Monday, April 23, 2012

How to Give Children a Shot@Life, and a Future
I woke up this morning with so much excitement and happiness!  Today is the beginning of months of preparation and work by the Shot@Life Champions from all over the country and the United Nations Foundations staff for the BIG national launch of the SHOT@LIFE Campaign this April 26th in Atlanta, Georgia.  This entire week champions from around the country will be shouting out about Shot@Life, blogging, doing events and fundraisers to spread the word and create awareness and understanding of the importance of vaccines and how they save children’s lives.
As I have said before, as long as I can remember, and in where ever I have lived, I have always advocated for worthy causes – from human rights, minority acceptance and immigration issues, to education and cultural diversity issues, inclusion and ending racial prejudice.  It has seemed as if I never had a choice.  When I was a missionary and, afterward, as a nurse I had the opportunity to serve in the rural areas of four different states in Mexico.  There I saw what the lack of vaccinations does to people, especially little children.  All of these experiences gave me a deep understanding and insight of how health issues, like the lack of vaccinations, hunger and poverty are global problems that are interrelated and affect us all.  This gave me a passion for children’s health issues around the globe.  Throughout the world, we are all connected, but only some of us are lucky enough to have the resources to make a difference.  This difference does not always require money.  We can make a difference through advocating with our legislators and communicating the message while doing public or community service and everything else in our power to make sure our children have a better future.
I became a Champion for the Shot@Life Vaccines Campaign because I believe in it with all my heart.  I had lived these experiences and I saw the pain and agony in the eyes of the mothers and children in my native country.  Nothing can be more excruciating than watching your child die in your arms without being able to give the help or comfort needed to alleviate their suffering.  As a mother, I would give everything in my power to protect my children and to make sure that they received the best education possible, that they grow healthy and strong, perform concerts, dance, sing and enjoy every day’s sunrise, sunset and in-between.  But sadly, many of these mothers this will not have these privileges and opportunities.  Some will not see many of their children grow older!
I remember while sitting in a presentation by Dr. Meg Fisher, the Medical Director of The Children’s Hospital (Monmouth Medical Center) in Long Branch, NJ about childhood diseases and illness statistics caused by the lack of vaccines.  I had mental flashbacks to scenes deeply engraved upon my heart of experiences I had as a nurse.  I could not help but remember so many faces and places – and case after case of real people and real children suffering – and how terrible I felt when we couldn’t help them all, or when it was too late.  I remembered going to a little town by the mountains, where we had to travel 3 hours by bus and then walk another 30 to 45 minutes to get there.  We were the news of the village and all the children ran to pass the word of our arrival. 
Of course, some kids immediately went into hiding because of our white uniforms, but mothers lined up and waited in the hot sun while we set up on the concrete basketball court at the little community school.  All the way to the town center, we could feel countless little eyes upon us from behind the curtains in their poor adobe homes.  I joked that that if not for the mothers it would feel like we were the “bad” people and that maybe we should not wear our uniforms as a tipoff for the kids.  When we got down to business, we received children who had been dehydrated for days from uncontrolled diarrhea or the rotavirus, while others showed the ravages of untreated diseases like chicken pox, measles and mumps.  Still more came to us with the distended abdomens from malnutrition and the lifeless eyes of starvation.
I thought this would change for the better through the years, and it has - a little - but to my surprise, overall statistics are still high.  For example, polio remains endemic in four countries: Afghanistan, India, Nigeria, and Pakistan.  Angola, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have experienced resurgence in polio transmission.  You see, this raise some questions:
How big is the problem?  Approximately 1.7 million children in developing countries die each year of preventable diseases or like measles and polio, or untreated conditions like pneumonia or diarrhea.
How many people does it affect?  One child dies every 20 seconds from a disease that could have been prevented by a timely applied vaccine.
Who is most affected?  In view of the problem, I would hasten to say that the children of the developing countries are the most affected.  However, the facts and statistics show that the world and these countries, in particular, lose valuable resources for growth and development with the loss of each child that dies before reaching adulthood.  If you lose enough children in an area, that region will wither and die from the loss of its future.
I am proud to be a Champion Advocate for the Shot@Life Vaccines Campaign that will provide resources for vaccines needed by children all over the world.  I ask you to join me in our efforts to save children everywhere by giving them a true Shot@Life with your donations and participation.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Reflections of My 2011 Mom Congress Experience
                                                              April 21,2012
                                                                                                                                                               Being selected as a 2011 Mom Congress delegate for the state of Oklahoma was the highlight of 2011 for me.  Many circumstances and coincidences guided me to this end, but that is another story I will have to write at another time.  Words do not seem to do justice to express my feelings about this marvelous experience.  As long as I can remember, I have always advocated for something, from human rights, minority acceptance, immigration issues, to racial prejudice, education, cultural diversity and inclusion.  It has been as if I never have a choice.  I always knew that I could make a positive difference in the world and better the lives of my community neighbors. 
Minority groups and children have always been my passion.  I enjoy seeing their faces light up when they understand what they are reading or when parents feel accepted, included, and learn how to navigate our school system.  Empowering, teaching, loving and serving them are my mission in life.  I cannot express the happiness and joy I feel when I see a new mother learn English and read it to her child, or when she asks, questions and is eager to learn something new.
 My community, Broken Arrow, is a place where we strive for excellence, beauty and better schools.  I feel very lucky to live in such a wonderful place.  Our public school system is one of the best.  Yes, we have many needs, poverty, budget cuts and low teachers’ salaries compared to the rest of United States – but we still try to give the best of ourselves, and of what we can, to educate our children.  Our school families are learning to be active participants in our schools and we as leaders are trying to create programs that our minorities need.  We are on the path to make every one of our parents an agent of change
Mom Congress has validated my feelings that what we do for our children and our community is important.  As such, I am not alone in my quest to make this country better for our children.  I believe they deserve the best education money can buy.  They deserve high expectations and accountability from parents and teachers.  They deserve leaders who are committed to improve the education system and are not afraid to speak up.  All children deserve parents that are good role models and that value education.  They need us, the adults, to live actively the example that we want them to follow. 
We need to educate our families and volunteers to know more about school issues, legislation and the common standard curriculum.  They need to know more about teaching and supporting at home the principles taught in the schools.  Most importantly, they need to have open communication with their children’s teachers.  We as parents need to become “partners in education” with our children in all senses of the expression.  It was so refreshing to listen to our leaders in education supports our efforts and dreams for all of our states.  They encouraged us to rally parents around the country and to knock on the doors of our legislators and leaders at Capitol Hill.
My experience at Mom congress from the moment I arrived was one full of energy, enthusiasm and passion.  It was great to be in a room with 50 state delegates believing together that many things in education need to change.  Our welcome meeting on Sunday was a humble experience with welcoming remarks from Greg Schumann, the Vice-President and Group Publisher of the parenting group; Catherine McManus, Director Brand Communications and Partnerships;  Dr. Robert Manuel, PhD, Dean of Georgetown  University; and Alison Dempsey, Partnership and Social Media Editor.  I was fascinated with a power point presentation from Dr. Christopher Metzler where I learned that to be a better advocate you need to make a credible case and have data for your cause.  This covered issues and questions Such as how big is the problem.  How many people does it affect?  How severe a problem is it?  Who is most affected?  I really enjoyed the session Q&A with Dr. Marguerite Roza of the Bill Gates Foundation at our welcome reception dinner.  It was incredible to learn about the goals and the resources the foundation is providing in their commitment to help better our school systems.  Betsy Landers, President Elect of the National PTA, finished Sunday Night and reminded us of the power we have to help the children and to be their voices…  I felt like I was bombarded with tons and tons of knowledge and my brain was racing so fast to remember and soak up all of this information to take back to Broken Arrow and Oklahoma.  I was exhausted when I went to bed anticipating how Monday would be.
Monday was completely full of knowledge and enthusiasm.  I really enjoyed Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution video presentation.  He said that we were amazing and had this maternal instinct to take care of children.  He explained that school nutrition is breaking down systematically and that we need to fix it now.  We as parents need to be conscientious about what we feed our kids at home and at school.  This is truly on of our responsibility to our children.  Afterward, the panel discussion about nutrition was eye opening.  As I listened, Seth Nickinson and Margo Wootan talked about healthy cafeteria space; they spoke out for better lunches at school; chocolate milk having as much sugar as soda pop; etc.  This caused me to analyze my schools’ cafeterias.  I think we have the healthy part covered, we just need a better lunch selection that the kids will be eager to eat.  I loved the ideas of Miss Kelly Chapman Meyer, founder of the Teaching Garden.  I think it is time to reconnect the kids with the benefits of caring for fresh products and to teach them how to cook.  We need to teach nutritious cooking classes so parents can cook fresh meals and teach their kids to eat vegetables and fruits and healthy foods at home.  Then they will eat the same food items when served at school.  Mrs. “Q” with her Lunch Blogger made us so feel so blessed!  I have never had to eat such gross food!  Mrs. “Q” was a teacher who ate school cafeteria food for one whole year and blogged about it.  It was depressing!  The food they served in her school looked like the dinners you buy at the frozen section of you grocery store - just put it on the microwave and eat it...  That was considered nutritious.  Occasionally, I could endure it, but every day of the same kind of food.  My admiration to you, Mrs. “Q”, for your courage and endurance.
Next, I had so much fun with the panel talking about the importance of physical education and recess.  Robin Schepper, director of the Lets Move Initiative; Jill Vialet, president and founder of Playworks; and Helen Darling, WNBA athlete, were engaging and fun.  They talked about the need of bike racks, sidewalks, extra crossing guards, recess, PE, encouraging children to walk to school, etc.  The more the children get active, the better they perform academically.  The better they perform academically the better our country’s economics will be.  We need to be smart in how to make an amazing recess time.  We need to engage and speak with our principals - and play, ourselves.  Kids see us as role models.  We did some exercises during this panel and got some great ideas to share with and implement in our schools.  Mrs. Darling suggested that we find whatever works best in our communities and for us, as parents.  For example: let’s make literacy, math or science to be active sessions in class; let’s read stories and use exercise to reenact the narrative.  It all makes a big difference when parents are involved.  When your children see you do it, they will do it, too.  To keep the kids moving, allow the children do what they want to do and connect it to something they enjoy or love to do.
Rallying parents behind a cause was as good a presentation as all the rest of the workshops, presentations and the amazing networking we did with the visit to the capitol, interviews, and the royal treatment you will receive from everyone at Mom Congress.  They are just amazing!  Thank you, mom Congress!  I could go on and on for hours, but I wanted only to give you a little glimpse and taste of what you will enjoy this year.  Prepare yourselves to have the most amazing experiences with the most passionate leaders in education from around the country.  This year will be the best ever and we will be there to guide you and help you.  We are so excited for you and we can hardly wait to meet you all.
Felisa Hilbert
Oklahoma 2011, Mom Congress Delegate