In our fast-paced Western world, it is easy for us to forget the amount of privilege we have. While our health care system and our education system may be lacking in some areas, they are operating in a far more complete way than in many parts of the developing world. When problems exist so far from home, it can be difficult for us to imagine how we can get involved. Well, the widespread use of social media has changed how we solve problems in the developing world, and it changes who can get involved as well.
Recently Holly Pavlika, president of MOMentum and social media guru, was proud to have been chosen as a Shot@Life Champion, a group of individuals selected by the U.N. to help raise awareness about the need to vaccinate millions of children across Africa. Pavlika was chosen six months ago by the U.N. to represent this grassroots effort to help spread the word about the importance of vaccinations. She and 30 others spent the spring training for the trip, attending media events and brainstorming campaign ideas for Shot@Life. Part of their training was even living on $1.50 a day. (No Starbucks on that budget.) Pavlika then had the honor of traveling to Tanzania to meet parents and children affected by Shot@Life. I was lucky enough to catch up with her after her visit to hear about all she learned about supporting our world community.
One of the first impressions she shared with me was the fortitude of the women she met. While it is a quality she often sees in women across cultures, she was moved by the strength and happiness that emanated from the people of Tanzania. The joy she saw from the children was different from our western culture. They played more freely and laughed more wildly. It was astonishing given the grave circumstances of their lives, but as it was explained to her, this is part of the Tanzanian cultural fabric -- to be happy despite the circumstances. To think, if these children, affected so commonly with curable diseases can bring laughter into their day, we may need to take a lesson from them in living fully. Children were roaming free and playing. Mothers looked on with a watchful eye, but there was no interference with their games. Children were allowed to be children. Vaccines help children to do this. Vaccines can help perpetuate hope-filled lives.
Pavlika heard mothers dreaming for their families, something few had had the luxury of experiencing prior to the efforts of Shot@Life. Much of their parenting had centered around trying to keep their children healthy. Many had lost that battle. Now that has changed. With each child vaccinated, life gets a little better. Pavlika was inspired by the women now excited by the prospect of receiving mirco loans and building small business. They are eager to learn skills that can be passed on to their kids or may help pay for their children to have opportunities they never had.
As it is often said, if you don't have your health, you have nothing at all. And so it is true of families who don't have access to vaccines. Little can be dreamed of if one fights to survive curable diseases. We have a responsibility to the world's children to ensure that kids have the health care they need. It is simply the most humane thing to do. As Pavlika pointed out, we often donate our clothes or unwanted items to charity, but is this helping a family fulfill their dreams? It may be time to look deeper into how we can help those most impoverished realize the kind of quality of life we all deserve.