Last night I was a guest at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of HealthRight International (until last year the organization was known as Doctors of the World-USA), and I have switched my subjects for this week's posting based on what I gained from the evening.
Earlier in the day I had conducted a "current events" discussion for a group in Connecticut, so I arrived at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City with heavy thoughts of the sadness and helplessness we all share over BP's Gulf Oil spill.
My spirits lifted as the evening got underway. Though HealthRight International is doing herculean work worldwide, aiding with diseases as varied as malaria and HIV/AIDS, the speakers poignantly reminded us that "change comes one person at a time."
One of the speakers referred to Martin Luther King and posed to the audience what King described as "our most crucial life questions." (I paraphrase as I only later decided to write about the event.)
Referencing King, the speaker asked:
• What did we do to help someone today?
• What kind of world do we want to leave our children and our children's children?
That message -- coupled with the thought that "change comes one person at a time" -- gave me hope. I looked around the room filled with approximately 500 people who support the work of HealthRight and I listened to the accomplishments cited as the basis for the awards given to the two recipients.
The Partner Award was given to the Ha Noi Women's Union for their effort to provide access to health and social services for HIV-affected women, children, and families in Ha Noi. The award was accepted by chairwoman Nguyen Minh Ha.
The corporate leadership award was given to Levi Strauss & Co. Accepting the award was executive director Daniel Jae-Won Lee, who explained how a concerned group of employees in the San Francisco office began urging for corporate involvement and support as early as 1982 when HIV/AIDS was not fully identified; it was referred to as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). The corporate support continues to this day and is now on a global level.
Executive Director Mila Rosenthal writes that Healthright's mission is to fulfill the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." To that end, HealthRight International has a wide variety of health-oriented programs around the world including ones to fight tuberculosis and end child abuse; others are designed to provide access to health care for mothers and children to prevent deaths during pregnancy and birth.
The world will feel like a better place, and we'll feel less helpless, when the oil leak in the Gulf is finally plugged, but the evening reminded me that we face so many other problems where our efforts can help. Whatever your interest -- whether it's the environment, health care, poverty, or education -- there are simple steps each of us can take to make life better for someone in our own community.
Change--and help---comes one person at a time. Let Dr. King's message go with you:
• What have you done to help someone today?
• What kind of world do you want to leave for your children's children?
If we all pitch in, we can make a difference.
For stories about how Americans of the past have made the world a better place, visit my redesigned website: America Comes Alive.