Friday, October 12, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Blog: October 4


Out of the blue, the offer came. Would I like to go to Uganda in 20 days for a week with the UN Foundation? Please answer in two days. OMG. This is what I’ve been waiting for. And here it is coming to me between a pile of dirty dishes and facebook procrastination.

Let me back up.

I have wanted to go to Africa for a long time now. I am a strong global poverty activist. I talk to U.S. senators and representatives about the need for investments in vaccines, education, and microfinance for the world’s poorest families. I lobby on Capitol Hill and in my hometown with international activists from Uganda and Kenya. I speak as passionately as I can in front of potential donors and activists about what they can do as individuals to help people living on less than $1.25 in Kenya, Lesotho, Sudan, Burundi, Ethiopia…all places I’ve never seen with my own eyes. Do I need to go there to understand the need? “No,” I tell new activists. We have brains to read and understand. We have hearts to feel empathy. We have our own children to show us the love all parents and children feel for each other no matter where they live or how much money they don’t have. To say, “I’ve never met these children” as an excuse not to help them is an extreme lack of imagination, empathy, and character. And yet…and yet…shouldn’t I go somewhere? Bangladesh, Zambia, Haiti….somewhere? Shouldn’t I see meet people face-to-face to bring back their stories and my own experiences to tell to Congress and to the media?

I carry my own set of emotional baggage that safely houses my fears, real and imagined. Fear of disease, terrorism, getting lost without speaking the native language, and – last but not least – public transportation. All of these things plus money and caring for small children throw up barriers to going out and grabbing some real life experience.

At the same time, I’ve been on a journey of empowerment for a while now. In a nutshell: I’ve gone from sitting in a cube in an unfulfilling job, to discovering advocacy, to becoming a community organizer, to gaining a paying non-profit job, to national recognition of my volunteer work. Having the UN Foundation call me up to be one of the first “Shot@Life” champions for their global vaccine campaign launch– grassroots leaders who blog, advocate, and fundraise to promote global vaccines – was a both a validation turning point in my life when I realized I was doing groundbreaking stuff advocating around my kitchen in running pants. (Myrdin Thompson wears yoga pants, but I think we’re doing the same thing) Other champs felt that same way, too. We felt like our world suddenly got bigger and we were worth more to ourselves and to others. As individuals and as a group, we are getting noisier and more powerful in our insistence that children everywhere have even a chance at productive, safe lives.

So, back to today. The UN Foundations Shot@Life campaign asked me to go to Uganda with them at their expense. It’s my Sally Field moment: “You LIKE me, you really like me!” They are saying that they value my contributions enough to trust that I will represent them well and make the most of the advocacy and fundraising opportunities that will follow. Or, they recognize that I’m an experienced activist who lives in a state with 3 federal foreign aid appropriators (a.k.a. money guys). But back to the first point, this is HUGE for me! Lots of hours of writing op-eds and making calls to Congress have finally paid off. Here is an internationally known organization saying, “We have so much confidence in you that we’re going to make an investment of time, money, and resources in your ability to further our mission.” Wow! I really don’t feel very alone here in my pajamas anymore!

I really don’t have to think about whether or not to go very much. Shot@Life has pretty much overcome every one of my barriers to traveling to Africa in one fell swoop. With them, I’ll be:

  • ·      Traveling with people I want to get to know better
  • ·      Going to a country not currently at war
  • ·      Traveling with a well-funded group with many connections, resources, and a good reputation
  • ·      Seeing health programs that I’m passionate about
  • ·      Going with a translator with an organization encouraging me to talk to women and children receiving services
  • ·      Meeting with UNICEF leaders and country officials
  • ·      NOT paying for my travel
  • ·      Going at a time when my husband can be with the kids
  • ·      Going with professional photographer and videographer to document the trip

I’s everything I’d ever hoped for. What more could I possibly want?

And traveling on behalf of this particular organization, I feel like I’m going with all the champions really even if they aren’t physically on the trip. And what a wonderful bunch of people to have in your backpack.


Jennifer Burden said...

What she said!!

Cindy, you are an inspiration of advocacy. I look forward to taking notes from you while on this trip to Uganda!! This is a big milestone for me and World Moms Blog, too. And, I'm so grateful to the UN Foundation and Shot@Life!

Jen :)

Mommy Powers said...

What an awesome experience! That is definitely going to be a life-changing trip. I would love to do something like that, to be able to see & speak to the people that need help...then come back and share with everyone I know. I spoke with the Shot@Life folks at Blogalicious '12, they are doing an amazing job. I want to get more involved with them, as I am ONE Moms. Safe journey!
aka: Mommy Powers