Saturday, October 20, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Log: October 19 Heart breaking

Five days to go. 

I’m waiting in an airport for a work trip flight at too-damn-early-o’clock in the morning and I’m a little on the edge emotionally. Yesterday, my seven-year-old brought home a book she picked out in the school library about a homeless boy who lives in an airport with his father. It described how they manage it, how they’re not the only ones who do it, and the boy’s feelings about it. My heart breaks as I sit at my gate and imagine it. I wonder what kind of mess I’ll be in Africa next week if I’m sad about a picture book right now.

The job I'm doing today is flying out to speak at a fundraiser to ask an audience to donate to RESULTS, the anti-poverty advocacy organization I work for. I won’t have any trouble speaking tonight about why I am an advocate. Here’s a section of my remarks for tonight when I describe some of the new-motherhood reflections that led me to seek out activism for child survival:

In quiet moments, holding my baby girl just as she dropped off to sleep, I would feel peace, but also that nagging worry…will I be able to give her what she needs? Can I nurse her through this fever? Is she getting enough to eat? Now, in my case, these were silly fears because I happened to have good health insurance, good doctors in great hospitals, and plenty for her nutrition. But what if those answers were no? What if we didn’t have clean water? What if the nearest hospital was a 2-day walk..or more? What if I lived in real fear of measles or malaria claiming her life? When ½ of the world lives on $2 a day or less, these are the realities many parents face.”

My heart was breaking at that time of my life, too. Thank goodness I found RESULTS and Shot@Life to give me a way to help mothers and fathers struggling to save their children. Because both of these organizations celebrate the good we’re able to achieve and don’t dwell on the bad. In fact, Shot@Life is a whole campaign based on the joy of kids reaching life milestones: first tooth, first steps, first smiles. Here’s a great video about it that will show you what I mean. 

I think it’s important for us as humans to be touched and experience some of the negative empathetic thoughts. The tears can be an inspiration or a spark to take a first step. Yet they can’t sustain us for years of strength needed to persistently advocate for a cause over the long term. I’m hoping that this trip to Uganda can reconnect me with seeing the need with fresh eyes, but also show me the joy of lives being saved. I’m ready to be both torn down and filled up on this trip and grateful I’ll be doing it with some of my fellow Shot@Life champions I’ve come to respect and trust…and like very much, by the way!...over the past year. Shot@Life champion Holly Palivka put it very well one day when I was having a crappy day. She said, “We are not only champions for Shot@Life, but we have become champions for each other.” She’s totally right and it’s why I’m glad my first trip to Africa is with friends and fellow advocates. Over the next year – as we tell whatever stories we gather to other activists, the media, and members of Congress – we are going to need each other’s support.

Here’s a thought to reflect on. You need your heart to break to be a donor. You need to be able to put it back together to be an activist.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Log Oct 15: Get to Know Uganda

Sometimes when I’m not confident about going somewhere new, I feel better if I research a little, so I have some bit of knowledge to cling to. So while we’re waiting for the trip, let’s learn a little bit about Uganda, shall we?

Let’s see. Uganda is a country in East Africa bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by Tanzania

We’re travelling to the capital city of Kampala and some rural areas. The official languages are English and Swahili as it formerly ruled by the British, but I’m told that there are many, many rural dialects.

Let’s look up some health info since that’s what this trip is about. My UNICEF data is a little old (from 2009), but we can still get a picture. Seems like the “Book of Mormon” Broadway musical lyrics are quite wrong on the national scale (“80% of us have AIDS” - Mafala Hatimbi in the song “Hasa Diga Ebowai”) as it’s really 6.5% of adults 15-49 that are HIV positive. I’ll make a note not to go to fictional communities invented by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, but still 6.5% is not something Americans are even equipped to think about in our country.

I’m encouraged that 90% of male youth 15-24 yrs are literate and disappointed – but not surprised – that girls of the same age have an 85% literacy rate.

What does UNICEF want us to know about mothers and children? Here’s a snapshot.
  • ·      Malaria, respiratory infections and diarrhea are the main causes of under-5 mortality
  • ·      Apprx 20,000 babies are infected by HIV annually through mother-to-child transmission
  • ·      Nearly ½ of the estimated 2 million orphans are orphaned due to AIDS.

Is there any good news? Yes.
  • ·      More than 4 million children reached in twice-yearly national “Child Days” to accelerate Vitamin A supplementation, catch-up immunizations and de-worming, which is exactly what we’re going to see!!!!
  • ·      512,000 mothers assisted at 91 sites for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS.
  • ·      9,600 excluded and disadvantaged children reached through 250 non-formal/complementary learning centres. 
  • ·      3.7 million girls benefiting from the expansion of the Girls’ Education Movement (GEM) to 18 districts. 

Sometimes statistics wash over us, even when they are just a few cherry-picked bullet points. But that’s what this trip is about: to take 9 American mothers to gather stories and pictures that put a human face on this kind of crushing extreme poverty. We can’t all go to Africa…heck, I’ve been trying to find a way to go for about a decade…but you are welcome to come on this trip with me vicariously. I hope there is something in this trip that breaks through the numbers and inspires you to get more involved and engaged on this quest to save lives.

In the last 30 years, we’ve gone from 42,000 kids dying each day from treatable or preventable diseases down to 20,000 a day. World population has risen and a global economy collapsed during this time. So, why did the number decrease? That only happened because caring people donated and advocated. And we need to keep going. Because the hardest to reach kids are slipping through our fingers. We need to be smarter, more insistent, and more persistent to get to those children separated from us by geography, war, and famine. Please visit to learn more about investing in a healthier world by immunizing children globally.

You can also donate by visiting my fundraising site for Shot@Life at if you are inspired by our journey. Thank you for coming along.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shot@Life Uganda Trip Log: Oct 14 Water thoughts

(10 days 'till we leave)

I’m thinking about water today. Not only because it was falling from the sky in buckets earlier, but because 1) It’s a serious problem in Uganda and 2) I did a long run in my ½ marathon training and had a lot of time to think about it while wondering where to take a water break.

Sometimes people ask me why I work on global poverty when poverty is so bad in the United States. Well, first, I actually do lobby on domestic poverty issues as well (mainly Head Start and SNAP benefits aka food stamps). But to help demonstrate the difference in scale of need, sometimes I use the example of clean water.

Where I live near Chicago, most people – even in poverty – have running water in ther home if they have a home. Plus, there are generally places that we can get free, sanitary water for free with no waiting almost everywhere in public. On my run this morning, I could even be picky about where I got my water. My favorite water fountain in the park was covered in box elder bugs. Ew. So I just jogged over to a building where I popped in, filled up my bottle for free, and jogged away. No sweat…er…well, you know what I mean.

But in Uganda, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the average distance to the main source of drinking water from one’s home is almost ½ mile with an average waiting time of 27 minutes. In many areas of the world, the distance and the waiting times are much worse and young girls are often tasked with fetching heavy jugs of water for the whole family along dangerous roads. They face not only dangers of traffic or geography, but also of molestation and rape. These brave girls cannot go to school because of this important family duty. If they don’t bring the water, they will get sick along with their siblings and parents and possibly die.

We shouldn’t turn our backs on the need at home, but it’s good to keep in perspective the number of people living without basic human needs. It’s easy to forget that almost 1/2 the planet - over three billion people- live on less than $2.50 a day. ( The great news is that we are making amazing progress in getting basic needs provided to the people of Uganda and many other countries. Uganda is reported to be “on track” for Millennium Development target 7.C, which is to “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.”

I’ll drink to that!