Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When It's Time to Come Clean About Santa

I rarely write blog posts directed toward a particular religious audience, but this post is directed at a subset of Christian parents out there. My Facebook feed has been a-flutter for weeks with distressed parents whose children - in the late stages of elementary school - are finally catching up to their peers and discovering the elaborate ruse that loving adults in their lives have created for them every year involving stockings, gifts, and the hotly-debated presence of a man from the North Pole. 

Every year, parents freak out about the discovery and the distress their kids are feeling. Just like I don't like to deliver bad news about poverty without a constructive solution involving kindness and generosity, I don't enjoy the idea of a parent delivering this harsh news about the Big Man and then just releasing kids to their own rooms to stew about it. 
Yes, Virginia...there is a Santa Claus...and it's YOU.
Did I blow your mind, Virginia?

Consider an invitation to be part of the magic as a way to ease your children from the "getter" state of mind to a higher level of expressing love as a "giver." In my interfaith home, we adapted the tradition early on, so that the children knew that they were as much Santa as anyone and had a role in filling stockings in a clandestine way on Christmas Eve. (They get to put the candy and clementine oranges in) Of course, the littlest one still didn't believe me when she was three and swore she heard sleigh bells on the roof, but she thanks me now as she helps her 3rd grade friends cope with their crumbling faith.
My appeal to you this Christmas...end the increasingly complex web of lies and transform the stress into something beautiful and constructive. Invite your children to be part of the magic of giving to children who are excluded from the Santa tradition because of economic struggles or other reasons.There are many ways to do it, but here are a few hands-on to consider:
  • Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send much needed toiletries, toys, and love to kids living in poverty overseas with Samaritan's Purse
  • Pick a name off of a local gift tree at a grocery store or your church and let your kids be Santa for young children in need in your community
  • Give to Toys for Tots at a local dropoff center
  • Send a Chanukah card or gift to the children of your Jewish friends. You probably didn't notice how carefully many of them kept your secret through the years anyway while hiding their own tears because the myth suggested that they were permanently on the "Naughty List." 

If you thought it was charming to see your little ones believing in the myth and the magic, wait until you see how beautiful the truth can be when you see your babies growing into giving and caring children fully participating in the spirit of Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anti-Poverty Mom's 2014 Gift Picks

"What is he into these days?"
"What size are they now?" 
"What colors does she like?"
"What's does she want this year?"

These are the frantic texts I received today from extended family members heading out to do Chanukah and Christmas shopping, wondering what people in my house would want to receive. Me...I'm easy to please since I'm thrilled if someone just makes a donation in my name to make someone else's life a bit easier. But what about the THINGS? We have to buy THINGS or we just don't feel like we've done our job as patriotic American consumers. I understand. I've got you covered. Here's my 2014 list of my favorite can't-go-wrong, affordable material items that also will also help others if you purchase them for folks on your gift list...even if you don't know their personal tastes very well!

Little Sun
Photo: www.littlesun.com
I adore beautiful and functional gifts. When a friend told me last spring about this adorable solar lamp from a company that helped to provide light to people without reliable electricity in Africa, I knew what I'd be getting a number of people on my list for Christmas. This light was designed by artist Olafur Eliasson. The genius is that everyone could use a personal source of solar power. Not just for off-grid areas of the world, this well-designed and surprisingly bright lamp is easy to use. Five hours of charging in the sun produces 10 hours of soft light or 4 hours of bright light. Perfect for camping, nighttime reading, or illuminating your bedsheet fort, it will introduce your kids to the benefits of safe solar power and sustainable energy. When you buy a light for $30, you are subsidizing this power source to be sold much at a much lower price to someone in poverty...mothers cooking in the dark or children struggling to do homework with a dwindling candle supply.
Photo: www.littlesun.com
If you're looking for a fashion statement that will help women in Africa to escape a terrible situation visit the FashionABLE website. I heard the founder, Barrett Ward, speaking at the ONE Campaign's AYA Summit telling the story about how he was greatly distressed in his travels when he realized young girls were offering sex acts to him in exchange for $1. He and his wife became aware that many women - lacking meaningful resources and a sense of hope - resort to prostitution as a means to support themselves and their families. The women are often desperate to leave the sex industry, but remain trapped by a lack of opportunity and rehabilitative support. Committed to assisting with long-term solutions, the founders partnered with "Women at Risk" to rehabilitate former sex workers. FashionABLE helps them find alternate means of income creating beautiful products of quality and finding a sense of empowerment. Women are not dependent on charity, but are instead are a vital part of a developing community. "You are ABLE to provide opportunities and women are ABLE to have a new choice."
My favorite FashionABLE gift idea is the Selam "Game Day" Scarf for $36. It comes in many colors that are likely to match the taste or favorite team colors of many women on your list. 
Photo: www.livefashionable.com
For world traveling ladies and gentleman, I recommend the leather passport wallet for $35. 
Photo: www.livefashionable.com

When is it cool to get socks for Christmas? When someone in need gets something cozy for their feet, too! For every pair of socks purchased, Mitscoots gives an equal quality pair of socks to an American in poverty. While volunteering in Austin in 2007, the founders discovered that after food and water, the most common request they got from the people they served was for a clean pair of socks. Mitscoots teams up with local and national charities to help distribute their socks to people who need them the most. Plus, they employ people to package the socks who are in need of a job to stop living on the streets. They have some hip socks in casual or tech styles for about $14 a pair. My personal favorites are the Kelly and the Valdy. Right now, there is a 20% promotional code if you enter "BOMF" as the coupon code at checkout.
Photo: www.mitscoots.com

To The Market
This one isn't as simple to make a one item recommendation because there is so much stuff on their site! To The Market showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods "to the market," we take an active role in equipping the survivors they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

Photo: http://www.tothemarket.com
My favorite thing about the site is that you can search for gifts by product type, cause, or country of origin. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite item off the site, it might be the "Punjammies" for $39 made in India. They are 100% cotton, low-rise, and - as described by the website - "super comfy." But, really, you have to go see this site for yourself!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ebola Preys on Loving Touches

I was sick yesterday...nauseous, weak, miserable. Not surprisingly, I got it from my daughter who was throwing up with a fever not long ago. How many times has that happened to you as a mom? In caring for your little one when her face is so pale and her body hot with fever, you reach out to comfort her. You offer a snuggle because your child cannot sleep and you feel her little body relax in your embrace. You know you're probably going to contract whatever she has if you kiss that brow, but you do it anyway because in that moment, a mother's touch eases the pain and discomfort quicker than than Motrin or Tylenol.

In my own self-pity party as I carefully sipped my re-hydrating Gatorade, I thought about stories I heard at the ONE Campaign's AYA Summit about the rapid spread of the Ebola epidemic. At first blush, it seems incredible that - with such a virulent disease on the loose - parents wouldn't take precautions to shield themselves from contamination. But through the eyes of a mother caring for a sick child and thinking about all the protective gear one needs to effectively protect against Ebola transmission, I see the problem clearly. If you are a parent in extreme poverty without access to any of this gear, wouldn't you at least reach out to embrace your dying child? I recalled this excerpt from the October 4, 2014 LA Times article "Ebola's Cultural Casualty: Hugs in Hands-On Liberia":
"...imagine trying not to touch your 2-year-old daughter when she is feverish, vomiting blood, and in pain. 
Precious Diggs, a 33-year-old contractor for a rubber company, had heard all the warnings from the legions of public health workers here in Liberia. She had seen the signs that dot the road from Harbel, where she works, to the capital, Monrovia, some 35 miles away: "Ebola is Here and Real!" they say. "Stop the Denial!" 
But when her toddler, Rebecca, started "toiling and vomiting," there was no way her mother was not going to pick her up.
"Na mind, baby," Ms. Diggs whispered in her baby's ear. "I beg you, na mind."
Precious' baby girl died only days later, but not before passing Ebola onto her mother. Weeks later, Precious herself was released from an Ebola treatment center. It would be difficult to describe her as "lucky," but this same story has played out in a worse way many times over with mothers passing on the disease to other children as well. Entire families have died because the parent-child bond with it's desire and need for touch is too great to heed the warnings to keep distance. The bond goes both ways. On NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I heard the story of Ephraim Dunbar living outside Monrovia who contracted Ebola caring for his mother. He tried to keep his distance and wear gloves as he kept her hydrated with milk and tea, but there were times that he didn't wear gloves and in the end he contracted Ebola. But again, it's hard to describe him as "lucky" as he emerged from recovery to find out that he lost his entire family...mother, father, sisters, brothers. When asked why he didn't protect himself better, he replied in Liberian-English, "That mama, she the one who bore me." He just could not stop himself from providing loving care to her, including touching her.
A picture of the protective gear worn by Ebola care
providers from Dr. Fischer's messages from Guinea

Dr. William Fischer II from Doctor's Without Borders, working in an Ebola isolation facility in Guinea had these observations - shared on University of North Carolina's School of Medicine blog - about Ebola spreading through the traditions of burial and caregiving:
"The Ebola virus has been isolated from almost every body fluid including sweat, semen, blood, urine, oral secretions, and tears. As I mentioned yesterday, this virus has transformed tradition into transmission...Even before death, though, when people become ill, they are cared for by their loved ones and as any and all of us do. When was the last time you wore gloves, eye protection, and an N-95 when your son or daughter had diarrhea?" [an N-95 is a face mask]
Tears! Even wiping away a loved one's tears is deadly. Fischer's description about what it's like in the Ebola care wards illustrates why we can't bear to think of our children not having comfort parents long to provide:
"With Ebola you can't have a good death. You are isolated from your friends your family, your home. You are cared for by people whose primary focus is on stopping transmission from infected to susceptible and from patient to provider rather than comfort and cure. These people often die without the comfort of a human hand, without seeing someone's full face or even just knowing that a loved one is near."
How painful it is for mothers to bear the pain of resigning their children to that kind of fate. Many of them simply cannot. They often pay the price with their lives and the lives of the rest of the family.

The cruelty of Ebola is especially offensive to me as a mom. Its nature of spreading through contact associated with affection and caregiving strikes at the basic instinct of a parent to care for and touch a child with love in the moment of deepest suffering for both of them. The hopes and dreams of an entire family can be wiped out because someone loves too much not to reach out. 

So...what can we do to give suffering families and ourselves the gift of stopping this terrible disease?

As with every global health threat, it needs to be met with government support, non-government organizations in the field, and individual donors around the world. Here's what you can do TODAY:

Ebola can spread across the world over oceans, but so can our love and generosity. Like this video from the ONE Campaign urges us...Don't Wait. Do what you can to help today. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

#GivingTuesday SO much cooler than #BlackFriday


I'm not a big fan of Black Friday. I can kind of get behind Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday just seems like a plain old Monday back behind my laptop. But #GivingTuesday?...here's something special. Now we're talking!

In the past few years, the way #GivingTuesday has worked is that Americans go nuts spending their expendable (or not-so-expendable) income in the days following Thanksgiving on presents for the upcoming holidays. Then, they give back to their local or global community by making contributions to their favorite charities. #GivingTuesday is a celebratory day to kick off the giving season, when many people make their holiday and end-of-year charitable gifts.

I have, however, noticed something missing from #GivingTuesday are the deals
...until now.

We're attracted to the 2-for-1 deals of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday because we can make our money go farther. Well, guess what? This year, Shot@Life has got a smokin' hot charitable deal for you!

Shot@Life, the UN Foundation campaign to bring life-saving vaccines to children around the world, is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring you a one day only 2-for-1 deal for this #GivingTuesday, December 2. 

Shot@Life is focusing on raising funds to protect 40,000 children against pneumonia this #GivingTuesday at www.shotatlife.org/donate Why? Because pneumonia still kills more children under the age of five than ANY other disease worldwide. The good news is that global health efforts to date have succeeded in reducing the number of annual child pneumonia deaths worldwide by roughly 1.3 million since 1990 - nearly a 60% reduction! More good news: one pneumococcal vaccine is $5.00 and to fully protect a child it is just $10.00. So, how will we get to protecting 40,000 children? By people like YOU and me donating what we can at  www.shotatlife.org/donate to be matched by Bill and Melinda on December 2, up to $200,000! We give...Bill and Melinda match. That means double the immunizations against pneumonia, double the lives saved!

So, on December 2nd, consider vaccinating one or more children against pneumonia at www.shotatlife.org/donate, then telling the world why you did it by posting an "#UnSelfie" picture (like the one here) with your reason to inspire others to do the same. Join me in saving lives on the most unselfish day of the holiday season.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Get Out the Vote!...and then keep in touch

"Vote Obama out of office."

Sitting in a back room waiting for my daughter to finish up a lesson, I had a conversation I'd rather not have had. It was important, but sometimes I'm just not in the mood. It started out well enough with a father politely asking what I do. I told him that I am a writer and a volunteer lobbyist on global health issues. Knowing the words "volunteer" and "lobbyist" don't usually go together, he asked for more detail about what I do. I told him something like, "I contact members of Congress about actions they can take to fight diseases like AIDS or polio and teach other everyday citizens to do that as well." In our conversation, he seemed to not really know what I was getting at, so I eventually asked the question for illustration..."So, if you have something you want to change about what our country is doing, what do you do about it?"

"Vote Obama out of office."

Oh, brilliant. Where do I start with this man who was telling this to me with a straight face right beside his teenage son who will be voting in just a few years? Let's break down the ridiculousness of that comment into three categories.

  1. Obama's not up for re-election in 2014. There is no presidential election this year nor can anyone have three terms. No matter how you feel about President Obama, you have to get over this point. 
  2. The president is not the only one who has influence. For instance, the administration can make budget recommendations, but only Congress can approve the actual spending of money.
  3. Election day is not the only day when you have a voice in government. 

The idea that you can only affect what our government does once every 4 years is a naive and antiquated notion. 
Every single day is an opportunity to shape U.S. policies whether it be through tweeting, blogging, writing letters to the editor, calling members of Congress, writing handwritten letters to Congress, or meeting face-to-face in Congressional offices. All of these actions are open to us. It is our right as citizens and, hey, even if you're not a citizen you can still use Twitter to organize. I was frustrated by this man's attitude, but not really surprised by it. We're taught about elections in high school American government class, but no one ever explains to us how we can influence government as citizens post-election. 

Fellow RESULTS volunteer Richard Smiley and I chatting
 with Senator  Durbin (on right) about global poverty
TV news - or any news, really - would lead anyone to think that voting or contributing large amounts of money are the only things that citizens can do. Since so many people don't know what kinds of effective actions they can personally take, most people end up just frustrated and giving up on our system without ever truly being a part of it. Because of this huge gap between most citizens and government, there is a space for concerned citizen lobbyists to slide right in and have great impact. Just a modest amount of 10-20 phone calls on a topic can sometimes greatly influence a member of Congress because few people really bother to do it. It can have a great effect, especially if it's an important yet little known issue. A constituent meeting face-to-face with congressional staff or an actual member of Congress is even rarer and makes even more impact.

I tried to make these points to the dad in the waiting room in a polite and courteous way. Honestly, I don't think I had that much of an effect on him and I didn't really expect to. His son, on the other hand, was listening to every word and asking questions. And maybe that's who I was really talking to. The son is the reason to have the conversation I didn't feel like having. Because the kids of today are the voters of tomorrow who will help to decide their future and mine. I want that boy and my children to vote with optimism and care...and not stop at the voting booth. That's the same thing I want from you.
US Rep. Jan Schakowksy reads a letter from my children
about global child survival.

So, get out and vote, to be sure! That's where an engaged citizen starts. But don't stop there. Let your elected officials know what you want after they're in office even if - especially if - they are not of the party you favor. They still represent you and it is your right and privilege to contact them on the issues that are important to you. Don't waste it!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Keeping the Motivation UP!

I had a tough run this week. 11 miles training for my RESULTS fundraising half-marathon run. The distance wasn't even what made it so hard. It was the fact that I had to get it done while my 9-yr-old was getting ready for school. It was broken up into chunks while I was multi-tasking. Here's what it looked like:

Starting back again at zero
miles is depressing after
running 6 already!

  • 5 miles on the treadmill before anyone got up
  • Wake daughter
  • 2 miles outside while husband was still home
  • Make sure kid's doing chores and eating breakfast. Goodbye to husband
  • 4 more miles on the treadmill
5+2+4=11. Whew.

Two miles outside made kept up my spirts
for the 9 miles on the treadmill
It's incredibly hard to keep focus on an exhausting task when you are interrupted and doing other things at the same time. Inertia can sometimes be your friend since an object in motion tends to stay in motion. But it can be your enemy since an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Getting back onto that treadmill was the hardest thing I've done all month.

This is not unlike what happens when you play the long game in activism, working on an issue like global vaccines. We fight and lobby for immunizations for children to secure funding for the GAVI, the vaccine alliance and fight diseases like polio, measles, and rotovirus. Sometimes we have big wins, but sometimes there are long distracting pauses in the legislative process during which life happens. Congress is in recess. Kids soccer games, choir performances, and scouting activities happen. School happens. We forget about what we were doing and when appropriations season (the time when Congress decides how much money to give in a year) or pledging time (the time when the President decides how much the U.S. should be giving) comes around, we have to fire up our engines all over again. But I do. Because this is important. Way more important than my run this morning.

It's so easy to think that we can let the issue go because vaccines are kind of a no-brainer in the fight for global health. They are a "best buy" when you think about the value of a low-cost vaccine that buys a child lifelong protection from disease. How do you even put a value on the precious life of a child? And the value on the dignity of a mother who was protected by immunizations as an infant so she can work to provide for her own kids free of illness?...priceless. With all the benefits to saving lifes and bolstering of world economy, you'd think that it would be automatic for Congress to pass adequate funding.

But it's not automatic. 

It's a fight. Every. Time.

One of my Twitter followers saw my updates urging people to tweet the White House to ask the administration to pledge $1 Billion over the next 4 years for GAVI. He did take the action, but said something insightful. He stands up for issues that are little known or publicized, like human trafficking - which is very admirable and I strive to do the same - but tweeted that he expects our elected officials to take care of those widely known issues without his input. 

I'm glad he voiced this. I understand that viewpoint and it's true that it's hard to stand up for all things all the time. Sadly, though, it's just not true that lawmakers do the moral and smart thing even if the benefits are well-known. I've been on the losing side of advocacy battles, too, when child health programs have been slashed on the state or federal level. 

This is why it's important to keep up the momentum and remember to strap on your shoes and get back in the race at those key moments for global vaccines...like this moment. Right now!

We are on the cusp of the pledging event where all the world's nations will send representation to Berlin to publicly say how much they will pledge to the GAVI Alliance. We want the U.S. to step up and pledge $1 billion over 4 years to the GAVI Alliance, which will have the effect of saving 6 million kids' lives.   

Will you join me in getting back in the game?

Three EASY ways you can join the fight for children's lives:

  1. Sign this petition from the ONE Campaign to the White House.
  2. Tweet the White House with this message: "Friends, PLEASE Retweet: @WhiteHouse save over 6M kids' lives by pledging $1B over 4 yrs to @GAVI #AYAAction #VaccinesWork"
  3. Call the White House by dialing 1-888-213-2881, which will connect you directly to the White House comment line. When the operator comes on the line, tell them: “I am asking President Obama to help save 6 million children’s lives by pledging 1 billion dollars over the next four years to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Thank you.” (If you're worried about this one, go see my past blog about how easy calling in really is.)

I hope you will join me in taking one or all of these actions. Even taking all of them would take less than 20 min, but have enormous impact on our planet while costing you no money...except for your taxes and you have every right to weigh in on what they are spent on. Help us keep up the motivation!

Monday, October 20, 2014

DC bound for the ONE Girls & Women AYA Summit

Young women I met in Uganda on a trip  with Shot@Life.
Seriously, don't they just look like leaders?
I'm off for another poverty-fighting DC adventure! This week I'll be joining a group of 75 girls and women from the US and Africa from October 22-24 for the ONE Girls + Women's AYA Summit. This year, the ONE Girls + Women has been a wonderful addition to the ONE Campaign. I've been fighting poverty with the ONE Campaign for many years, so it's thrilling to be on the ground floor of this new effort. The emotional mother in me yearns to help girls in developing nations who are so much like my own girls in every way that matters. The engineer in me knows that the most logical & effective way to break the cycle of poverty is to nurture and educate girls who are under-served and are the mothers of tomorrow. Empowering girls gets at the heart of so many problems!

I'll get a concentrated few days to focus on issues facing women and girls in the developing world with other go-getting grasstops-types in the audience. Through a series of talks, panels, visuals, and demonstrations, we'll learn what it means to be born female in Africa and what we - along WITH girls and women in Africa - can do to help people meet their full potential. The idea is to stimulate our thoughts and conversations by looking at more controversial topics from different points of view.

I think I have a lot to contribute to the conversation, looking at the list of topics:
Health...Child birth...Trade...Technology...Jobs....Food...Fashion...Water...School...Activism

(...okay, maybe not fashion. 
I have zero to say about that.)

I'm hopeful about this conference providing a unique experience because in the invitation, they told us that we'd have fun and plenty of time to spend with other participants, which will include panelists from both the U.S. and Africa. I'm a globally-minded mom who rarely ever travels, so I relish the opportunity to get to know other allies outside of North America. A few of my fellow World Moms Blog contributers will be there, too, including founder Jennifer Burden who happens to be a favorite BFF of mine. Poverty-fighting with friends. Nothin' better. :)

Another reason I'm excited is because of special guest speaker Nick Kristoff who will be there to share about his new book, "A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity," co-written with his wife Sheryl Wu Dunn. In fact, he's going to hold a book signing as well. I hear he dedicated about 2 1/2 pages in the book to a description of the work of RESULTS. Being a RESULTS board member, I want to personally thank him and encourage him to attend our RESULTS International Conference in July. 

I also anticipate watching Michael Gerson moderate a panel on Ebola and being re-united with Edith Jibunoh of the World Bank so soon after the World Bank's Civil Society Program and Annual Meetings. (she's one busy lady!)

So, to my fellow attendees...can't wait to meet up with you. For those at home, I'll be finding out more ways for all of us to be engaged in ways to help girls and women in Africa raise themselves up with dignity and strength. Stay tuned, true believers!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Inviting Others to Play

So, you've got a cause. You're inspired. You want to be part of a movement! You want to build the movement in your community!! You are a change maker!!! But...how do you recruit people to come play with you? How do you even get people to an outreach event?

We don't know that girl in the bee costume, but she's
attracted to my crazy Belle Bride Princess. Who could resist that?
It's the classic conundrum. The first hurdle to building a movement is finding your followers. It all sounds so intimidating, but is it really so different than your children inviting others to play on the playground? When entering a new playground full of kids we haven't met, I have one daughter who simply runs through the area yelling and immediately has a flock behind her. I think most of us, however, empathize more with my other daughter who gets frozen in her own thoughts wondering if she should ask someone to play...if she'll be bothering them...if they'll think she's fun...if they will refuse. Even if we were the yelling child when we were six years old, life has a way of introducing fears and insecurities.

Building a movement is still a lot like asking people to play with you. Today, I offer you two thought experiments to help you think about your approach to finding your followers.

Video of Concert Dancers
Watch this TED talk by Derek Sivers called "How to start a movement" where you will see a movement begin and swell at an outdoor concert in less than 3 minutes. Here are some actual grownups demonstrating all the human characteristics of movement builders while essentially just playing.

Video from Derek Sivers' TED2010 talk
Did you see that? Most of the success of getting people on their feet is having the courage to do your thing and then empowering your first followers as equals!

The Chair Demo
At a ONE Campaign meeting last night, Sam Meyers of ONE's Washington DC staff facilitated a session on the topic of building a movement in our local community. She used a simple demonstration using two chairs to get us thinking about key concepts in getting folks to an outreach event. She pulled two chairs to the front of the room (not very close to where we were sitting), set them back to back, and asked for 2 volunteers to sit in the chairs with no explanation about why. I jokingly said, "I'm in if I can bring my wine with me!" and sauntered up with my wine glass. My friend Jennifer jumped up with her beer and took the second seat. To our surprise, Sam said "That's it! Thanks! You can go back to your seats now." With us back in our original seats, the real lesson about volunteering began.

"Why did you volunteer?" she asked me. Because I know how awkward it feels to be a facilitator with no volunteers. "Why did you volunteer?" she asked Jennifer. Because she was my friend, so she thought it would be fun to be with me. Plus, she'd be supportive of me taking the risk and thought that that if she didn't know the answer to something Sam asked, I might know it. Less risk for me, less for her. "Why didn't you volunteer?" she asked each of the other people. I don't remember all their answers, but here's a smattering:

  • I didn't know what was going to happen
  • It was kind of far and I was comfortable where I was
  • I felt intimidated
  • I might not know the answers (aka have the skills to do the activity)
  • I didn't want to look silly in front of others
  • I figured someone else would

All of those reasons not to volunteer sound like the very same barriers people you'll have to overcome to get people to your outreach event. They translate into: "It's not near to where I live", "I'm not sure I can do what you're asking me to do", "I don't want to rearrange my schedule for something I'm not sure will be fun or worthwhile" Even I - who was first to volunteer - made a joke that actually has bearing in the real world. I said I didn't want to go unless I could take my wine. Well...some people would rather go to an outreach event in a bar than in a church basement. If they are taking time out of their otherwise busy schedule, having relaxing drink in a nice place is appealing even if someone's not yet committed to your cause.

So, what do we learn from the chair activity?

#1 First Follower is a leader, too. Just like in the video, we see that the First Follower is a type of leader, too, so it might help to stack the deck a little and strategically choose who that First Follower will be. Is it someone like me who has led a group before and will be sympathetic to the difficulty of what you're trying to do? Is it someone like my extroverted daughter who unwittingly picks up followers wherever she goes? Is it someone already connected in your community who knows a lot of key players you'll need to know?

#2 Friendship is a powerful motivator Jennifer came because I went and it made her more comfortable to take the risk. You know this from watching your children:
Friends make everything less scary and more fun. 
Ugandan girls were not afraid to talk to me or take a selfie
with my phone because they felt safe with their friends!
Friendship certainly doesn't guarantee they will stick around and be part of your group for all time, but your friends are willing to take a bit of risk for you because they like you. If it's not their cup of tea, then maybe they know someone else who will join you based on their recommendation and friendship.

#3 We need to create outreach events while keeping the barriers in mind. Design your outreach event in a way that makes it as easy as possible for people to say yes. Without being overly negative, think about the main reasons people might say no and try to address them as best you can. Provide food. Have it in a drink-friendly place if your crowd is into that. Are you reaching out to moms? Hire a sitter to watch the kids while they play or watch a movie during your meeting. Are people from two different areas? Find a place 1/2 way between or in a place so cool that it's worth the drive or alternate your meetings between the locations. People don't know your organization? Put in the time to actually talk with your invitees to let them know about it and that what you expect of them is easy. Are there disabled individuals in your group? Make sure that your venue can accommodate them.

I can't tell you the magic incantation that will make your first outreach meeting a success. In fact, sometimes mine have been not-so-successful. (see my blog "Outreach: Failure and Persistence or 'OMG, What if No One Shows Up?") But with planning, persistence, and a little - or a lot - of help from your friends, I know you're gonna find some great people to play in your sandbox with you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wash Your Hands!

Hey, moms and dads! Did you know that by teaching your kids to wash their hands correctly, you are engaging in one of the most effective global health activities our world has ever seen? Happy Global Handwashing Day!!!!

Boy, this is one of my favorite global health awareness campaigns. Because we're not just talking about funding for malaria bednets or vaccine distribution to faraway places (although those are vitally important as well). We're talking about something simple each of us can do. It's a choice you make multiple times a day to improve the lives of everyone in our families, our communities, and our planet. 

Handwashing with soap is easy, effective, affordable, and literally saves lives. Why? Because human feces are the main source of diarreal pathogens. They are the source of all sorts of gastro-enteric infections and some respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia. According to globalhandwashing.org , a single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses & one million bacteria. Gross! Considering the amount of poop a mom of toddlers deals with on a daily basis, we should be thinking about washing our hands all....the...time. It just prevents so many things:

Worried about pneumonia? Wash your hands!
Worried about rotovirus? Wash your hands!
Worried about worms? Wash your hands!
Worried about impetigo? Wash your hands!
Worried about Ebola? Wash your hands!
Because handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. 
Promoted on a wide enough scale, handwashing with soap can be thought of as a "do-it-yourself" vaccine. Ingraining the habit of handwashing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. (Another side note: THIS DOES NOT REPLACE VACCINES! So, don't even try to tell me your superb hygiene skills are why you're not vaccinating against measles.)

Students in Kampala wash up to prevent disease
You might be thinking, "I know. I'm a clean person. You're a global poverty activist, so you're just worried about developing countries again." Yes and no. YES, it's a problem in developing countries. On my trip to Uganda with Shot@Life, I met students washing their hands in the one spigot provided for their whole school of several hundred kids and no soap. They taught the children songs and theatrical skits about sanitation along with their ABC's to combat the real problem of life-threatening diseases passed among students. But, NO it's not just about countries with extreme poverty. Even in places where handwashing is the norm and soap & clean water are plentiful, people often fail to wash up with soap. A study in England found that people washed their hands only about half the time after cleaning a poopy child. Ack! A recent study of doctors' handwashing practices in the U.S. found they failed to wash up with soap between patient visits surprisingly often. But handwashing with soap is incredibly important here as it is in Liberia.

So, let's have a review shall we? What is the "correct" way to wash hands? Proper handwashing requires soap and only a small amount of water. 
  • Cover wet hands with soap
  • Scrub all surfaces...backs, fronts, in-betweens and especially under fingernails
  • Scrub for 20 seconds...the time it takes to sing your ABC's or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Rinse with clean water

Want some really simple terms with cute pictures? 

After you do this....

Make sure you do this...

 So, we can all safely do these things...

For more info on the global impact of the simple act of handwashing, visit http://globalhandwashing.org/ghw-day

Friday, October 10, 2014

Keeping it Civil at the World Bank

Photo Credit: World Bank
Today is my last day at the World Bank Civil Society Program in D.C. Even though I'll certainly have more to say about what I've learned here, I want to address what this series of meetings is about and the general tone here. My experience so far is that this current form of the communication between the World Bank and the public is keeping the "civil" in "civil discourse." It's civil in two ways: it's under control and respectful plus the participants are all representatives of civil society.

Just as a recap, here's my explanation of the term "civil society" from my previous blog, A New Course for the Big Ship of the World Bank, in case you missed it:
"What is civil society?" Not governments. Not corporations. The rest of us. Just regular folk. Sometimes it can mean a lot of people formally banded together in large groups called non-government organizations (NGO's) like CARE or Save the Children. It can refer to a community of local people with an interest in protecting their environment. It also includes a couple of socially-minded bloggers like me and my World Moms Blog buddy at the meetings, Jennifer Burden.
I've been to many Washington D.C. conferences and "summits" for anti-poverty NGOs...meetings set up for volunteers to learn about a topic and then lobby about it on Capitol Hill. I'm used to experts presenting information with infographics and talking points followed by the audience asking questions mainly to clarify understanding. Sometimes if the speaker is a member of Congress or the head of a government org, a questioner might ask a challenging question as a form of protest, but generally people just want more information from the presenters. After all, they are the experts and they know best..right?

Joseph Robertson of Citizen's Climate Lobby
weighs in at the World Bank Town Hall
Well, that's not really the way it goes at the World Bank. The Civil Society Program is certainly no PR conference. It's set up to be an interactive dialogue about policy. The attendees aren't hand selected by the World Bank nor are they volunteers. They are from watchdog groups, special interest NGO's, and citizens of countries impacted for better or worse by World Bank programs. Their common goal is to ensure the World Bank is actually doing it's job and ending poverty without harming the people it's trying to help. Here at this conference, experts still present powerpoint presentations, but there is a general tone in the audience that the experts do NOT necessarily know best and we need to give our input to shape their programs.

Is there tension here? You bet. But here's the thing. Real constructive communication is coming out of the conflict. Rather than having people yelling in the streets, the World Bank is inviting them inside for real conversation. Those conversations are often disagreements, but fairly productive ones without name-calling or threats. I find I learn more in the question portion of the sessions than the actual presentations. From a mom perspective, my blogging partner Jennifer Burden mused that our children learn by arguing and these disagreements seem to be serving an educational purpose for both sides. The World Bank continually stresses that they want to hear our dissenting viewpoints to make their policies better and this audience is more than happy to oblige. At the same time, all of us are learning about World Bank's side of the story as well as gaining the perspective of citizens from other countries we otherwise might not get to talk to in person.

A Ugandan grandmother
The issues of poverty (starvation, child mortality, poor education, gender inequality, Ebola, etc) are truly life vs. death subjects that are hitting the delegates from developing nations hard and personally. Everybody there knows there are tears and suffering of real people behind every infographic map of poverty metrics. Delegates speak with passion and urgency, but also with respect and control. I wish this kind of civil debate were more common in U.S. Congress a few miles away.

At the TedX-WBG presentations, Raphael Parente of LABi said: "If we want the world to change, we have to think and act differently." In this case, "we" means both the World Bank and civil society members. In the Civil Society Program we are are changing by challenging each other. Change isn't likely to happen if everybody just smiles and nods while millions struggle to survive. I find myself thinking about a particular woman I met at a health care event in rural Uganda on a trip with the Shot@Life campaign. She appreciated the vaccines UNICEF was providing, but was focused and serious as she related other problems they faced like HIV/AIDS and lack of quality education for her children and grandchildren. As a fellow mom, I feel like I owe it to her to add my voice here to challenge, listen, and change our world for the better.