When people talk about the plight of the world's children, they talk about numbers.
For instance, that 153 million children have lost one or both parents. Or that in 2011, 19,000 children under the age of five died every day. And that over one billion children live in countries affected by armed conflict.
These statistics are important. They highlight the incredible odds that children around the world face. But children are more than facts and numbers. They are our most vulnerable members of society, and caring for them must be a priority for every government.
Around the world, governments, NGOs and community-based organizations struggle to provide for orphaned and vulnerable children. Food, shelter and medical care are fundamental to survival. But what do children need to thrive?
I have always felt that nothing nurtures as well as a mother's love. Moms have the power to give life, and their incredible love can heal both emotional and psychological wounds.
I've seen this firsthand in the short time I've been at SOS Children's Villages, an organization that creates long-term, loving families worldwide for orphaned and abandoned children. Like all mothers, SOS moms dedicate their lives to caring for their children. But as parents who step in when children have been deserted or neglected, they face some unique challenges.
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Esther, a mom who has been with SOS for over 27 years and raised 17 children. She told me the story of one of her sons, Ariel, whom she met when he was abandoned in a hospital in Argentina. Only four years old and fighting for his life, Ariel was confined to bed because his bones had become dangerously brittle from malnourishment. He was famished and severely neglected. The doctors saw little hope for him and were sure he wouldn't last the night.
Esther said, "When I looked into his eyes, they were full of life. I could see that he wanted to live."
At that moment, Esther resolved to do more than just keep Ariel alive. "I promised myself that one day Ariel would walk again," she recalled.
Esther brought Ariel to the SOS Village in Oberá, Argentina where he would live with her and his new SOS siblings. There, she started to nourish him back to health. All too soon, Esther discovered a new problem: Ariel could not keep any food down. At her insistence, doctors ran a variety of tests and eventually discovered that Ariel was suffering from celiac disease. The complications didn't stop there, but Esther never gave up. Little by little, Ariel got stronger and healthier.
Esther carried Ariel to preschool for two entire years because he was too weak to walk. "Then, one night, after dinner, all my kids got up from the table to bring the plates to the sink. And suddenly, Ariel stood up and joined them," she said.
Ariel excelled in both school and sports as he got older. By age 12, he began playing soccer and running with his friends. At 18, he and his teammates won first place at a national soccer tournament in Buenos Aires. Now, at 22, Ariel is enrolled in his third year of university, studying economics.
All of this happened because of the power of Esther, who believed in Ariel and would not give up.
I've been privileged to speak to many men and women who grew up in a loving SOS family. Their childhood reflections have one thing in common: how critical the love of their SOS moms has been. Their moms have given them the strength and the confidence to heal past wounds and to succeed in building their own lives.
With support from Johnson & Johnson, SOS Children's Villages is working to give the world's most vulnerable children what they need not only to survive, but also to thrive.
To pledge your support for these children, visit the #itTakes site. While moms are integral to helping orphaned and abandoned children heal, it also takes all of us working together.
I often wonder what would have happened had Esther not stepped into Ariel's life. No matter what, I know one thing for sure: he wouldn't be where he is today without the love and care from someone like her. Isn't that what we want for all children who find themselves in need?