Author Archives: documama

Shaping The Narrative Of Global Health

Shaping The Narrative Of Global Health

I was thrilled to be asked to speak at this years United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Summit to a room of almost 200 champions from all over the country. I’ll confess that having never spoken to a group that large I was a nervous wreck, but I love a challenge, and it helps to speak from the heart on an issue you are emotionally invested in, and so this is what I said:

IMG_6285

“Every story begins and ends with a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a girl, a child, . Every story is a birth”….- Ishmael Beah Author of Long Way Gone & Radiance of Tomorrow & UNICEF Advocate

As a storyteller, and a mother to my four children that quote by Ishmael Beah really touches me. Because before I was a mother, I was of course a daughter. And the story of why I am here speaking to you today begins with her. my mother was born in 1922 , she was 45 when I was born, and a polio survivor. She stood all of 5’2” at a tilt, since Polio had left her with one leg slightly shorter than the other.

Eventually I would come to tower over her at 5’9″, and now that I am a mother myself I muse at how odd it must have been to have ended up with a daughter so much taller. While I was still a daughter, and before I became a mother, I was a traveler. I still think about the mothers who approached me as a westerner in my early twenties and held out their babies to me asking for medicine or a cure. If those babies survived they would be in their mid-twenties now, and surely not all did survive. Knowing what I know now I wish I could go back in time with a bag of medical supplies and give them whatever they needed, because the pleading looks in those mother’s eyes haunt me to this day.

I never was a mother and a daughter at the same time. My mother passed away four months before my own first child was born. Though she had told me stories about having Polio as a child it never really resonated with me in the way it did once I became a mother myself. How terrified my grandmother must have been of losing her. And to be honest I hadn’t really reflected on those mothers I met as backpacker in my 20’s until I became a mother myself, and then I remembered that helpless feeling I was left with when I did not know what to do to help them. I was so grateful to join shot@life as a champion and finally have the opportunity to DO SOMETHING. To honor my mother’s legacy as a Polio Survivor, and to help the mothers that I know are out there in developing countries desperate for proper healthcare, for lifesaving vaccines for their children that every mother should have access to.

IMG_6308

As excited as I was to join Shot@Life I have to confess that had I known that I was going to be visiting my government representatives on capitol hill that first year I attended the summit, I may never have joined. I would have been too afraid. Yet, the next thing I knew I was hoofing it around capitol hill (in the wrong shoes…I might add…( definitely take the comfortable shoe recommendation seriously ) advocating for Shot@life with my congressmen and Senators. I brought the messaging back to my community and realized how much work is still to be done just in terms of  awareness alone. There is so much misinformation and lack of awareness out there on vaccines. In this country we take it for granted that our babies will not die from a simple case of diarrhea, but mothers in countries where they lack access to vaccines have lost, or know someone who has lost a baby to a vaccine preventable disease. Every 20 seconds a baby dies from a vaccine preventable disease, mothers will walk for days to get vaccines when they can for their children. I realized there is a huge need to get the message out to the public.

vaccinesSo what can YOU do to make sure every child gets a fair Shot@life no matter where they are born?

  1. Become a United Nations Foundation Shot@Life Champion, as a Champion here are a few ways to reach out to make an impact in your community that can ripple around the globe:
  2. Contact or visit your local representatives and tell them that you care about their support of global health and global vaccines, and ask them to support these programs as well.
  3.  Hold a party to get the word out, if you don’t want to do it in your home there are so many companies that offer fun alternatives. In my community stores like Alex & Ani,  Pinkberry, and Flatbread Pizza will help you have a party on site to fundraise for your event.
  4. Speak to local clubs, a local new neighbors club, Rotary or General Federation of Women’s Clubs
  5. Hold an event at your child’s school or set up a booth during an international fair, take the opportunity to work the importance of vaccines into the broader issue of global awareness.
  6. Use social media as a messaging tool for good with this social toolkit.Write op-eds, letters to the editor, blog posts, or articles for your local paper or magazine. I had a profile run in my local town Magazine for example.

For World Pneumonia Day last November I was paired up with Dr Mkope from Tanzania and at the National Press Club in Washington, DC we did over 20 radio and TV interviews! It was a great feeling knowing that the message of the importance of vaccines, with real life proof of efficacy from Dr. Mkope, was being broadcast so far and wide. At shot@life we say “a virus is just a plane ride away”, and in a perfect example of this ever shrinking world, it turned out that Dr. Mkope is the pediatrician of the one friend I know in Tanzania.

This year might be the last year that Polio is a threat to any child in the world, with only 9 cases on record, and still known to exist in only two countries in the world, the World Health Organization predicts that, with vaccines, it will be eradicated soon.

Every story is a birth, for my mother who survived Polio, for the mothers I met in central Africa with the pleading eyes, for my children and my children’s children, what I have learned as a Shot@Life Champion is that we have the opportunity to shape this narrative on global health, together lets write this story to end with no child dying unnecessarily from a vaccine preventable disease.

#Advocate2Vaccinate #VaccinesWork

 

Rhode Island March Of Dimes March For Babies

Rhode Island March Of Dimes March For Babies
Baby and Mom Arms

Photo Credit: March of Dimes

Giving birth is a miraculous moment for mothers, yet it can also be one of the most terrifying and treacherous for both mother and child.  I’ll never forget the excitement of the birth of my brother’s first child, and then the breath holding trepidation while he stayed at the hospital in the NICU for the following week having being born prematurely. Premature babies can have serious health problems at birth and later into life, and about 1 in 10 babies in the US are born prematurely.  The World Health Organization lists preterm birth complications as the number 1 cause of death in children under the age of five. You might be shocked to learn that the United States of America is ranked 54th on Born Too Soon the list of Estimated National Rates of Preterm Birth put out by The March of Dimes.  Our country has one of the worst newborn mortality rates of any of the industrialized nations and a higher pre-term birth rate than countries like Sierra Leone, Libya or Cambodia.

The March of Dimes , an organization that has been around for nearly 80 years, is set to change that. I was struck by how little I knew about all of the amazing programs that it supports both here in the US and abroad. Over the past couple of years I have traveled to Ethiopia and South Africa on reporting trips on maternal and newborn health, and written for a number of global non-profits on related issues, My focus on maternal, newborn and child health has been primarily focused on developing countries. As a mother of four children and daughter of a Polio survivor I also advocate for global vaccines with the United Nations Shot@Life campaign, one of the major goals of which is global Polio eradication.  I was fascinated to find out that the March of Dimes had led the fight against Polio when it was founded by FDR in 1938 with the purpose of Polio eradication in the US. The Polio vaccine was developed with funding by the March of Dimes and now there are currently only two countries left in the world that still have Polio, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Polio virus was successfully eradicated in the US in 1979 thanks in large part to the March of Dimes campaign.

Once that goal was accomplished the robust infrastructure of the March of Dimes was shifted to tackle birth defects, and in the mid 1980s to Community, Advocacy, Research, Education and Support services around premature birth. (the birth of an infant before 37 weeks of pregnancy). If not for the research, programs and services provided by the March of Dimes many babies would never make it past that critical first 24 hour window after birth. Families would be deprived of the guiding services and support that helps them through a frightening time period while their newborn is fighting for their little life.

Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait® is a comprehensive initiative by the March of Dimes to prevent preventable preterm birth, with a focus on reducing elective deliveries before 39 weeks gestation. Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait involves an education and awareness campaign, hospital quality improvement and community intervention programs. These strategies are focused on interventions and activities that have the potential to make an immediate, substantial and measurable impact on preterm birth. – www.marchofdimes.org

The Share Your Story website provides a lifeline to NICU families in an online community, which is an extension of the amazing support services provided by the March of Dimes in the NICU itself. I was able to take a tour of the Women & Infants Hospital NICU in Rhode Island where the March of Dimes is saving newborn lives every day. The 6-year-old 50,000 sq. foot wing here in Rhode Island can treat 82 babies at a time, and in the corner of the wing an entire center for family support provides programs, food, and a fun-filled space for siblings to play.

Baby in NICU

Photo Credit: March of Dimes

Research as to what contributes to premature birth has identified certain risk factors such as multiples, previous preterm births, little or no prenatal care, being overweight or underweight during pregnancy, smoking, drinking alcohol, and drug use, to name a few.  Demographics can also play a role, if you are under 17 or over 35 these are risk factors, and here in the US researchers are working hard to find out why various populations have a higher preterm birth rate than others. Continued research also seeks to answer the question of why preterm birth can also sometimes occur in a healthy mother with none of the predisposing factors, like my sister-in-law so many years ago. My nephew is now a thriving healthy twenty year old, and it is easy to forget those first touch and go weeks of his life when he had been born too soon.

It is estimated that 75% of preterm births could be prevented with proper intervention. The research, education, and advocacy that the March of Dimes provides could save the state of Rhode Island up to $57 million dollars by preventing premature birth in our state, but the March of Dimes could use your help to achieve that ultimate goal. Families and premature babies need your help as well.

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 10.41.18 AM

Photo Credit: March of Dimes

Join The community and the March of Dimes for a fun family day on Saturday April 30th at 9am in Bristol, RI and March for Babies with the March of Dimes.

World Water Day

World Water Day

 

SAMSUNG CSC

March 22nd is World Water Day and WaterAid has released a new report:  The Sate of  the World’s Water 2016.

There remain 16 countries in the world where 40% or more of their population does not have access to clean water – WaterAid 

SAMSUNG CSC

What many of us take for granted, clean, safe water to drink, cook with, bathe in, and with which to wash our clothes, is an expensive luxury to hundreds of millions of people around the world. The cost is not just monetary.  Access to clean water and sanitation is a key element to breaking the cycle of extreme poverty. Women and girls are most effected by lack of access to water and sanitation. In many areas girls miss out on school because they spend much of their day walking miles to access clean water for their families. Those girls who do make it to school often drop out once menstruation begins if there are no private toilet facilities available. UNICEF reports that 6,000 children die of water related diseases every day. The most susceptible being children under the age of five. Access to clean water is a global humanitarian priority, and world wide awareness of water as a precious resource is needed to tackle the issue. Water is life.

“Clean, affordable drinking water is not a privilege: it’s a fundamental human right. This World Water Day, let’s celebrate the unprecedented progress that’s been made in helping more people than ever before gain access to clean water. But let’s also double down on our efforts so that everyone, everywhere can exercise their basic right to clean water by the year 2030.”-Sarina Prabasi, WaterAid America Chief Executive

Photo Credits: Elizabeth Atalay taken while on a New Media Fellowship trip to Ethiopia with the International Reporting Project to report on Newborn Health.

The Lady Project

The Lady Project

Takeaways from the #LadyProjectSummit :

FullSizeRender-11We jumped right in to the inspiration last weekend at the Lady Project Summit as it kicked off with tips on getting to the place where we feel “badass everyday” from Opening Keynote Speaker Ann Shoket.

“You know that feeling, wind in your hair, lights all turning green.”.-Ann Shoket

Shoket encouraged young women to see the world outside their window, and her advice to women was not to imagine that their life now is the way it is always going to be. “You have no idea all of the adventures in store for you”  Shoket, the former editor of Seventeen Magazine, divulged to the crowd of creative professionals.

The day was broken up into keynote speakers, panels and workshops with snack breaks and a delicious lunch from Ellie’s Bakery in downtown Providence in between. On the Media Panel that I attended Julie Zeilinger described why she founded the F-Bomb years ago at the tender age of 16.

“If you live in a place that is inhospitable to your beliefs, you can find a like-minded community on social media.”   – Julie Zeilinger

That quote resonated with me, as I stay connected with my own tribe of like minded women from around the globe that I have met through World Moms Blog and the UN foundation Shot@Life campaign via social media. My take away from the Social Media Panel was the importance for women to create their own opportunities in life.

Creativity is a currency right now – Carley Barton

IMG_6688

Afternoon Keynote Speaker Ruma Bose of the Chobani Foundation shared insights learned from her mentor Mother Theresa.

Greatness isn’t designed by what we do in this world but what we’ve done FOR this world.- Ruma Bose

To figure out what you are really meant to do with your life she suggested mapping out what you want to achieve and then looking for the ‘why’ in it, find the common themes that keep popping up.

I found it energizing to hear from so many young successful creative women about their path, and stumbling blocks along the way. Mentorship came up as a common theme and the need to reach out to those whom you admire, as well as help other women in their endeavors if they reach out to you.  Co-Founder and CEO of The Lady Project Sierra Barter was quoted in an article in Providence Monthly magazine as saying:

“Our vision was an ‘old boys club’ for fabulous women in The Creative Capital to network, connect with other like-minded ladies and to do so over a glass of champagne.”-Sierra Barter

Closing Keynote Speaker Elaine Pouliot, who spent her life shattering glass ceilings, ended our day by encouraging us to take risks and ask for what we want. For the second year in a row I came away from the Lady project Summit feeling empowered, full of possibilities, and part of a sisterhood of inspiring women.

IMG_6675

Join this extraordinary group of women.

Heifer Farm in New England And The Seven Ms

Heifer Farm in New England And The Seven Ms

 

 

IMG_6563

“Heifer International is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending hunger and poverty and caring for the earth. Heifer currently provides livestock, trees, seeds and training in environmentally sound agriculture to families in 30 countries, including the United States. We work with smallholder farming families and communities because we believe they are key to feeding us all.”- Heifer International

Heifer International has been a favorite organization of mine for a long tim, but just last fall I learned that Heifer Farm, highlighting the organizations programs, is located just about an hour from where I live. After visiting on a Media Day with World Moms Blog in September I could not wait to bring my family back with me to share the experience. Last weekend I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do so for their spring Pancakes At The Farm event.

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 1.25.48 PM

We sat down for pancakes bathed in Maple Syrup from the farm, and were later given a demonstration of how it was made in the Sugar House. The kids were delighted with the farm animals and asked our guide thoughtful questions about the organization. Specifically, what were the seven Ms?  Heifer International was founded by Dan West based on his experience as a relief worker. He realized the aid work he was doing needed a new model to help those in need become self-sufficient as opposed to continually reliant on aid. As a farmer he knew that a gift of livestock was a gift that would keep on giving. Cows provided the 7 Ms: milk, manure, meat, muscle, money, materials, and motivation.  A heifer refers to a pregnant cow, and in 1944 the first dairy cattle were shipped, and Heifer International born.

 

PicMonkey Collage

The goal of Heifer International is to help communities transform themselves through education, environmental stewardship, empowerment of women in the community, and the legacy of passing on generations of animals and knowledge. This in turn generates the accomplishment of the once recipient turning into a donor in their community. At Heifer Farm one can visit model villages from around the world. My family wandered through Peru, the Tibet region of China, Ghana, Kenya and Poland , each highlighting what a typical home would look like, the animals, and agriculture of each region. The farm offers fantastic camps and programs for all ages. I was disappointed to hear that the women’s Lambing Program was sold out already for this year, where women spend 3 nights assisting during the birthing of lambs at the farm with a focus on Heifer’s work to empower women around the world. I am thrilled to know this amazing resource is so nearby and encourage others to check it out. There may even still be spots this weekend at the Pancake breakfast.

PicMonkey Collage2