Category Archives: Motherhood

The AYA Summit With ONE Girls & Women

The AYA Summit With ONE Girls & Women

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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.

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 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.

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 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.

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.

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations

#EthiopiaNewborns & Maternova Innovations
7 week old #EthiopianNewborns

7 week old #EthiopianNewborns Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

The first thing I pulled out of the bag was the strip of condoms. As a happily married mother of four I can’t remember the last time I handled a strip of condoms, and I confess that they made me giggle. I was checking out the contents of the Maternova backpack I was bringing to Ethiopia, and was quickly informed that they were not included for that reason.

Upon learning that I would be traveling to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with The International Reporting Project to report on newborn health I had immediately reached out to my friends at Maternova. Maternal and Newborn health is what they do, particularly in low-resource settings, and I knew they would have some great insights as to what topics I might see on the trip. Part of our reporting will be from rural villages in Ethiopia where most births take place in the home, without a trained healthcare attendant. Maternova is headquartered in the state of Rhode Island where I live, but provides the leading global on-line resource for Governments, non-profits, and health care providers to access affordable healthcare solutions to save the lives of mothers, and newborns.  I asked founder Meg Wirth to tell me about a few of the Maternova products that I was bringing on the trip, and how they are used to save lives.

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Lake Tana source of the Blue Nile, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay: The condoms in the bag actually come with instructions on how to save a woman’s life from postpartum hemorrhage with the Condom Balloon Tamponade method.  Can you talk a bit about the evolution of the CBT method?

Meg Wirth:  Well listen, if someone needs a condom you should probably give it to them—because averting a pregnancy, as you know, can save a life too.  But the condom also has another very intriguing use—a brand new condom can be used as a kind of do-it-yourself medical device to stop postpartum hemorrhage.  We sent you with instructions!  Rather than break it down step by step here, suffice it to say that the condom can be attached to a foley catheter and IV, filled with saline or water when inserted in a uterus post childbirth.. the pressure of the condom balloon can stop internal bleeding.

EA: I am also bringing the Maternova solar head lamp created for night birthing scenarios, can you remind me of the story you once told me about observing a night birth when you first introduced me to this product?

MW: Well that story wasn’t mine, but we hear stories every single week about birth occurring in the dark.  While a normal birth may be fine in the dark, a complication or a hemorrhage create a serious problem because no one can manage the complication properly.  A simple solar lamp allows task lighting to manage births but they also light the way for heroic midwives who are so often called out at night to remote places and could use light for their own safety.

EA: It is always been surprising to me that newborns in Sub-Saharan Africa can die from simply preventable causes like hypothermia. Two of the Maternova products I am bringing come in tiny packages, yet can be the difference between life and death of a newborn. Can you talk about the importance of the Sterile Foil Baby Bunting, and the Thermo Spot stickers?

ThermoSpot

MW:  The ThermoSpot is a temperature indicator that, when stuck onto a newborn (in a very specific place) can signal—just with color—whether the infant is too cold.  The face on the round sticker fades from green to black and indicates that the core temperature of the infant is far too low. Remember, the average villager in Ethiopia is not going to have a thermometer at the ready, and this amazing, re-usable, ultra low-cost device is a thermal indicator that can be ‘read’ just with color meaning the mom or father need not be numerate or literate. The mylar bunting is a very lightweight wrap to keep infants warm, particularly during transport or when separated from mothers.  Both of these items are in major trials in Pakistan and Kenya though they are already in use in many settings.

EA: I recently learned that in Ethiopia most rural healthcare clinics do not have pregnancy tests available.  Are women able to keep track of their cycles and pregnancies with the CycleBeads for family planning?

MW:  Yes the CycleBeads can be used by anyone with a regular cycle to predict ovulation times!!!  They are a very rapidly-spreading form of birth control.

Cycle Beads

EA: What are some of the issues of newborn health in Ethiopia that you and the Maternova team are interested in hearing about? What innovations should be keeping an eye out for?

MW:  We are interested in local ‘fixes’ or ideas that nurses and midwives have come up with.  Part of our mission is to spread innovation more rapidly and if we can learn from them and spread the messages quickly we’d be thrilled.  See if they have working blood pressure cuffs in the clinics.  See if they have magnesium sulfate.  What about misoprostol?  How do they stop postpartum hemorrhage?

EA: I will definitely be looking to see what innovative solutions the midwives have developed in their communities and share what I see.  Just a few days into the trip we have already been gaining real insight into the Maternal and Newborn landscape here in Ethiopia.  Despite the lack of resources, there seems to be a real commitment to preventative measures and education so I’m excited to bring the Maternova products to midwives we are meeting with later this week!

MW:  Thank you for your work Elizabeth!!

I am in Ethiopia for two weeks with The  International Reporting project on a New Media Fellowship to report on Newborn Health.

You can follow along at The International Reporting Project #EthiopiaNewborns

It Is Safer To Give Birth In Estonia Or Slovenia Than The United States #SOWM

It Is Safer To Give Birth In Estonia Or Slovenia Than The United States #SOWM

According to the 2014 Mother’s Index Rankings published in the Save The Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report last week,  you are statistically safer giving birth in Slovenia, (ranked the 17th safest country in which to give birth), or Estonia (ranked the 23rd), than you are in the United States of America (which is way down the list at number 31).  In fact last week at the launch of the State of the World’s Mothers Report at the United Nations in New york City I was shocked to learn that the United States is one of the few countries where the risk to mothers in childbirth has gone up rather than down.

Global Team of 200 Member Harriet Shugarman Exec. Dir. of ClimateMama, and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children pictured here with the author at the State of the World's Mothers Report launch in NYC .

Global Team of 200 Member Harriet Shugarman, Exec. Dir. of ClimateMama, and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children pictured here with the author at the State of the World’s Mothers Report launch in NYC .

The Mothers’ Index is part of the overall annual State of the World’s Mothers Report that Save The Children has produced for the past 15 years. The  five indicators used in the index are the lifetime risk of maternal death, the under 5 year child mortality rate, the expected years of formal schooling, the gross national income per capita, and the participation of women in national government.

Credit:  Save The Children

Credit: Save The Children

To see how other countries rank you can view the entire Mothers’ Index HERE.

So why does the United States perform so poorly on the Mothers’ Index? According to the State of the World’s Mothers report :

Although the U.S. performs quite well on economic and educational status it lags behind all other top ranked countries on maternal health and children’s well-being, and performs quite poorly on political status ( the #of women in government).- Save The Children p. 74 State of the World’s Women Report

 

The lag in the United States is alarming, but this year the report specifically addresses the preventable maternal and child deaths in crisis-affected places.  The 2014 report focuses primarily on saving mothers and children, who tend to be the most vulnerable, in humanitarian crisis.  The launch event last week was co-hosted by the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations. Save The Children responded immediately with aid to the crisis in the Philippines caused by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, as it has done in crisis areas around the world for over 90 years.   Save The Children provides health care, food, and protection to those most vulnerable in humanitarian crisis, most often the women and children. It is not surprising that all of bottom 10 countries on the Mothers’ Index are areas that have recently been in, or are currently in conflict situations, or experienced natural disaster.  Statistics in the report show that more than half of maternal and child deaths take place in these types of fragile settings.

Cover photo of the Save The Children's State of the World's Mothers Report Photo by Phil Moore

Cover photo of the Save The Children’s State of the World’s Mothers Report Photo by Phil Moore

Looking at trends so far in this century, we see how armed conflict, political instability and natural disasters have played a major role in undermining the well-being of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. We also see that progress is possible, even in countries suffering from devastating humanitarian crisis.- SOWM

One of the countries I was surprised to hear had made such progress was war-torn Afghanistan, which has moved up the Mothers’ Index list by 32 places. At the UN event Yasmin Haque, Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes for UNICEF noted that the key components for improvement in Afghanistan were the training of mid-wives, putting medical interventions in place for safe birth, educating girls, and immunization campaigns against vaccine preventable diseases.  Proving, as she said, that “the investment of minds and funding works”. She also noted that the recommendations coming from the State of the World’s Mothers Report are pressing.

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children

HRH Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan and Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save The Children

Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan is a global champion for maternal and child health and she backed this up with the urgency of the Syrian crisis. She described things becoming so dire in the refugee camps bursting at the seams, that food rations from the World Food Program have recently been reduced by 20% per family to accommodate the influx.  Some of the Syrian mothers in these camps who were not breastfeeding their infants but using formula to feed their babies, have turned to sugar-water as a substitute as formula has become more and more scarce, and costly.

So what are the recommendations that this report says need to happen? You can read the detailed recommendations in the full SOWM report, but to give you an idea here are a few bullet points of the overall suggestions:

1. Ensure that even mothers and newborns in crisis areas have access to high quality health care. This includes ensuring at least the basic high-impact public health interventions of clean water, sanitation and vaccines. Increased number of female health care workers, and safe birth during the highest risk times of birth and the first week of life as recommended by the Every Newborn Action Plan.

2. Invest in women and girls and ensure their protection.  One component is that by educating girls and putting an end to child marriage entire communities are positively impacted. Educated girls grow up to better contribute to the economy, tend to have fewer children, and her children have better survival rates than children of uneducated mothers.

3. Build longer term resilience to minimize the damaging effects of crisis on health. Early warning systems need to be put in place. There is a need for community based disaster preparedness, response and contingency planning.  These plans should prioritize infants and children who often suffer the most in the face of disaster.

4. Design emergency interventions with a longer term view and the specific needs of mothers and newborns in mind. Prioritize maternal and newborn survival in crisis settings by ensuring access to safe birthing, medical care, and setting up specific safe spaces for them. Continue vaccines programs even during crisis.

5.Ensure adequate financing, coordination, and research to guarantee the above can be accomplished. This includes donor countries  committing to increased  long-term and reliable aid to fragile areas. Reconciling short-term disaster aid with long-term development financing, addressing gender issues, and proper data reporting.

We have the solutions to many of the issues impacting women and children around the world, stories of progress like Ethiopia and Afghanistan prove that it can be done.  The State of the World’s Mothers Report aims to highlight unmet needs, effective solutions, and recommended policy changes to that end.

global teamI was invited by Save The Children to the State of The World’s Mothers Report at the UN last week in NYC as a member of The Global Team of 200, a highly specialized group of members of Mom Bloggers for Social Good that concentrates on issues involving women and girls, children, world hunger and maternal health. Our Motto: Individually we are all powerful. Together we can change the world. We believe in the power of collective action to help others and believe in ourselves to make this world a better place for our children and the world’s children.