12/04/2014 04:19 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2015

Trauma and Resiliency

Tonight I stand before you with several goals. I want you to leave this beautiful place, Cipriani, on Monday night, November 17, 2014, armed with a lot of facts about the state of the world of children and what you can do to make a difference. I also want you to know me, and why I continue to have passion and personal resolve to advocate and protect at-risk children whether in the US or abroad. Finally, I want you to know that WWO does a great job. There are no borders when it comes to the care and safety of children on the Earth.

We salute all parents in the audience tonight who created families thru adoption, me included. November is National Adoption Month. I thank all of you who were inspired to support the kids "left behind" after you adopted your children.

Zayna Mahbub, who is here tonight, with her parents, is 11 years old and was adopted from Pakistan as a very young infant. She is one of the many reasons why I was inspired to work with orphans. She is an artist and has a brilliant painting in our silent auction. Go see it. She is gifted and resilient. She was adopted from abroad and eager to celebrate her own adoption. She is committed to supporting orphans in their own countries.

There are 550 guests tonight, both new and old guests. It is key that you leave this event knowing why you came tonight and to understand why you need to support WWO going forward.

I am a pediatrician and former teacher and had a destiny to be a doctor through my family history, but more importantly, I became an adoption medicine specialist, assisting parents preparing to adopt orphans from Russia, China, Korea, Guatemala, Taiwan, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Romania, Kazakhstan, among many other countries. I followed these children long term and grew to understand their many medical, developmental and psychological challenges; it was that bird's eye view as an adoption pediatrician that led me to conceive of WWO in 1997, to provide services to children in their own communities; it was obvious that adoption would be an option for a very small few, but not the solution for the millions of unprotected children here and around the world.

I would never have evaluated orphans in institutions in their countries and discovered that there are millions of orphans around the world unless I had been the "orphan doctor". Many of you in this audience know WWO from its early years when I was practicing pediatrics and traveling abroad and learning about the outrageously unjust, tragic and unimaginable conditions of children living in orphanages.

WWO started sending Orphan Rangers/volunteers in 1998 to Russia to work to collect essential statistics on growth failure, developmental delays, attachment disorder/depression and post-traumatic stress disorder in orphans and vulnerable/disabled children. We were -- and we are -- about metrics so that we can design programs based on data and prove their efficacy. That will never change.

I am a scientist and I am curious. Our program officers ask questions so that WWO can know the needs of the children in their communities. We now have a research department at WWO, headed by Dr. Anthony Salandy. He creates logic models and teaches research to our teams abroad. We have data for all our programs to test them and grow them and to report and publish our data. We attend and participate in academic conferences to present the data and we are about excellence and science, not just about doing good.

On November 20, 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), was born; we celebrate its 25th year anniversary this week.

"Millions of children have their fundamental rights violated every day" in spite of the agreement of 200 nations that this convention/international law is necessary and likely the most comprehensive human rights document that exists to date..."
This is an important statement from Dr.Susan Bissell, Chief of Child Protection, in her recent report on this important anniversary when she first started at UNICEF.
The Convention calls for:

• Freedom from violence, abuse, hazardous employment, exploitation, abduction or sale
• Adequate nutrition
• Free compulsory primary education
• Adequate health care
• Equal treatment regardless of gender, race, or cultural background
• The right to express opinions and freedom of thought in matters affecting them

Safe exposure/access to leisure, play, culture, and art -this is the work of WWO along with the work through which we help children heal from the trauma of loss and abandonment. It is one of my goals in life that all children can reflect on their own thoughts and imagination. We want them to know their creativity intimately and love, enjoy and revel in it. That is the beauty of being a unique human being.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD is a book that I recently read. It instructs us about the effects of psychological trauma and it teaches us how to heal.

Trauma happens to us -- our friends, our families and our neighbors. Those dark secrets about trauma are here in this room tonight.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research reveals:

• 1 in 5 Americans was sexually molested as a child
• 1 in 4 was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body
• 1 in 3 couples engage in physical violence
• 1 in 4 of us grew up with alcoholic relatives
• 1 out of 8 witnessed their mother being beaten or hit
• 3 million children in the US currently have a history of abuse and neglect
• 12 million women currently have been raped in the US

I have wondered all these years why I loved orphans so deeply and why I was drawn to them as if I were one. I finally realized that I was one of them. I was sexually molested, when I was a 5 year old, by my brother's gym teacher, while he played basketball in the gym. I spent years trying to piece this part of my early life together and I went to therapy to try and figure out how it played a role in my life, but not a single therapist thought it was important enough to explore. My life is a story of resiliency. The brains of young children who are sexually abused are altered by this trauma. Responses to stress can cause activation of this early trauma and make it hard for these children to self-regulate and comfort themselves. They are in a state of fight or flight unnecessarily. This is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

It was not until the early 80s that PTSD became a diagnosis for psychiatrists. Hundreds of thousands of veterans suffered from PTSD from the atrocities of war. They had no one to go to and they lived fragmented and tortured lives. I am grateful to be able to openly discuss my personal experience and there is now a lot of support for survivors, from organizations like Joyful Heart started by Mariska Hargitay and her husband, Peter Hermann, who encouraged me to be open and who sits here tonight in support of WWO and its work. Thanks Peter.

In an article Titled "America's Youngest Outcasts" the report being issued Monday, November 17, 2014, by the National Center on Family Homelessness, "The number of homeless children in the U.S. has surged in recent years to an all-time high, amounting to one child in every 30, according to a comprehensive state-by-state report that blames the nation's high poverty rate, the lack of affordable housing and the impacts of pervasive domestic violence. The National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point in 2013. The number is based on the Department of Education's latest count of "1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless pre-school children not counted by the DOE..."

At a recent conference held by the Atlantic Health System in New Jersey, I heard Dr. Leslie Lieberman discuss ACE...Adverse Childhood Experiences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego.
More than 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) members undergoing a comprehensive physical examination chose to provide detailed information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. To date, more than 50 scientific articles have been published and more than 100 conference and workshop presentations have been made.

The ACE Study findings suggest that certain experiences are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States. It is critical to understand how some of the worst health and social problems in our nation can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences. Realizing these connections is likely to improve efforts towards prevention and recovery.
Tonight I want you and I to face this trauma and violence toward children so that you know more about why Worldwide Orphans thrives and grows...we are part of a global offensive against violence toward children.

3 new branches of science have led to the understanding of the effects of psychological trauma, abuse, and neglect:
• neuro-science,
• interpersonal neuro-biology,
• developmental psychopathology

WWO's perspective and unique approach to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children around the world is holistic, organic and scientific. We use camp, recreation, toy libraries, sport and the arts to help kids become independent and successful in their own communities.

Our programs are about healing and reconstituting the inherent resilience of the child. "Resilience is the capacity of an individual to prepare for disruptions, to recover from shocks and stresses and to adapt and grow from the disruptive experience. As an individual builds resilience, you become more able to prevent or mitigate stresses and shocks. You can identify and be better able to respond to those you can't predict or avoid. You can bounce back from a crisis, learn from it, and be revitalized." This amazing quote is from Dr. Judith Rodin's new book, The Resilience Dividend.

We are a community in this room every year and I want to grow this community.
I like to think that rather than humanitarian, we are communitarian. We are active members of our American communities, but more importantly we see the significance of not having borders. We are part of a global community.

The escaping children from Central America in 2014 were victims of violence. The sign held up by frightened misinformed US citizens at our border, "Not our children, not our problem" is not an American core value. There must be equitable and humane solutions for all children running from the threat of violence. This is our responsibility. Syrian children in refugee camps dying, nearly 10,000 of them last year, are our responsibility. Kidnapped Nigerian girls are ours to cherish. Please don't hide from it all... it's not too big. Don't run for cover, just pick a piece and do what you can...a little bit counts.

I always see the gala as a moment of recommitment for Worldwide Orphans and its supporters. I hope we can all pledge tonight to advocate fiercely against violence and trauma against children. Cherishing and protecting all the world's children is the way to ensure the future of our world. Thank you.