Our group assembles in a conference room for our morning briefing. It is early (very early) and we are all a bit bleary eyed from long distances traveled and time zone changes. We are midway through our travels as delegates of the Clinton Foundation. We have become our own tribe. Business people, students, designers, entrepreneurs, sharing a once in a life time opportunity to see "feet on the ground" work of the Foundation in Africa. The one common thread that we share is our passion for philanthropy. That thread is made of steel. This morning in Nairobi we will board our buses to visit three initiatives: Wings to Fly, Starkey Hearing Mission, Clinton Climate Change, and a day end detour to the U.S. Embassy Memorial. As tired as we may all be, we are put to shame by the inexhaustable energy of President Clinton.
WINGS TO FLY. 5,000 young student scholars are assembled in Niarobi's sports stadium. Every seat is taken These young people represent the future of Kenya They would not be here today if not for a partnership between Equity Bank, Mastercard and the Clinton Global Initiative. A partnership that has promised education sponsorship to high achieving yet needy (orphan or vulnerable) students for the duration of their secondary school. We were privileged to hear five powerful testimonials One girl, in a strong clear voice, recounts her dreams of education. Her hard work and drive to succeed in primary school. Her undiluted joy at achieving the highest levels graduating from primary school. To the tragedy of two hours after proudly showing her father her grades, he committed suicide - unable to cope with the despair of not being able to afford to send his brilliant daughter forward in life. She was saved by WINGS TO FLY. Visibly moved, President Clinton spoke from his heart, as had each one of the scholars. He spoke of leadership and following a dream. He encouraged them to remember that "defeat or failure was no excuse to quit", and that "common humanity is far more powerful than our differences". Words that we should all live by.
THE STARKEY HEARING MISSION - So The World May Hear. The rain has made the tented compound muddy - but not dampened anyone's spirits. The Starkey team is set up in a grass area next to a school. The tents all in order of check in, medical examination, fitting, and lastly counselling. All ages of men, women and children are arriving - from rural villages, and impoverished townships. President Clinton helped with fitting the hearing aids, and spoke encouragingly to all the people who made this possible. Imagine the confusion, joy, elation of hearing for the first time in your life. My daughter, Tara, and I had the honour to witness a fifteen year old boy who heard his sister call his name for the first time in his life. His sister was brought to her knees in emotion and thanks. This is real life change. Thanks goes to Mr. and Mrs. Austin who have committed with the Clinton Global Initiative to provide a million hearing aids to people in need in the next decade.
CLINTON CLIMATE CHANGE brought us to the labs of the National Agricultural Research Laboratories. We followed President Clinton and Chelsea through the labs and listened to the scientists findings on the effect of climate change to the agricultural growth patterns of Kenya. Only 10% of Kenyan land is arable for farming. This makes the conditions for farming vital for sustaining life. Among topics discussed, shortages of water, arable land for food production and deforestation. The previous day our convoy had traveled two hours on rural roads to a farming initiative in Tanzania. The success of educating the farmers on aerating soil to hold water, on rotating their crops and providing fertilizer was evident in the fields that participated with the Foundation. We had traveled on roads that were lined with fields that were dry and barren. The fields that we now stood in the middle of were dense, green and held an abundance of maize. They were prospering. Farmers were encouraged to teach their neighbours and cooperate with each other. Farmers now not only fed their families but many were able to sell extra maize and send their children to school. They were able to store the maize and bring it to market in the off season and have income for many more months of the year. The Climate Change Initiative funds the scientists to find the information that is shared for the good of all of Africa.
President Clinton had our delegation make a detour to visit the memorial at the site of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing. The memorial is engraved with more than 220 names of the men, women and children that lost their lives from the terrorist attack. The bombers didn't make it far into the embassy compound, detonated at the street killing innocent Africans with the American targets. Most of the names on the memorial are African and many list several family members. The memorial park has a zen like atmosphere with grass areas, tables and seating. It is filled with people enjoying the solace - no idea of the great man in their midst. As the President walked with me and Tara he was visibly sad and thoughtful. He turned to us and explained what had happened that day. He then looked at us and said, " If I had got them (Bin Laden) back then, maybe the world would be a safer place today...". This was an "Aha" moment. The bombings of the embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam happened under his watch as President. He has never forgotten the innocent lives that were lost on that day. He has committed his life to the world - but starting with saving Africa. We, as a family are honoured and committed to the Foundation and its causes. No amount of media innuendo or manipulation of the truth will ever sway us.
Every initiative that we visited confirmed the absolute effectiveness of the work of The Clinton Foundation and its hundreds of volunteers, led by one of the most brave, humble men on this earth, with a deep love for the people of Africa. Chelsea has inherited her father's heart and commitment. She resonates the Clinton family mantra of "defeat is no excuse to quit."
So, I ask you. Politically motivated? Reward for future campaign funds? Reward for affiliation? The media needs to see beyond political, racial, economic differences and side with this courageous man. This Canadian would say shame on the media for insinuating political motivation - shame on the media for clouding the work of the Foundation and its dedicated team of employees and volunteers and those of us who want to give to people less fortunate than ourselves. Most of us do so quietly and privately - not be read about in biased editorials. The works of The Clinton Foundation must go on for the sake of the thousands of lives that are being changed.
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