers. One little girl I met, seven year-old Elizabeth, was living under a house with her older brother just steps away from where their mothers body had been taken over a month ago.  They had come and burned all their belongings and sprayed down the room but the children would not go back inside.  While they survived the 21 day incubation period, they now faced the prospect of starvation and stigma as people in their town are too scared to even look at them.

 

One of the key pieces of our response is to work with the Department of Social Welfare in Liberia to ensure we know where these children are and get them basic survival kits which include food, household items, soap and hygiene supplies and clothing. Then we begin to try to reunite them with extended family whenever and wherever possible, a painstaking process to trace family members that may be hundreds of miles away.

 

But the bigger issue in this crisis is breaking the back of transmission of the disease, reducing the reproductive rate of cases to below 1—and bringing down the fear.  The messages, chlorinated water, and radio programs have done part of their job but people must leave their houses and get into care and stop infecting others at the first sign of symptoms. Tragically, there is just not enough care and beds available.

 

Save the Children is building 10 Community Care Centers in Margibi county—smaller centers where people can go and get tested, where those testing positive are isolated from others before being transferred to a more sophisticated Ebola Treatment Unit, getting basic care while waiting for a bed and receiving visits from a mobile team of doctors and nurses. We are also building an additional Ebola Treatment Unit to serve Margibi, one of the epicenters of the epidemic, modeled after a center we already built in Bong County.

 

While the fear of this visit was very real, there was also hope.  In my last hours in Liberia, I visited a transition center for orphaned children in Montserrado, with 10 children who still could not yet be reunited with their families.  While you could still see traces of fear and certainly sadness in their eyes, they lit up when asked to sing a song and proudly told me about their dreams.  One little boy, Edward, told me with a confident smile, that he wanted to be President.  Right at that moment, I believed it could come true, if we could just end the fear and death all around us that have no place in a child’s life.

 

Please help us do more to halt the outbreak and provide lifesaving outreach and protection for children.

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Notes from the UN and the Clinton Global Initiative: Speaking Out for Children in New York

 

This was a busy week for global development, as leaders from government, business and civil society came together in New York for the Clinton Global Initiative meetings and the UN General Assembly. As usual, Save the Children was there to take the opportunity to make children a central part of the agenda—and urge action on their behalf.

 

It’s no surprise that Ebola was a major part of the conversation, as the outbreak continues to dominate the headlines. I spoke with Reuters about how critical it is for the international community to step up our efforts to treat Ebola victims and halt the spread of the virus. We have increased our ongoing response to the outbreak in West African countries and we are moving forward with a stronger, community-based response through local Ebola Care Centers in rural areas. Easier access to local medical help and supplies, plus ongoing education about how to contain the spread of the virus, is urgently needed to save lives and protect children. As the death toll from Ebola nears 3,000 one thing is certain: the world must act quickly.  

 

Another big issue this week was the ongoing crisis in Syria—and we are working to ensure that children are not forgotten in discussions about geopolitics and conflict. Our new report, Futures under Threat: The Impact of the Education Crisis on Syria’s Children, shows the effects of conflict on millions of school-aged children. Before the conflict began, almost all Syrian children were enrolled in school but now Syria has the second-worst enrollment rate in the world. I talked about the report on Al Jazeera America and we used our influence this week to demand that Syrian children, both inside the country and those living as refugees, are protected and educated—their best chance at building a better future.

 

Of course, one of the greatest areas of focus for Save the Children is newborn and child survival as we work to accelerate progress toward achieving Millennium Development Goal #4, to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two-thirds by 2015. The world has made significant progress, but we have more to do in the 500-day sprint to the end of 2015 and in the post-2015 agenda to get to zero and finish the job. At Mashable’s Social Good Summit on Sunday, I introduced a “Simple Ways to Change Lives” panel featuring Liya Kebede, Ethiopian model and maternal health advocate, UNFPA’s Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and our own Victoria Shaba, a midwife from Malawi, to talk about how trained and equipped health workers can save the lives of mothers and children using low-cost, proven interventions.

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Finally, I joined with others at the Clinton Global Initiative to announce a new partnership to support literacy across the globe. Together with the Bezos Family Foundation and their Students Rebuild program, we are engaging school children everywhere in The Literacy Challenge to design and create bookmarks. The Bezos Family Foundation will give $1 for each bookmark they receive through the challenge to help power our Literacy Boost program in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

 

We take advantage of major meetings like those held this week to advocate for a better world for children—but we know that one week in New York won’t address every issue and answer every question. That’s why we match our global advocacy work with everyday efforts in communities around the world, fighting for progress in large ways and small, to give kids a chance at a better life.

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Which Way to Better Health: A Roadmap to Save Mothers and Newborns

 

sgs-panel-captionCo-authored with Liya Kebede 

 

As children, we were fascinated when our school teachers rolled out the maps showing different parts of the world. Even today, as we’ve each traveled the world in our respective roles, maps still hold a certain fascination and urgency to go beyond where we’ve been — to move forward. So you can imagine how we feel about a roadmap that places the health and survival of newborns and mothers at the very center of the political agenda.

 

Read the full blog post in the Global Motherhood blog on HuffPost

Read my other HuffPost blogs here.

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Why Women Hold the Key to Development—and Peace

 

My latest revelation on development came in an unlikely place: not a refugee camp for Syrians or a small hut in Nepal but in a beautiful building in Venice built in the mid-1700s—Scoula Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista—which was the site of a ceremony for the Pilosio Peace award.  Pilosio is an Italian construction company that helps to build structures all over the world.  Their young, innovative CEO Dario Roustayan developed the Building Peace awards four years ago to honor the spirit of building by bringing together the construction industry and the making of a better world.  This year’s winner, Samiya Nkrumah, the daughter of the iconic former President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah, is building an impressive library for her country’s children in honor of her father. She and I got a chance to meet and talk a bit about the prime importance of education in a child’s life—and in a country’s future. She’s an amazing woman that you may one day see as a future President of Ghana (if I had to bet).

 

I also had the honor to join a very eclectic and interesting panel of women, each building peace in a different way.  There was Betty Williams, Nobel Peace prize winner from 1976 for her breakthrough work on speaking out for peace during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland. Siba Shakib, an Iranian filmmaker and best-selling author, spoke passionately about her work documenting the plight of Syrian refugee children who have fled the violence and chaos of their home country for over the past three years.  Khalida Brohi, a young Pakistani woman and leading advocate against honor killings in Pakistan, told her incredible story as the child of a 9-year old Pakistani “bride” and even announced her own engagement at the event.  And Italian businesswoman and entrepreneur Luisa Todini spoke of the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated world of construction and how her leadership style helped her make a difference through work and her personal life.  I focused on the role of mothers as builders of peace (which often starts with stable families), the founding of Save the Children by Eglantyne Jebb, a woman way ahead of her time, as well as my own path to working as a leader and the key role of women in development inside countries today.

 

I was struck by some key similarities in our very different stories.  There was a common thread for each of us on the importance of strong role models and family members who supported us.  Whether fathers, mothers, colleagues, founders or bosses, we all had help along the way in our efforts to help make the world a little better.  It also struck me that frequently, the source of our passion came from seeing injustices against children.  Whether it was Siba’s work to capture the heartbreaking drawings of child refugees or Betty’s witnessing of three Irish children killed by a car driven by an IRA member shot dead at the wheel, children were a consistent theme that drives all of us in our work.

 

The audience was made up of a handful of people working on these issues full-time, but primarily of those working in the construction sector, including many of Pilosio’s customers—from boat builders to leading developers in Dubai. Former Secretary General to the UN Kofi Annan gave a wonderful keynote speech that focused again on the importance of women in driving stability and peace, starting with greater economic equality for half the earth’s population, who today own only 1% of its wealth. And I think the light bulb went off for many of these leading business men and women when they saw what a significant role the private sector can play in making sure the playing field is leveled and bringing their skills to development challenges.

 

A final highlight was the unveiling of a new shelter developed by Pilosio in conjunction with the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, allowing Syrian refugees to build their own homes.  Giving dignity back to refugees that have lost everything is a key challenge as the world experiences one of the biggest displacements of people in history.  From Syria alone, 3 million have fled their homes, half of whom are children.  Save the Children Italy will exhibit the new structure in Rome at Expo 2015, giving eight million people a chance to see it and we are looking at testing the shelter in Jordan in our work with Syrian refugees there.

 

It was a night when women of peace, the private sector, and those intent on building a better world came together and a night I was happy to be a part of.  It also illustrated two trends that I think will become even more important in the years to come—the role of women in driving a country’s future and the convergence of the private sector and development agencies to bring together the skills of both to make the future better for children.

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It’s Back to School– Are Your Kids Safe?

 

As of this month, American parents have sent 69 million children back to school and child care. But many have no idea what protections exist to keep kids safe in the very places they’re supposed to be protected.

 

According to a new Harris Poll online survey, 63 percent of U.S. parents with children in school or child care are not very familiar with emergency plans in those locations. Forty-two percent don’t even know where to meet up with their children in case of evacuation. This is disturbing, because disaster can strike anytime, anywhere — a point reinforced by the national parents’ poll included in Save the Children’s 2014 Disaster Report Card, out today. Mississippi: 2014 Tornados

 

More than half of U.S. families (54 percent) with kids in school or child care have been personally affected by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, school shootings or other types of disaster. In the past year alone, our nation has experienced at least 20 school shootings and 50 natural disasters requiring a federal response.

 

Two thirds of the 1,012 parents in the nationally representative poll said they were concerned by risks their children face from national disaster. Seventy percent worry about school shootings. Yet, 67 percent of U.S. parents don’t know if their child’s school or day care practices emergency drills frequently, or at all. And — here’s the kicker — basic emergency plans aren’t even required in 21 states and Washington, DC. (You can check your state here.)

 

Parents don’t do much better at home. While three in five say they have an emergency plan in place, many of those parents haven’t taken basic actions to protect kids. For instance, nearly a third of these parents don’t have a family meeting place. More than a third of them don’t even have two days’ supply of food and water. A five days’ supply is recommended.

 

DSC_9649The majority of parents who say they have emergency plans also don’t know where to find shelter locally or have an agreed upon out-of-town contact, which is critical should disaster affect communications. Parents should also make sure all schools and caregivers have key contact information, and that younger children can identify themselves if they get separated.

 

There are simple actions everyone can take to better protect our children should disaster strike. Packing a “go kit” for each member of the family is a good start. It should include essential toiletries and medical and contact information and — for kids — a favorite activity and a comfort item that can help them cope if disaster upturns their young lives. If you agree that children’s safety should be a priority, please take our pledge to protect children from disaster. Then act on it. To learn more about the 2014 Disaster Report Card and find resources to better prepare your family and community, go to www.savethechildren.org/US-Disaster.

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How A Silent Girl Named Serenity Finally Found Her Words

 

This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

 

 

An early start on learning means everything when it comes to a child’s future. Yet too many children living in poverty in America and around the world don’t have access to a quality early education. In fact, children from low-income homes hear an average of 30 million fewer words by age 3 than their peers from well-off families, putting them at a disadvantage before they even start school. These are children like Serenity from Nebraska, who at 3 years old wasn’t able to speak in sentences that consisted of more than two words. One of three siblings, Serenity lives in a remote community in a rural part of the state, where families struggle to make ends meet. Often, when parents have to worry about putting food on the table, books and reading take a back seat.

 

What’s more, quality early childhood education is not an option in many poverty-stricken communities. As a result, by the time she is 4 years old, Serenity was at risk of being 18 months behind other 4-year-olds who are lucky enough to be born with more opportunities. But like most parents, Serenity’s mom and dad want the best for their kids and they see education as the only way out of poverty. “We know we are in the situation we are in financially because we did not take education seriously when we were younger,” Serenity’s mother, Diane, told Save the Children. “We don’t want our children to have to live through the constant struggles that we are living.” That’s why her parents enrolled Serenity in Save the Children’s early childhood education program, which consists of weekly home visits by a program coordinator who brings a bagful of books for the kids. The program encourages parents to continuously interact with their children through stimulating conversation and daily reading.

 

After only three months, Serenity found her words — and scored impressively high on her development assessment test. Not only that, but her parents also discovered her hidden talent for singing! She can sing “The Wheels on the Bus” tune without missing a beat — or a word. “I know her language skills improved because of the books Save the Children gave us each week,” said Diane, amazed at her child’s transformation. “She is so excited to have me read to her and then she has to tell me a story too.”  Together we can help kids like Serenity find their words. And what better day to start than today, International Literacy Day?

 

Teaming up with our artist ambassador Jennifer Garner, we launched our 30-day #FindtheWords campaign last month to bring attention to this early learning gap affecting millions of children. Today, to mark the culmination of the campaign, other celebrities will join us in a day-long virtual word-a-thon by sharing their favorite word with their social media networks and encouraging their fans to do the same. Our goal is to start a conversation and spread the word far and wide. Leading up to the big day, 30 of the top influencers in the blogosphere have been riling up their audiences and garnering support through Save the Children’s 30 Days/30 Words blogger challenge. To raise awareness, each blogger has written a post highlighting a specific, meaningful word. The 30 posts in 30 days symbolize the 30 million words too many kids miss out on. You can read some of their inspiring posts here.

 

But you don’t have to be a celebrity or a blogger to get involved. Each and every one of us can make a difference in the lives of all those children who continue to fall behind and are at risk of never catching up. We all have a favorite word, so post yours and tag it #FindtheWords. Thanks to social media, everyone can join our campaign and give voice to the 250 million school-age kids around the world who are unable to read, write or count.

 

Save the Children provides kids from poverty-stricken communities in the United States and around the world with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment, setting them up for success in school and a brighter future. Our early learning programs receive support from a variety of corporate funders, including Johnson & Johnson.

 

To learn more about Save the Children’s #FindtheWords campaign and how to get involved, check out this video featuring Jennifer Garner and visit www.SavetheChildren.org/FindtheWords.

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Gaza’s Miracle Tomatoes

 

photo 1Crossing through the Israel’s Erez Crossing checkpoint and seeing the bleak landscape as you pass through the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints inside Gaza, it’s hard to imagine anything growing at all—let alone a flourishing garden. As we walked down the narrow pathway enclosed in wire mesh in the “no man’s land” of the Access Restricted Area, all we saw were donkeys pulling carts filled with rubble and surrounded by men and boys along harsh, rocky earth.  The boys and men salvage concrete, wire and metal from bombed out factories.  Others herd sheep and camels through dusty barren patches with little vegetation in sight. And it goes on like this for miles from the wall separating Gaza and Israel.  But just 20 minutes away, a farmer and his extended family met us on the dirt path and took us to see something entirely—and amazingly—different.

 

Outside a lush green field of healthy looking beans, spinach, and other vegetables and inside a simple greenhouse, he proudly pointed to row after row of beautiful red tomatoes literally falling off their vines.  This is the result of a recently-concluded project by Save the Children and other partners and funded by USAID, which helped farmers in Gaza feed their families and make a living.  The project provided help through improvement of water access and irrigation, as well as through technical training and provision of materials like plastic greenhouse sheeting.  The grandfather we visited had clearly benefited and was now running his small farm with much higher productivity and vastly increased ability to not only feed his family with his own vegetables but to take his crops to market.  There, he could sell it for needed income for additional food, school supplies for his children, and improved shelter for his large extended family, including several of his sons and their wives and children. The miracle tomatoes and beans and spinach were truly supporting them all.

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As we drove through the streets of Gaza and heard from residents about the impact of border crossing restrictions on children there—the rising rates of malnutrition and resulting stunting, the lack of basic medicines and care when children became sick, and the severe circumstances disabled children were in—I kept a hopeful thought in my head: those bursting red tomatoes we tasted on our visit.

 

They give me hope that children inside Gaza might see better days ahead, with good food to eat so they can thrive and grow like the magical garden that has been able to flourish the middle of dust and dirt.

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Time to stop talking….

 

I spent last week at the Clinton Global Initiative and the UN General Assembly meetings in New York. There was much talking about issues of international development, about the rights of children to an education, about saving children dying from preventable things like pneumonia, about making sure that the world is free from hunger. But with all this talking maybe there was simply not enough of one thing – not enough shouting. We need louder voices to make changes on what really needs to be done for poor children and families around the world. Perhaps simply put, we need more people to care and speak out about the issues we talked about there.

 

Leaders from many countries, CEO’s from big companies, and NGO leaders like me converge on New York every September for these events. We have endless meetings on international development issues, we make commitments to change the world, we go to long dinners honoring those who have done good works around the world. But does the rest of the world pay much attention to what we discuss endlessly among ourselves? I don’t think so and perhaps the most important thing for me coming out of the week is the realization that it will take something different to make real change. It will take regular people caring about what the desperate reality is for poor people around the world and wanting to change it.

 

Making that happen is a much harder task than attending the whirlwind of CGI and UNGA week, as they are affectionately called. We need to interrupt people’s lives and get them to pay attention to how the poorest people on earth live their lives – lives without health, lives without education, lives without the basic dignity of a means to support themselves and their families. Most importantly, we need people to not only pay attention but to do something once they do.

 

One way Save the Children is trying to get people to take notice is to interrupt their normal lives in the places they spend them. You can now download a new song called “Feel Again” on I-Tunes and make a difference for children dying of preventable causes. You can sign a petition on-line to stop the atrocities happening to children in Syria. And you can donate to the famine in Sahel while you play on-line games. Will all this be enough to get people to really understand how different our lives are from the millions of poor people who survive every day on less than $2? I’m not sure but I do know that if I can’t get the world to pay more attention, we’ll never make the headway we need to for the millions of children who won’t survive and thrive unless things change.

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on what you think it will take to get people

shouting? Let me know….

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