Nearly two weeks ago, I returned to New York for the Social Good Summit, courtesy of the United Nations Foundation and Shot@Life. But it was a trip that actually began two months ago with the Blogust Blog Relay for Good, where 30 other bloggers and I each took a turn at spreading the word about the simple wonders that four vaccines can work in developing countries.
We can choose to feel helpless in the face of monumental problems in developing countries, or we can do something seemingly small, yet ultimately significant.
The Social Good Summit itself was reason enough to make the trip, but UNF and Shot@Life upped the ante significantly with the meetings they arranged to give us personal access to several leaders in the global health community. While these same people spoke on stage at the 92nd Street YMCA as part of the summit, they also took our individual questions in intimate settings.
In fact, the only time I was denied access was when I asked if Isabel, Liz, and I could have dinner with Mashable founder and Social Good Summit VIP Pete Cashmore. We had to settle for a photo op in the 92Y entry. You win some, you lose some.
I’ve been struggling to digest the vast amounts of information presented at the summit and in our group meetings. Reading back through my notes, I feel pulled in a dozen directions at once.
Foreign aid is 1% of our federal budget — most people think it’s far more (perhaps they start with a distorted sense of our federal budget. However, aid is not necessarily what’s wanted or needed. Project Diaspora co-founder, social media strategist for the World Bank, and Ugandan native TMS “Teddy” Ruge told us that “foreign aid takes away African agency” and that what African people want is trade, not aid.
Only one communicable disease has been eradicated: Smallpox in 1979. Polio eradication is close — only 88 cases have been reported globally in 2012. Deaths from measles dropped 74% between 2000 and 2010. And yet, nearly 400 children still die each day from measles. Ivy and Bean illustrator Sophie Blackall told us that some African mothers don’t name their children for a year or more after birth — out of fear of losing them to measles.
Swedish Global Health professor Hans Rosling simply and elegantly illustrated the statistics of child mortality over time, with the help of his brilliant site Gapminder and its interactive graphs. The worst child mortality rate among all nations in 2011 is equal to the average global child mortality rate in 1970. As Rosling shouted on stage: “Is the world good? NO! But it is getting better.”
Championing women and girls was a recurrent theme. I learned about the upcoming International Day of the Girl (October 11), which will be supported by organizations such as 10×10, Girl Up, and ONE Moms. Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, and Benin native Angelique Kidjo told of how she bluntly addressed the issue of FGM while visiting Somalia. NY Times columnist, co-author of Half the Sky, and Pulitzer Prize winner Nick Kristof stated: “If you want to change the world, women and girls are the leverage to do that.”
I made it through the entire mind-bending, heart-wrenching weekend without tearing up. Nope, not even during Beyonce’s powerful video for World Humanitarian Day.
Then last Friday I received a package from ONE Moms leader Jeannine Harvey, which included a scarf made in Africa with a note attached:
I burst into tears.
It was a most inopportune moment. I had to deliver one child to soccer practice, another child was being picked up for swim practice, and I was choking back wads of snot and explaining to my girls why Mommy was losing her shit over a scarf.
Everything I’d taken in during the summit burst forth at once as I read the words written by a mother half a world away who holds the same hopes for her child as I do for mine — and who works hard every day to help realize those dreams, just as I do.
But instead of feeling helpless and overwhelmed, now I’m full of ideas for small steps that are ultimately significant.