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The AYA Summit With ONE Girls & Women

The AYA Summit With ONE Girls & Women

aya copy

This week at the Washington D.C. Google headquarters I will be attending ONE’s 2014 AYA Summit .  Co-hosted by ONE Girls & Women and Google the AYA Summit is an exciting opportunity to meet some of the amazing speakers and attendees, as well as catch up with friends and colleagues.  It is always inspiring to be in an environment surrounded by change-makers approaching the world we live in with optimistic problem solving and ideas.

 The word AYA is an African Adinkra symbol from Ghana for fern that represents endurance, resourcefulness and growth. A beautiful symbol for the AYA Summit that will highlight the progress and challenges that girls and women face in developing countries. In the fight to eliminate extreme poverty improving the lives of girls and women is essential.

When girls and women are given the necessary education and tools, they can be change-makers within their families and communities. Through a series of talks, panels, visuals, and demonstrations, the summit will explore what it means to be born female in Africa, and what we, working together with our African partners, can do to make sure that all girls and women reach their potential. The summit will bring together leaders from the non-profit, government, private sector and celebrity arenas.- ONE Girls & Women

The AYA Summit keynote speaker is Nicholas Kristof, who just released a new book co-authored by his wife Sheryl WuDunn titled A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity.  When companies hire women they are more likely than men to re-invest their earnings back into their children, families, and communities. We will hear from companies providing opportunities to women that can enable them to lift their families out of the cycle of poverty.  While on an International Reporting Project trip to Ethiopia this past summer I had the opportunity to visit a partner factory of  FashionABLE , whose CEO Barrett Ward will be speaking on a panel at the summit. It was an impactful experience to meet some of the women in person who are now able to support their families in a dignified way after having been trained to create the gorgeous scarves produced by FashionABLE.


 The GAVI Alliance is a public-private partnership focused on saving children’s lives and protecting people’s health by increasing access to immunization in poor countries. Vaccines have been one of the most effective tools in fighting extreme poverty and the Tweet to Shot panel will share the importance of the incredible work that GAVI does around the globe.   We will also hear from the World Bank on energy poverty, and the ways in which access to electricity empowers women in developing countries.


 These are just a few of the topics that will be covered at the summit and I look forward to learning and collaborating this week with others as passionate as I am about making the world a better place. I can’t wait to share my takeaway over the next few days. You can also follow along at the #AYASummit hashtag to see what’s going on.

My Interview With Jennifer Garner

My Interview With Jennifer Garner
Jennifer Garner field visit

Artist Ambassador Jennifer Garner met Glenda, and her daughter Marissa, at a book exchange program in Orange
Cove, CA. Photo Credit: Cameron Schiller


Somehow in the past two weeks between her appearances on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Ellen, the release of her new movie Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (which the kids and I LOVED), and another movie, Men, Women & Children that came out this week, Jennifer Garner squeezed an interview with ME into her busy schedule! She did all that during and after dealing with sick kids at home, which makes her way more kick ass to me now, with all she does, than her character Sydney ever was on Alias! She has three little kids, and as a mom to my own four kids, I can fully appreciates the challenges of the incredible juggling act that must be.

First I’ll answer the first thing everyone has asked me when they found out I interviewed Jennifer Garner, I know you are itching to know too, YES, I found her every bit as great as you would expect. And YES I want her to be my friend, and I think you would too if you had the chance to speak with her.

Stacey Hoffer Weckstein of EvolvingStacey and I recently had the opportunity to interview Jennifer Garner about her role with Save The Children, her advocacy efforts towards early childhood education, and the #FindTheWords campaign. Upon re-reading the transcription of our interview as I wrote this, I became even more enchanted by her. In conversation I hadn’t noted the earnest “Gosh”,“Oh my gosh” or “Oh boy” that she had begun some of her answers with, it wasn’t until I read them in the transcript today that I noted that charming aspect of the interview.  Both Stacey and I had worked with Save The children on the #FindTheWords campaign in the 30 words, 30 days blogger challenge that represented the 30 million fewer words kids will learn in homes without early education, and the facts are powerful.

  • 1 in 4 children in the United States lives in poverty, many with not a single book in their home.
  • There is no one reading to these kids, and they will not have access to a pre-school education.
  • By age three they will have heard an average of 30 million less words than their peers, which puts them at a great disadvantage before they even reach school.
  • Ultimately these kids are 70% more likely to be arrested for violent crimes.
  •  Lack of early education makes them 40% more likely to become a teen parent.
  • They are 25% more likely to drop out of school.

“The injustice of it hits me at my very core.” Said Jennifer Garner “So I just feel this drive to help be a part of making it be better.” “….the more you are let into people’s homes, and into people’s lives, and into people’s struggles, the more driven you become to do what you can to help them.”

Many of us have a cause that really touches us deeply, usually based on some experience or exposure to the issue at some point in our lives.  For Jennifer Garner who grew up in rural West Virginia her heart goes out to kids growing up in poverty in rural America. When I asked her what inspired her involvement with Save The Children she replied…. “I suddenly found myself in a place, professionally, where organizations might find my voice to some use. And ……there’s so many amazing organizations and so many—there’s so much need in the world and I really didn’t know where to put my energy. And I had to keep going back and kind of quieting my mind after I would see people who are doing such incredible things, and I would think, ‘What is authentic to me? What is something that I can speak to and that I believe in, and what am I not seeing as much of?’ And for me it was really kids growing up in rural America. And where I grew up, in West Virginia, I was very lucky to be in a house with a dad who had a couple of graduate degrees and mom who was in school to get a graduate degree, and who were professionals. But my mom had come from poverty during the Dust Bowl depression in Oklahoma, and my dad had really, really struggled to make his way up and to go to college; I think they were both the only  ones in their families to go to college. And for them, education had made this enormous difference in their lives. And I just felt like, ‘Who was helping these kids that I was growing up with in West Virginia? And who would’ve been around—who should’ve been around—to help my parents?”

..”there needs to be a seismic shift in the way our public policy addresses kids before five, since we don’t even deal with children until they enter kindergarten, really, in most states.”

Photo by David Stephenson

Photo by David Stephenson

Studies have shown that kids who grow up in poverty without early education are already an average of a year and a half behind their peers by the time they get into school.  As an Artist Ambassador to Save The Children Jennifer has traveled to homes and schools where their early childhood education programs are run to see first hand the impact they are making on the young children involved.  She described the experience to us; ”What I love is ,….in our home visitation program, we go in and we sit with these moms and they’ll tell you “nobody ever read me a book” and “I hated school” …… these moms are isolated, they are tired, they don’t have mom friends or computers to read what you guys are writing about or to be encouraged.”….” So when Save The Children rolls up and goes once a week to see them, they bring them books, they bring light, they bring life. And the main thing that I love to see is they bring encouragement for these moms.”

As Jennifer said  “Motherhood is the great equalizer, right? ….As soon as you have a baby, we all have the same love, and hopes and dreams, and fears and vulnerabilities…”.  Every mother wants to see her child succeed, and every child deserves a chance to do so. Early education, getting into these kids lives during this critical developmental time period, is a great place to start.

Brilliant Moments From #UNGA Week & the #2030NOW Social Good Summit

Brilliant Moments From #UNGA Week & the #2030NOW Social Good Summit
Elizabeth Atalay, Kyla P'an & Nicole melancon

With Kyla P’an and Nicole Melancon

UNGA has always sounded like such a mystical and tribal nomenclature for the United Nations General Assembly meeting to me. Yet in my circle we banter it around  in conversation that third week in September as international leaders and dignitaries meet to discuss the worlds most pressing issues. The Clinton Global Initiative and Social Good Summit take place that same week, in the same city. This makes New York City a hot bed of global, humanitarian, and environmental energy and inspiration.

New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof best described the Social Good Summit at which he spoke, and that I was attending for my third year, as the grassroots equivalent of the United Nations General Assembly. And that is where my colleagues and I spend most of our time with the exception of a few satellite events here and there.  So this time last week my mind was still buzzing with the likes of Melinda Gates and Al Gore, and I’ve been sifting through piles of notes, cards, and thoughts ever since. With so much going on it can be truly overwhelming. Trying to get from event to event in a timely manner is a feat unto itself with all of the street blockages, and the level of security in the city. Let’s just say that as fulfilling an experience as it is to be there, it is not one bit a relaxing experience. So I’ve spent some time digesting my takeaway, and here are the standout moments for me.

Before I even got there my 15 year old, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, took part in the People’s Climate March through the streets of Manhattan. The March was serving as a message to world leaders who would be meeting a couple of days later for the UN Climate Summit. So although I was not there in person, my thoughts were there as a nervous wreck knowing my daughter was in a sea of people in New York City without me. She said it was awe inspiring.  There might be an activist in the making in our family.

My road trip buddy was fellow World Moms Blog Senior Editor Kyla P’an who also writes at Growing Muses.  We rolled into NYC just in time to catch the tail end of the Every Woman Every Child reception to launch the #MDG456Live digital conversation taking place during UNGA Week.  Women DeliverGirls GlobeFHI 360 and Johnson & Johnson, partnered for this event in support of Every Woman Every Child, and to launch the #MDG456 Live campaign.  The event also served to celebrate the progress and #commit2deliver for the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. Luckily we got there in time to hear Ugandan rappers Weasel and Radio perform.

In the morning I joined United Nations Foundation Social Good Fellows Nicole Melancon and Jennifer Burden for a session with Shot@Life Director Devi Thomas to learn about MAMA , or Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, and how mobile technology is being used to improve maternal and child health around the world.

Social Good Fellows and Shot@Life Champions at the summit

Social Good Fellows and Shot@Life Champions at the summit

That kicked off the morning and led into a series of  change makers who spoke at the summit. Including my hero Melinda Gates.

Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates

In the evening we joined ONE, Save The Children and the Gates Foundation for a round table discussion on pressing global issues such as  the “Trillion Dollar Scandal”, the continuing Syrian refugee crisis, and the Ebola crisis. There we heard from Actor Idris Elba, President of Save The Children Carolyn Miles, Jamie Drummond co-founder of ONE, and Dr. Chris Elias President of global Development for the Gates Foundation. This felt like and incredible opportunity to hear directly from these amazing leaders of progress and get a real finger on the pulse of these pressing issues.

w/ President of Save The Children Carolyn Miles, Kyla P'an Senior Editor at World Moms Blog and writer at GrowingMuses, and World Moms Blog Founder Jennifer Burden

w/ President and CEO of Save The Children Carolyn Miles, Kyla P’an Senior Editor at World Moms Blog and writer at GrowingMuses, and World Moms Blog Founder Jennifer Burden

As we do every year, we left the summit full of new information and inspiration, already excited to come back for the next one. Here are a few more brilliant moments from #UNGA week & the #2030NOW Social Good Summit:

Idris on the Ebola crisis:

This talk went viral, and she was amazing, and if you have not yet listened to Emma Watson address the gender issue, then you need to now.

Alicia Keyes amazing performance was another event that everyone was talking about.


Enter To Win The Frozen Soundtrack !

Enter To Win The Frozen Soundtrack !

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For transparency sake I have to report that I received a free copy of the Walt Disney Records Frozen Soundtrack for this review and giveaway.  My kids would never have spoken to me again if I did not participate. Not that my children had not listened to the songs from Frozen a million times before, and memorized every line, but now that we own the CD it has been playing non-stop….and I think I’ve memorized all the lines too whether I wanted to or not. Yes, I am now that mom who can not stop belting out “Let it go, Let it go” in the grocery line. I’m sorry.  The CD of the Frozen soundtrack  came with stickers and a poster with the words on the back so that we can follow along, and play the songs over and over again. Yes, while singing them at the top of our lungs.

I know we are not alone in this! The Frozen Soundtrack is the top-selling album of 2014 with 33 consecutive weeks in the top 5  on the Billboard 200 chart!  Our family loved this movie, the characters, and the music, so owning the CD allows us to continue to enjoy Frozen for a long time to come. The good news is that not just one, but TWO of my readers will be lucky enough to win the soundtrack! Enjoy!

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How I Grew A Human Published on Mamalode Today For The Nourish Theme Sponsored By ONE Girls & Women

How I Grew A Human Published on Mamalode Today For The Nourish Theme Sponsored By ONE Girls & Women
Photo by Bob Packert

Photo by Bob Packert

These days I’m walking around with a tightness in my chest. The feeling that something is missing that stays with me all the time. A very slight deep underlying melancholy, and I hope every mother gets a chance to feel this way at some point.  It sounds cruel, I know, to wish this on others, but my post on Mamalode today explains why I do.

On my trip to Ethiopia this past summer to report on newborn health with the International Reporting Project, and through the work I do with the local non-profit Edesia that nourishes children around the world, the theme of #Nourish struck a chord with me. Especially at this moment in time when my own baby was going off to school as a teenager for the first time. I realized that as mothers this is truly our ultimate goal, to see our children grow up to be healthy and happy and productive. At the same time this is the most difficult part of motherhood. The letting go.

I can not grow a garden, though lord knows I’ve tried, and each of my houseplants clings tenaciously to life each day, but somehow, someway it seems, I grew a human. And I am amazed.

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Source: Mamalode

I am honored and  thrilled to be published on Mamalode today as part of the #nourish theme sponsored by the ONE Women & Girls campaign. My travels to Ethiopia mentioned in the post were with The International Reporting Project #EthiopiaNewborns New Media Fellowship this past June.