Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Fort Portal Mothers Group:A Study in Personal Similarities Under Different Cultural Circunstances

The Fort Portal Mothers Group:
A Study in Personal Similarities Under Different Cultural Circumstances

Photo credit: Stephanie Geddes
I loved our visit to Fort Portal, Uganda on Sunday, October the 28th, 2012.  Every moment of that day was filled with excitement and wonder!  As I went around on that beautiful morning I observed mothers’ faces and saw their love, tenderness and determination to make sure their children were protected against childhood diseases.   Every time I complemented a child’s beauty the mother’s face glowed with pride.  It was not difficult to tell which child belonged to which mother.
One of my favorite memories was the opportunity I had to meet and sit with 8 mothers from the local church’s women’s group.  Their names were Grace Night, Rose Mary Kobusinge, Rose Mary Kezabu, Elizabeth Kemiyondo, Gertrude Kyomuhendo,  Moregn  Kabasambu, Debra Kobugabe and Prossy Kobusinge.  Every Tuesday and Thursday these women, and many others, gather together at the church for serious conversation and each other’s company.  Some of them walk 5 to 10 kilometers (or more) to get there.  They come from different backgrounds, levels of education and socioeconomic status.  Some of them have 4 children, others have 5 or 6 - and still others have 10 children.  Many of them grew up together there in Fort Portal while some of them moved there not long ago.  Their ages vary from 16 to 68 years old - but the thing that unites them is their faith, their love for their children and families… and their country.  Yes, even the poorest citizens in this world, no matter where, have a love, hope and pride that burns in their patriotism for their native countries and cultures. 

I couldn’t help but to look at the group I was traveling with; we were so similar to these mothers who lived so far removed from our own day-to-day existences.  Our group was also diverse: one was born in Australia, another in India, and I was born in Mexico; we had 1 (one) single lady while 8 (eight) of us were married and had children; one of us had grandchildren, others were bloggers while still others in the group dedicated their personal or professional time as advocates.  Regardless of our own different professions and socioeconomic status we all have these things in common: we love our families and children; we all advocate and champion the Shot@Life Campaign - and we all want to make sure the no more children die from easily preventable diseases because of the lack of vaccines.

Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
Back to the local mother’s group meeting... we all sat together on two benches with one group facing the other.  This was our opportunity to learn from each other, introduce ourselves,  ask questions and to share some of our experiences as mothers.   To break the ice, we (the Shot@life Champions) started by telling them our names, where we were from and what our youngest children love to do.
After that we had a round of questions from the Shot@Life Champions and answers from local Ugandan mothers as follows:
1.     How long had the women’s group of mothers been together?   The women’s group has been meeting together since when the church was established in 1924.  In each generation they have had leaders appointed from among them to keep the group going.

2.      What are the things that you do in this group?  We make crafts that we sell; do gardening and farming; discuss financial situations and health issues like HIV and malaria; and before the Family Health Day we went from house to house and spoke to families about the benefits of vaccines and free services that would be provided for them by UNICEF with the help of the United Nations Shot@Life campaign.

3.     What are the things that you like to do with your family?  We like to work together around the house and fields, and make bread for sale.
4.     What do you tell your children over and over?  We tell them: Stay in school!  (The answer was the same from all of the mothers.)

5.     What professions would you like your children to do when they grow up?   Doctors, nurses, teachers and engineers.  (Sound familiar?)

6.     What is your one wish for all mothers of the world?  Peace and long life.  In addition we want the children to be educated because it is the only way to be autosuficient.

7.     What makes you happy?  (As an example, Cynthia Levin from the Shot@Life Champions said that what makes her happy is “when her girls laugh silly.”)  The local mothers’ answers included “when my children are in school;” “when my children are healthy;”  “when my children are not hungry;” “when my children come back from school happy because they learned something new;” and “when my children work together.”
Some of the mothers were not shy about sharing their challenges and hopes.  Prossy (a single mother of 8 children, grandmother of one, a teacher and a former reporter for Uganda) told us the biggest problem they have is with computers, because one computer can take away the jobs of 20 people.  Prossy also said that they need more tetanus vaccinations for children until the age of 14 years – and HIV testing for older men.  HIV testing, health concerns and education were permanent worries for all of these mothers.   
Photo credit: Stephanie Geddes
We were so alike in so many ways!  Just look at our similarities!  …and all of us with the same worries that mothers around the world have for their children.  As a mother, now, that was born in Mexico - I still remember very well the same hopes and dreams of many mothers when I was growing up, during my missionary service, and later in my nursing career.  To be honest I still see the same hopes and dreams expressed by the minority parents - and other parents, in general - that I serve now in Oklahoma.  In the end we all want the same things for our children.  We want them to grow up healthy; have great educations; to be productive and to have a better future; and most importantly, we want them to be responsible members of the human race.  We want these things so badly that it is common to see parents working 2 or 3 jobs, willing to sacrifice everything just to make sure their children succeed and have a better future.
Indeed, we are not so different from one another, just in our circumstances and the luck of how or where we were born.  To be honest our worries here in the United States are very small when compared to these stoic women in Uganda who, nevertheless, consider themselves blessed.  We don’t have to worry about losing our children to easily preventable diseases because of the lack of vaccines, to HIV or to malaria.  We are lucky enough to live in a country where every child can be vaccinated, where we can provide food for them more easily - and where we have public shcools that also can provide 2 free meals a day for families with low incomes.  Our students can, and are expected, to go to school from kindergarten through 12th grade without worrying if the parents can afford it.  We also have many fine charitable organizations that provide assistance and food throughout the year and during the holidays.  I am not saying that we do NOT have poverty here in the United States; but our poverty is nothing compared to the average daily norm for the people in Uganda and so many other parts of the world.  We live in a country that is so rich in blessings where sometimes we take it for granted and forget where they come from.  Yes, we are all one and the same people, but the needs in Fort Portal and throughout Uganda are different.  Don’t forget that Uganda is but a small part, or microcosm, of what is found all over the African continent.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
I was touched so many times during the day.  I felt honored, humbled and so lucky to be among these great people.  Their teachings put so much into a perspective that I could relate to and understand so well.  Their love for God, their families and their fellow man was remarkable.  Their unity, respect and loyalty to each other reminded me of my own culture - and of what I have heard referred to so often in the United States as the “good old days”.  Ah… in times like these I wish I was a writer or a poet in order to express better all of the beauty I saw in this day.  Even though I can recognize easily that I lack these talents of expression, one thing for sure is that the United Nations Foundations Shot@Life campaign is saving lives.  UNICEF is working miracles also with the resources that are being provided to them, and we (the champions that were there that day) were blessed to be among great leaders and the pure souls of the mothers of Fort Portal, Uganda.

Monday, November 5, 2012

No Parents Left Behind: CountingBlessings and Saving Lives in Fort Porta...

No Parents Left Behind:

CountingBlessings and Saving Lives in Fort Porta...
: Counting Blessings and Saving Lives in Fort Portal, Uganda                         Sunday, October 28, 2012 Today we visited and attend...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Counting Blessings and Saving Lives in Fort Portal, Uganda                        Sunday, October 28, 2012
Today we visited and attended church services in Fort Portal.  As soon we arrived, a tall man walked in to welcome us with a warm smile and hugs.  He introduced himself as the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda of the Archdeacon-Rubona Church.  He had been in charge of the church for only five months but was in the Mukole Archdeaconury before.  We also met Rev. Joshua Kidegeko, the Diocesan Health and Community Coordinator of Keeping Children and Mothers Alive.  Katusabe M. John Baptist, our host, and our UNICEF focal person, Kabarole, of the district local government told us to follow them inside the church where many of the families were already sitting on wooden benches.The beautiful music was loud and inviting.  
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services were in the native language and no matter that I did not understand what the speakers were saying, reading or telling us, I understood the language of love.  I could see how much the venerable reverend cares for his congregation.  While his words were encouraging and his smile sincere, I felt at home – and suddenly it was not a matter of distances, language barriers or different religions.  We were there together worshiping God.  I don’t know if I can explain this well, but I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and reverence.  I know that Cynthia Levin, my fellow champion, felt it too.  Without any words we looked at each other and with tears in our eyes we embraced in silence.  The reverence of the people, especially the little children, was incredible.  The church was at full capacity but you didn’t hear many noises from the children.  They were attentive and sometimes looked at us with a smile and curiosity.  It was a lovably scene that could make your heart melt!  My soul was so full of love and gratitude for what these wonderful people were teaching us, that I could only cry with joy and happiness! 
At the church services the Ven. Rev. Peterson Rwakuza Kuganda invited his congregations to attend the Family Health Day; and Katusabe M. John Baptist, from UNICEF, gave a clear description of all the services that they would receive. 
Outside the day was beautiful and warm, and the mountains and hills looked so alive.  The greenery and shrubbery were vibrant, making a beautiful contrast with the colorful outfits of the mothers, fathers and children.  In front and to the side of the church a doctor, couple nurses and health workers were busy setting up the stations for services that would be provided throughout the day.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
The services would include: Pre-natal exams for pregnant women, testing for HIV/AIDS, blood pressure and diabetes for adults.  The children would receive birth registration, vitamin A to boost immunity and prevent blindness; de-worming tablets to treat parasitic infections and iron deficiency anemia; routine measles and polio vaccines, growth measurements and monitoring to track nutritional status.  I was not surprise to see how well they work with the leaders of the community and the   resources available to them.  I could remember using the same approach in México - if the mountain will not come to you, then you go to the mountain and form partnerships with the churches and town leaders.  UNICEF-sponsored “Family Health Days” four times a year is a clever way to reach the most underserved areas to deliver a free comprehensive health package targeting every child in a community; all in “one-stop” convenience.  “Convenience”, of course, is a very subjective word used relative to the local area where we were today.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 I was truly in my element!  Memories of my Nursing experiences in Mexico flashed back as I looked around me.  Here I was, now, on a different continent and the same images played out all around of people as they lined up patiently and went from line to line receiving the services provided.  Meanwhile, the children played and the town leaders came out to welcome us warmly.  I immediately noticed a big difference from my experiences in Mexico long ago, where as soon the children saw us walking into their villages they ran and hide from us, because they knew we were there to give them shots and vaccinations.
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
 Here, the children were smiling, staying close to their parents and ready to get a check-up.  I was amazed at how this team pulled together and what they accomplished that day.  It was not so difficult to see that the demand was bigger that the human resources available there.  Before the day’s activities started I went from station to station and spoke with the medical teams to learn more about them and to see their perspectives and challenges.  I was surprised to see the pregnant mother’s examination room with no blanket to cover the table, no pillows, and no blankets to cover the patients, nothing to help them raise their legs, no electric lamps and only the sunlight coming from the tiny window for illumination.  I watched the attendants using a funnel to listen to the babies’ heartbeats - I was shocked that these funnels were still in use!   I had not practiced rural nursing for many years, but that was how I used to examine mothers - and it was not very reliable then.  I remember we lost babies because you could not hear their hearts beating.  WOW!   I spoke with Dr. Richard Mugali, the District Health Officer, and learned from him that he had been practicing medicine for 7 years.  He said that he loves his job and the people he serves, but that he is frustrated with the challenges they face in offering basic medical care.  When I asked him about his biggest challenges, this was how he answered:
1.     Limited human resources for health care; we don’t have an adequate number of nurses and health workers.  The number of patients has increased and doubled with only 58.5% of needed staffing to serve them.
2.     Lack of modern basic equipment especially in maternal and child health.
a.     We have lost some babies because we are still using old and outdated stethoscopes.  We would like to have adopter fetal scopes at least at every Level III Health Center.
b.     We do not have ultrasound scans to diagnose incomplete (spontaneous) abortions, so most of the time we also lose the mothers.
3.     Limited Infrastructure; as the population increases, more people go to clinics that don’t have the resources needed to provide help in the community.
There you have it - a reality check of the basic medical services needed in Uganda and throughout Africa.  It sounds so familiar to me.  I know how difficult it can be to work in these circumstances.  I remember how powerless I felt as a young nurse in Mexico for not being able to help every patient with their needs, or to alleviate their suffering. 
Photo credit: Stuart Ramson /UN Foundation
However, today was different with a happy ending because of the help of many champions - and your donations to the UN Shot@Life campaign.  With the help of UNICEF many services were provided, many lives were saved and there was sufficient medicine for today’s objective.  Most of all, I saw a miracle of many making a difference, serving God by serving His children on a sunny Sunday at a small church on a little hill in Fort Portal, Uganda.

Awareness and understanding of the power of vaccines can save lives 

 Four weeks ago I stayed home after almost a week of feeling sick.  I was having difficulty breathing, coughing spells and chest pain.  I thought this was a common cold and would pass soon, but it became worse to the point that I could not breathe.  I went to the doctor and he said it was bronchitis.  Before I came home he gave me a shot, prescribed some pain medication and strong antibiotics.  So I went home to rest, and when I was there in my comfy bed feeling horrible, memories began flashing back in my mind of the times I saw people with bronchitis and pneumonia when I was a nurse in Mexico, and of how these very simple treatable diseases were sometimes the cause of death.  That put everything into perspective.  The families in the rural remote areas do not get it so easy like I do.  What I mean is that if I, or members of my family, get sick here in the United States it is as easy as a phone call to the doctor, or to get to the Emergency Room – or as in my case this week, just show up at my doctor’s office and wait until they can attend me.  I was lucky to arrive in time and they were able to take care of me right away.  I am glad they did it because it is a horrible feeling gasping for air in between coughing spells.

 Treatable diseases like diarrhea, measles, bronchitis, pneumonia and polio are fatal in developing countries because some of the governments do not have the resources to provide medical care for their citizens.  In the most remote and rural area communities the only way to get there is by walking, riding a donkey or if you are lucky you may get to ride a horse.  Many of these people are too poor to even own a donkey or horse.  As you can see, transportation is a major factor why many families and children do not receive treatment.  If a doctor cannot get to the people, it is less likely that the people can get to a doctor.

Another major factor is poverty.  Even if a patient and doctor can get together, not only medicines, but basic services like X-rays, lab work and analysis, etc. are luxuries – or nonexistent.  Perhaps the biggest factor in the suffering of these people is the lack of education, understanding and awareness of the seriousness of illnesses that affect them and, especially, their children.  I think this lack of awareness is something that really hit me hard because as a nurse in Mexico many years ago,I saw the pain and agony in the faces of many mothers, and I knew without a doubt that they would do anything - or everything - in their power to save their children, if they only knew how.  They would walk 10-15 miles (or more) to get to a little clinic and stay in the hot sun waiting and holding their child without complaining - but because they do not know or understand the seriousness of these illnesses and diseases, often they will wait in their homes hoping “that it will all get better.”Finally, when in desperation they come to seek help, it is too late.

These mothers are poor and without any access to medical care and vaccines... they accept their situation with humility, courage and tears for what might have been.  I saw resignation, quiet suffering and stoicism in these women.  I saw them crying in desperation and quickly wiping their tears, then turning to go home to make the funeral arrangements for their children...  It is so funny how your mind race to many years ago and back to the present in a second or minute to get me to another point that I want to make; in developing countries a child die every 30 seconds.  So when I was there lying in bed precious kids were dying.  Mothers are mourning the dead of their kids.  I know the doctor told me to rest but how can I rest with all this in my mind? 

 I always have been a huge advocate about education, equal education for minority groups, poverty and help issues like vaccines for children wherever I had lived all these years.   Shot@life, resounds to me and should resound to anyone who cares about human life.  I have been supporting, advocating and championing United Nation Foundation Shot@life vaccination campaign because I believe in their mission and goals and because I know firsthand the vaccines saves lives.  So the question for me was; what else I can do to support a cause that I am passionate about it and that I believe with all my heart.  No child should have to live without hope when we can make a difference just by creating awareness  (writing this post) from bed, writing letters or calling your members of congress or pledge yourself to share this message with all your friends personally or online.   
It is incredible how just a few dollars can make a big difference between live in death in developing countries.
Your donation could:
·        Protect a child from polio and measles for his lifetime for only $5
·        Pay for vaccines to protect a child from the two most deadly diseases – pneumonia and diarrhea for just $15
·        Give a child a lifetime of immunity to protect her from pneumonia, diarrhea, polio and measles for $20

So, please join me and help us protect, save and give children around the globe a shot to live by providing access to vaccines.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My First Red Carpet Experience

                               MY First Red Carpet Experience                                

Felisa Hilbert (OK)and Gwen Samuel (CT)
. When I first started doing volunteer work to advocate for Education, Parental Engagement, Diversity and health issues for children, I never imagined it would take me to distant places like New York City City to a red Carpet event.   I had the opportunity to be invited to the premiere of the movie “Won’t Back Down”.  I didn’t realize how amazing my luck was until my friend Gwen told me that this was a real red carpet event and that the stars of the film were going to be there!  I exclaimed, “But I don’t have anything fancy to wear”.  Shoes!  People who know me know that I love fancy shoes.  I was already in Washington DC attending a Emerging Minority Leadership Conference with NPTA (and battling a bad case of Bronchitis that almost made me miss the whole weekend), and from there I took the train to New York to attend the Social Good Summit and see some of my shot@Life friends.  I left the summit at 4:00  in the afternoon and went to my hotel to get ready for the special event (the movie premier!). 

My red carpet experience was amazing from the moment I arrived.  Gwen Samuel, Julie Bergin and I were the first to arrive. Later we saw our friend Melissa Bilash.  The line became long and you could hear the excitement from everyone already there.  It finally hit me that this was a premiere event and that I was part of a select group to preview this movie.  We were escorted in where they checked the guest list and give me a pass.  Surprise!  The pass was also an invitation to a reception following the movie premiere.  Wow!  We got inside of the famous and beautiful Ziegfeld theater, got our popcorn and drinks and found a good seat.  It was exciting see the producer, movie stars and other important people in education arriving.  Before the movie started the producer of the movie gave an introduction.
The movie portrays Maggie Gyllenhaal, the mother of a dyslexic 3rd grade student who is struggling in school.  She is trying to ensure her child has access to a quality school.  No matter how much she asked for help for her daughter, she found no support available in her school system.  Viola Davis portrays a teacher in a school where they seem to have lost their passion and are very discourage.  These two mothers are determined to transform their failing inner schools. “Won’t Back Down” sheds light on the issues that many families, students and teachers are facing, and on how we can come together as a community for benefit of all. 
I found it very refreshing to be able to talk about something that is happening in some school’s communities.  This movie addresses issues that are relevant in communities’ throughout our country.

I believe this film will provoke and inspire parents and teachers to think, talk and find solutions.  Such dialog is needed to make sure our students are getting the best education possible - and that we are preparing our students to be college-ready.  The bottom line: this movie is not about a battle between parent and teachers.  I can tell you by my experience here in the state of Oklahoma, which ranks 48th in teacher’s salaries that teachers choose to teach because of their love for the children - NOT for the money.  On the other hand, parents want to be part of the process and want the best education for their children.  They want to be listened to and they want to be treated with respect.  Remember, you don’t need to have a teaching degree to be educated.  No parent wants to see their child left behind.

Julie B. NY, Gwen S. CT,
Miss Viola Davis & Felisa H. OK
·        Just like the mothers in the movie, I am an advocate for education who has worked tirelessly for many years to give a voice to the many parents that cannot express their opinions because of a lack of fluency in the English language.  Many of them also lack formal education or are timid at   getting involved.I try to be their voice; I do it for my children and for all of their children. In my community we had more 58 different languages and many of these minority parents have students who go to our English Language Learner program.  I had made it my mission to ensure that these parents know that they are welcome in our schools, their voices are represented and they are participating in their kids’ education.

I believe that all children are teachable, and that all parents, teachers and administrators need to be accountable for the students in their schools and communities.  I also believe that all children deserve the best education, no matter where they come from, regardless of their socio-economic status.  
Felisa Hilbert OK, Gwen Samuel CT
with Miss Maggie Gyllenhaal
Each one of us needs to work hard to ensure that we are providing our students with the tools they will need to survive, raise and lead the next generation.  I don’t want to scare you but this our responsibility.  Blaming, ignoring or dumping problems in each other’s laps is not going to help to solve the problem.  We need to acknowledge the problems with education and work together to fix them.  I would recommend this movie to all of our parents, teachers, future teachers and anyone who works with children.  I promise that you will leave the theater feeling excited and with a desire to double your efforts to ensure a better education for our children.

The reception was incredible, full of celebrities, great food and I was able to meet many important people in the field of education. My friends and I had fun trying to recognize movie stars and of course, I took some pictures with the actors, had the opportunity to meet the producer - and some of the people who inspired this movie. 


Saturday, August 25, 2012

At the Crossroads in Washington

At the Crossroads in Washington

Advocating and creating awareness for something that you believe in and are very passionate about is not very difficult.  So I was very humbled and honored to receive a fellowship from the United Nations Foundation to attend the Results International Conference in Washington D.C. in July, 2012. Before my trip I wrote letters and telephoned my congressmen and senators offices in order to schedule meetings.  I arrived in D.C. wondering what amazing things this endeavor would bring and  happy to see some of my fellow Shot@Life champions and the staff from the United Nations Foundation.

The four-day Results International Conference in Washington, D.C., brought together over 400 grassroots activists and leaders from 36 states and 19 countries.  Together we received the most up-to-date legislative and policy information related to our issues and listen from world class speakers.
Shot@life Champions Yolanda Gordon, Nicole Melancon, Felisa Hilbert, Geoff Adlide (Gavi Alliance), Jodi Foster, Carolina Barrett (Shot@Life Campaign Officer), and Crysula Winegar.
I was amazed at the array of workshops about issues so relevant to our societies.  I have attended many conferences, but this is the first time that it was difficult to decide which workshops to attend after I participated in Reaching the 5th Birthday: Tools for Success with Geoff Adlide from Gavi Alliance; Mary Beth Powers from the New &Child Survival Campaign of Save the Children; and Jackson Ndegwa from the Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium.  Some of my other favorite workshops were The Moral Case for Ending Poverty; Creating Champions: A Conversation with Senator Bob Bennett; The end of AIDS; and Saving Children’s Lives.
Over the course of  this conference I received tons of wonderful information and listened to amazing speakers like Dr. Myron Cohen from the Chapel Hill Division of infectious Diseases; Dr. Mphu Ramatlapeng, the former Minister of Health of Lesotho; Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development; and the famous Jeffrey Sachs, a world-renowned economist and author.  I was in Heaven!  The reason I say this is because I love learning and hearing real human stories, and I love to see so many selfless people giving of themselves without thinking about “what’s in it for me?”  I am so tired of hearing this and watching others pretend to care just to get power.  There is a lesson here, my friends: many of these advocates paid their own expenses and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to be there to make sure the children and people in their countries, and around the world, get a chance for a better education, better life and better health.  That, to me, is power and real love for your fellowmen, no matter whom they are or where they come from.

Ms.Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Ms. Felisa Hilbert
With my heart bursting with joy, happiness with so much goodness still  I was surprise when, after seeing the documentary, a “Motherland Tour - A Journey of African Women” by Ms. Yvonne Chaka-Chaka, I realized that she was sitting right beside me!  She had come into the room in the middle of the film and very quietly sat there.  You have to realize how important she is!  Ms. Chaka-Chaka is called the ‘Princess of Africa’.  She is a famous artist and singer, but more important is that she uses all of her fame to do good and to advocate for many causes for Africa.

Like I said before, as long as I can remember I have been advocating for causes and issues that I felt needed to be addressed, but being at this International Conference was the epitome of humanitarian advocacy.  Can you imagine 400 passionate and awesome country leaders and advocates on Capitol Hill, at once, to discuss issues that affect the human race and the future of this world?  Yes, I said “issues of the world”, because what we do as a nation affects the world.  We are all interconnected and we, the fortunate, have a responsibility to the less fortunate.  We cannot and must not turn our backs on them now.  Like Jeffrey Sachs said, “We are at a crossroads in the world today.  We have the knowledge and tools for how to effectively end poverty and the countless deaths and suffering of millions of people around the world”.
 Innocent Laison, Felisa Hilbert and Frank Gilbert
I felt excited - my favorite word and emotion. There we were on the last day of the conference ready to talk to our legislators!  I had visited some of their offices before but today was different.  I was the only person from Oklahoma and could only secure one appointment with Senator Inhofe’s staff that graciously agreed to meet with me in his office. Although many states had big groups gathered together to visit their state representatives, I smiled to myself about the power of one.  One is a powerful number, and without one there cannot be ten, a hundred, or thousands, etc. (this is a lesson for another day).  As I was only one person, by myself, I had never let that stop me before, and today was no different.  I grew up knowing that I could make a difference and that I have a responsibility to do my part - no matter how small I may be in stature (4 ft 11 in).  The only reason I mention my height is because I was accompanied by Frank Gilbert from Kentucky and Innocent Laison from Dakar, Senegal.  Frank was the only person from Kentucky and Innocent was to be our international perspective. We had the best day of advocacy together and we were powerful!  Although I tried to make other appointments, none of the others were confirmed before my arrival.  In spite of that, we marched on down to my Oklahoma senators’ and congressmen’s offices and got appointments from the gracious staffs that met with us.  It was incredible how well Frank, Innocent and I complimented each other in delivering our message.  Innocent gave an African perspective on what we are doing here make a difference on her continent.  Having them along was like icing on a cake.  We Rocked!!  We called ourselves “the dynamic trio”.  After we finished with Oklahoma, we visited Frank’s Kentucky representatives and had other awesome meetings.  It was funny, because some of the Oklahoma offices were in front of the Kentucky offices.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so!  I am so grateful to Mr. Joel E. Starr, the Legislative Assistant from Senator Inhofe’s office, for the enlightened conversation and great information to consider.  It was engaging, honest and very refreshing to have the floor and not worry about time.  Thank you, gentleman, for making this one of my best days to remember…   As a Shot@Life champion, I have lobbied on Capitol Hill, met in senators’ and congressmen’s’ offices to discuss standing up for Children’s Issues and Expanding Access to Global Vaccines and Education.  I have shared my story as a former nurse in Mexico and explained the reasons why education is the only way to eradicate poverty and diseases in this nation and throughout the world.  What a wonderful ride!  However, there was more that came out of this trip…
Sir Elton John and Ms. Felisa Hilbert
My day on Capitol Hill was highlighted when, after visiting Senator Coburn office, we ran into an AIDS Breakfast gathering and listen to one of the speakers - and met Sir Elton John!  He was there in support of the cause, and yet, was so gracious and personal.  It was truly an incredible experience from morning to night.  I loved the farewell party at the Capitol (the food was delicious!).  The senators, congressmen, congresswomen and the ambassador of South Africa were all very impressive speakers.  But my favorite part was when all of us danced together at the performance of Miss Yvonne Chaka Chaka.  What at way to end a conference!  Indeed this has been one of my best conferences and I am so excited that I didn’t stop talking about; I would talk about it with everyone I encountered throughout my trip in North Caroline, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee and even more to people here in Oklahoma!
This is an amazing time to be alive! Can you imagine all the good we can do together?  We can end poverty, eradicate illness, and provide the best education for our children. Our future is going to be extraordinary and I know this because our future is just the outgrowth of all the great things we are doing today in and outside of conferences like this.

Monday, July 23, 2012

50 years of Vaccines and Play Dress-Up

Watching my kids grow out of their clothes into new ones was one of my favorite things to see.  I loved our time when we played dress -up for hours and dreamed of the people my kids would become as they grew older.  I remember my children dressing up as a doctor, an artist, attorney, etc. and of how wonderful it felt to dress up and play these roles.  Now that my children have grown up and are preparing to contribute to humanity with the roles of responsibility that they played as children.  It all makes me more grateful for the blessing of vaccines and the protection they provide to ensure children live to grow and play dress-up, and dream.
For the last 50 years the continued development and use of vaccines has been one of the most cost-effective ways for saving lives and preventing illness that kill our children, especially children in developing countries.  Routine Vaccinations campaigns have prevented the deaths of hundreds of millions of people and saved billions of dollars in public health expenditures.  Just to give an idea how effective in saving lives vaccines have been, look at some interesting facts.
Smallpox:            Smallpox was responsible for an estimated 300 – 500 million deaths.  In 1967 the World Health Organization (WHO) that 15 million people contracted the disease… and 2 million died of it that year.  But now, thanks to vaccines, smallpox is eradicated.
Polio:                   After World War II polio was one of the most feared diseases in the USA.  In 1952 it is estimated that 21,000 people in the US – mostly children – were permanently paralyzed because of polio.  Thanks to polio vaccinations, five million people that otherwise be paralyzed are walking and polio cases are down 99%... down to 1349 cases in a year.
Measles:              Measles are far more contagious than chickenpox, leading to deafness, blindness, encephalitis and death.  In May 2011 the Measles Initiative announced that it had vaccinated over one billion children in 60 countries – decreasing deaths globally by over 78%. 
Pneumonia:     Pneumococcal is a bacterial disease that can cause meningitis and pneumonia.  Pneumonia one of the common symptom accounts for 18% of child deaths in developing countries.  In 2010 the GAVI Alliance began a program to introduce pneumococcal vaccinations to more of 40 countries by 2015.  Once at full capacity, the program would save 700,000 lives.
Rotavirus:    Claim the lives of more the half a million children under the age of five and almost two million more became severely ill.  In Mexico, diarrhea-related child deaths decreased by 46% following the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine in 2006.  That represents a decreased of 880 deaths for year.
I am so familiar with the rotavirus and the effects of the lack of vaccines in my own country, Mexico.  As a former nurse there, I saw many children and their parents suffer the effects of not being vaccinated.  Sometimes because they didn’t have the economic resources or because they live too far away to get to a clinic in time to get vaccinate and receive medical care.  In our immunizations campaigns in rural areas, mothers will walk for miles and make long lines in the hot sun waiting for the vaccines.  I saw the scars of polio, chickenpox, measles in some moms and dads and can saw how afraid they were we don’t have enough vaccines for all.  They knew so well the pain and agony of losing a precious child’s life. They knew the power of vaccines and they love their children so much that they will wait all day if need it.
Rotavirus claim the lives of people very close to me.  As of matter of fact in 1970 my first nephew die of Rotavirus because my older brother live in a tiny town faraway without access to vaccines and medical care.  Many children die before we have the rotavirus vaccine.
 It is amazing to me the progress and the many lives that can be saved by vaccines.  It is even more amazing that I was born in a developing country in a time a place that my parents were able to give me a shot of life, play dress with some of my peers and see my children play dress and dream too.  Sadly many of my same age Mexican friends citizens were not lucky enough because they were born in a rural community that don’t have access to immunizations and medical care and as consequence many of them die from easily preventable diseases.

In developing countries many children never grow up to play dress up and dream of what they will be when they are older instead  the only play dress up that they will wear is the funeral clothes that they will wear in their funeral.  So many children die every 20 seconds children like the beautiful face of this picture.    We have the power to change that statistic and make sure that mothers around the world have the chance to see their children live, dream and play dress up.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Parents Left Behind: The influence of Fathers- A blessing and a big res...

No Parents Left Behind: The influence of Fathers- A blessing and a big res...: The Influence of fathers- A blessing and a big responsibility By: Felisa Hilbert June 17, 2012 As a mother of two daughters and son,...

The influence of Fathers- A blessing and a big responsability

The Influence of fathers- A blessing and a big responsibility
By: Felisa Hilbert
June 17, 2012
As a mother of two daughters and son, I cannot help but wonder what type of father my son will be, And who will be the sons in law that will raise my grandchildren.  Therefore, I am writing this thinking of all fathers and to all the young men out there who will be the fathers of the next generation of children.  I do not want to scare anyone, but the title Father requires lots of preparation: physical, emotional, financial and spiritual.  It is not something you can retire out of early.  It is a job for the rest of your life!  What Fathers do now will influence generations to come.  Can you see the big picture?
The family is a stable and secure foundation of Society.  In recent times however, it seems that its stability is in question with the struggling to keep families together. There is a lack of positive influence of fathers in our youth’s homes.  Oh sometimes we have fathers at home but they are busy working providing for the basic need of their families and not having fun and quality time with their families.  
I came to United States when I was 26 years old when all my cognitive skills were already developed….in Spanish.  I realized that if I wanted to survive and function in this country I needed to immerse myself with the sounds, music and sounds of the new language.  I still remember how excited and ecstatic I was when 6 months later I had my first dream in English!  The same principles apply when we teach our children.  We need to immerse them with the sounds and provide an environment that will ease learning and preparation to survive and function in the World.  Homes should be the place where our children learn to read, understand and love.  Our homes are where moral values, reverence, respect and honesty must be taught in a way that helps the growth of good habits.
 A family needs a father to anchor it.  Fathers, your influence is great!  What you do is important!  Your influence is in great need!  Your actions help to establish the morals of the next generation!  You plant the seeds for children to make the world a better place. 
Children understand better, when you do it, then when you say it.  You may not realize it but your children eyes are constantly listening and watching what you do or say.  What you say to your children is important!  They believe in you, they believe what you say to them, your words are powerful.  We can see your wonderful example!  You are their hero, they want to please you and they want to be like you.

 My father died when I was eight and half.  I only enjoyed his presence for a few years, so, I almost forget what his face looks like.  However, I can still remember his voice and I believe what he saw in me.  He always told me that I was smart and different, that no matter what obstacles I faced, l would fulfill my dreams.  I am the person that I am today because I believed in him and trusted in what he had taught to me.  When he died, I killed myself studying and working full time to fulfill my education goals and make him proud…

 Believe me when I say, your children need you, your teenagers need you and adults like me still need the influence a good father.  I volunteer and work in a school setting for the last 15 years with  K-5 grade children and I had  seeing many children starving for a complement, a father hug and good role model.  
Therefore, in honor of Fathers, I want to thank you for what you do and for all your sacrifices and for the power you have to help foster children’s hopes and aspirations. Thanks to all the good men in my life who have been and still are a good role model for me.  Happy father's Day to my husband Dan, my son Thomas and to  all of you wonderful fathers!  

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Shot@Life from Mexico to the rest of the World

A Shot@Life from Mexico to the Rest of the World

I wrote this article March 12, 2012 for the United Nations Foundation Shot@Life campaign and after that, I have many people ask me about it again and again and many wondering about my life there.  I will write about my life there some other time but now here is the story and why I am supporting Shot@Life.

I have always believed that we have a responsibility for the less fortunate and that one person can make a difference for many. I was born and raised in Mexico, then trained to work in health care as a Registered Nurse. In my 4 years of nursing school and one year of Social Service, I had the opportunity to work on many vaccination campaigns. I saw, firsthand, what a lack of access to vaccinations does to children in rural areas. I saw children die because they lived too remotely to receive required childhood vaccines and needed medical treatment.

One of my most excruciating memories is of a little child coming to the public hospital (IMSS) with tetanus. The pain and suffering for the child and the family, and for all of us attending him was horrible. It used to be quite common and heart-wrenching for those who could only watch helplessly without being able to alleviate the victim’s suffering, or to save their life.

Another time a mother came to one of our clinics with her child who had suffered for days from having the rotavirus. His little body was lifeless when his mother gave him to me in desperation, begging me in tears to help him. It was too late. When the doctor examined him, he told me: “This child is dying. If only they had brought him sooner we could have helped him and saved his life.” I took his dying body, held him very close to my heart, and cried. He died in my arms. Even more difficult, for me, was telling the mother that he was dead. She did not have any money to pay for a funeral in the city, and a long bus trip back to her village. With what little money we could collect for her, she held back her tears as she pretended her child was asleep and covered with a blanket all the way back to her village on the bus. Many times through the years I have wondered and marveled at how she traveled for three hours holding her dead child with her heart breaking in pieces with pain and agony. I cried then, and I am crying now just remembering how powerless I felt. In spite of all my training and knowledge, and that of my colleagues, it was not enough to save these children in a country without the resources like vaccines. Because of this, I saw kids die in these rural areas, and even the terrible effects of polio in the lives of many children.

As long as I can remember, I have been advocating for human rights and the basic needs of children, youth and women. When I moved to the United States, I became an advocate for education by teaching minority parents how to navigate the school system; creating programs and activities to enrich community lives; providing resources so immigrants and minorities can become involved in the education of their children and take ownership and pride in their communities.

I believe all children deserve the best education they can receive – but most of all they deserve the right to live in order to receive that education. They deserve the opportunity to be vaccinated no matter where they live. I believe in this cause! I will do everything in my power to make sure no more children die for lack of vaccinations. I want to hear no more of families seeing their children die of tetanus and other childhood diseases that are easy to prevent or cure. There should be no more children paralyzed by polio – anywhere! No more mothers sadly carrying their dead children a long way home for burial.

I am proud to identify myself as a Shot@Life Champion for this wonderful cause! Please join me in this fight and invest in a healthy world by giving a Shot@Life to ALL children.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Shot@Life - A Cause with Reason

Shot@Life in Atlanta –A Cause with Reason
Wow!  It has been an incredible couple of weeks!  I left Broken Arrow and flew to Atlanta April 25th to be part of the national launch of the Shot@Life Campaign April 26.  To be there for a cause I have believed in all my life was a humbling experience.  Meeting with the foundation’s incredible team from the United Nations and its many honorable guests was fantastic.  However, my greatest pleasure that night at the dinner table was meeting the philanthropists, directors, doctors, and the group of press journalists who cared enough to cover health issues - especially the lack of vaccines for children. 
I was amazed to see all of these prominent people forgetting who they were and just concentrating on what we were going to do to make this campaign as successful as possible.  The goal is to provide vaccines for children throughout the world where they cannot afford it.  I, myself, belong to several civic and volunteer groups and it makes me sad how people sometimes forget why and for whom we are doing these things.  As I watched so much of what I have lived for and believed in unfold into action was awe inspiring.  My personal optimistic outlook and beliefs were truly validated by these wonderful people who cared enough for others to do everything they could to help.  The conversations at the dinner table were fascinating, and the supporting facts and stories were of great interest to me.  I felt like, “Wow!  Here I am, and I will do whatever I can to make sure all children receive the vaccines they need to survive!”  What a marvelous opportunity for the world’s mothers to be able to see their children live and grow older!  What better gift can we give to a mother than the gift of life for her children?
My morning went briskly and after a quick breakfast, I arrived at the Atlanta Aquarium.  I was so excited because it was the big day and everything was set to welcome our guests and moms to the national launch of the Shot@Life Campaign.  I was delighted to work at the donation table with Aimee Mead (Shot@Life team) and Emma Dashiell (Shot@Life Champion from Georgia).  What a great place and opportunity to tell our guests of the importance of this campaign!  We discussed why we were participating and how they could help to save lives.  It was so very rewarding to watch the little children and their mothers helping, who wanted to give the gift of life to other kids.  What a beautiful example these mothers are setting for their children to follow!

I thought, already, that I had a wonderful experience - but it was an unimaginable surprise to see former First Lady, Roselyn Carter and Anne Geddes, a world-renowned photographer, and many other famous people associated with the Shot@Life team at our donation table.  Wow!  At that moment, I realized that the Shot@Life Launch brought together hundreds of parents and their children, celebrities, VIPs, the media, medical experts, top of-the-line Moms, U.N. officials and policy makers – all in support of children and the value of vaccines around the globe.  
Their experiences, knowledge, support, and love for the children and the campaign were undeniable.  As I sat there at the press conference launch, It really struck me that this campaign has the power to save hundreds, no, thousands of children!  We, that is all of the champions around the country and myself, can help promote and be a united voice as to amplify this message and make history.  I thought of our minority families back home in Oklahoma who do not speak English and how beneficial it will be to educate them in their own language or with interpreters.  Then they can educate and share this message with their families back on their own countries.  Imagine the impact we can make here in our home country just by informing the public in our own communities.  The effect a single individual itself could lead to a great chain reaction, pulling along the support of hundreds!  I think I just found my next project for the summer. 

Our lunch was delicious and I can honestly say that I had lunch with famous people!  Anne Geddes, First Lady Rosalynn Carter, deputy editor Noelle Howey of Parent Magazine; CEO of UN Foundations Kathy Calvin; Foundation, Dr. Anne Schuchat, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Ambassador Andrew Young, and our Kimberly Hagen, wonderful Georgian Champions Lori Grice and @  Lyssa Sahadevan, Emma Dashiell  and many more.  My favorite was John Rutherford, officer of United Nations Foundation; board member of the Turner foundation, etc.  I was so grateful to him and his family for all the good that they are doing for developing countries and especially for their support with vaccines.  To my great surprise, he thanked me for my dedication and help with this campaign.  He even communicated to me in Spanish, which by the way was very well spoken.  Wow!  We had a wonderful conversion about Mexico and his experiences in my own language!  How cool is that!  Overall, I can only describe everything (again) as a very emotional and humbling experience. 

After lunch Kimberly Hagen, Emma Dashiell and I spoke to the National Press Fellows journalists  I was a little nervous but not for long.  To talk about the effects of lack of vaccines is something that I know very well.  Sharing my experiences as a nurse in Mexico was a blessing in disguise.  As a nurse, I have witnessed the terrible effects, which occur when one does not have the resources needed as to have a full and healthy life.  Therefore, it is now my great honor to serve as an instrument, through Shot@Life, to ensure that children in developing countries can live, play and have a happy ending.  I want to create awareness and understanding that this really is an issue around the globe.  Kids are dying now at this moment when I am writing this blog.  As a matter of facts “Every 20 seconds a child died for lack of access to vaccines.  Many mothers walk 15 miles on a hot summer day to get to a clinic and get their children vaccinated.”
Thank you, Shot@Life, for giving me the opportunity to share my story and give back to my community children and children around the globe.

Felisa Hilbert
Proud Shot@Life Champion