Category: Caring for Children

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Love the intention here — However, based on 3 kids/3 years of breastfeeding experience in all kinds of places I am gonna suggest a few tweaks … Let’s put a diaper on that child. Also, you might want to lose the ultra suede — that is good for one wear and then it will be ruined by drops of breast milk or runny mustard colored ….

About the necklace — the child, very appropriately, is going to find that to be of visual and tactile interest and they are going to want to pull on it … Let’s swap that out for an attractive burp cloth. Note to new moms: it is okay if your hair is not combed.

Note to new moms: it is okay if your hair is not combed.

If you look carefully you’ll see that the baby has a hairdo? That can be done easily with vaseline I think — but definitely optional. Also sit on a comfortable chair if you can — be ready to look your baby in the eye and maybe sing a little.

Though I don’t recommend the pose in this photo, I want to reassure you that it is possible to empty the top rack of the dishwasher while breastfeeding if necessary.

Finally, and just so you know…if you look this hot when breastfeeding at home in the presence of your partner you are going to end up with another multitasking challenge on your hands…not a bad thing, but just make sure you are using contraception that allows for spontaneity so that you can space out the births in your beautiful growing family….

Breastfeeding is sacred. Amen.

Thanks to UW-Madison students for inviting me to address the topic “Learning in Unexpected Places” at their November 23rd event.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect about global engagement that I did in my 20s in Central America –work in an orphanage in Honduras, a war zone in Nicaragua and a water project in a remote rural community in Guatemala.   Here is the youtube video and below is a text version of my reflections. 

Start Small,  Change the World  

Today I am going to talk about changing the world.  Perhaps I should have a narrower focus, and I did try, but I finally decided that besides saying I love you, or telling a really good joke, changing the world is probably the only thing worth talking about ever. Making change, addressing suffering, and mending the brokenness in our world should be what we dream about, and study, and talk about.  With teachers, with friends, with colleagues.  With people who are like us, and with people who are different from ourselves.  Visions of healing, peace, joy and abundance should inform our lives.If you are a young person who has had the audacity and heart to proclaim to someone older and wiser that you want to change the world, you might have had some surprising, even discouraging, responses.

They might say, who do you think you are? What makes you think you or your ways are best?  What right do you have to try to change other people?

Or they might say, Good intentions are not enough.  A lot of do-gooders have been ineffective.  Some have even done harm.  They will tell you stories, mostly true, of unfinished schools, half-built clinics, latrines with holes large enough for a small child to fall inside, and other efforts that have solved one problem, while creating another.  Worldchanging, as you have probably already guessed, is messy.

Another common response might be, There is plenty to do right here in your own community.  This, of course, is very true. It is easy to be drawn to the drama, the exotic, the faraway places, and sometimes hard to remember that changing the world includes addressing disparities and injustice in your country or neighborhood.  On your own street.   We all need to visit the familiar places in our lives with our eyes wide open.

Then there is the predictable, Things are more complicated than you realize. What makes you think your simple fix-it scheme will work? Don’t you realize that the cultures that you think you can outsmart are hundreds of years old?  Don’t you know that advanced study and assessment are needed before you can do anything at all? 

You might be told that the abundant, sustainable life that you want for all people is just not possible!  You are too idealistic.  To accomplish what you are proposing would take generations.  It is not possible to provide food, water, housing, education, and health care to everyone. It is not possible to live in a safe world where ALL people are free to express their identify and culture.

I can’t help but note that these messages about the impossible are spoken in a world that can distribute millions of Harry Potter novels in a single day; in a place where people think it is perfectly feasible to provide cell phones for everyone in the world; in a society where, in a given year, people collectively throw away enough food to satisfy the global food deficit.

Despite my refutations, though, the counsel you are receiving is valid. You must practice cultural respect and humility, embrace complexity, and consider the effectiveness, feasibility and sustainability of your efforts.  I come back to these issues again and again in my global health work, and I find new mistakes, and new pathways to something better, every time.

I do sometimes wonder  why we who mentor young people often start out with a long list of don’ts and cautions, instead of encouragement.  I suspect, there is some generational tension here.  Your hopes and confidence about what is possible remind us of all the ways that we, regardless of how much we might be doing, could be doing more. Your energy is wonderful. And terrifying.  

You keep things simple.  You ask simple arithmetic questions like “what if every student at our university sponsored basic needs for a child or family facing poverty in Milwaukee, Appalachia, Botswana, or India?”  Wouldn’t that add up? What if I tutor a child or build a well, or provide a sewing machine? Couldn’t that make a difference?  You use the sound and adequate arithmetic of a 5 year old, and it exasperates the experts.

 Thankfully you persist.  You are more globally interconnected than any previous generation. You are more able to embrace diversity. You are a generation of caring optimists. You are willing to try, take risks, ask questions, take responsibility for your mistakes, and try again.  The truth is, you are better able to assess and predict what is possible than we are.

I would like to share some ideas about being part of change in our world.  And this is where learning in unexpected places becomes so important. In my global public health work I have partnered with governments and NGOs, and mentored students in global efforts around the world.  Today I will talk about my early global health experiences, work that I did when I was in my 20s, as many of you are now.


In 1983 I left the United States for the first time.  I join the Peace Corps and was sent to Honduras.  My job was to provide counseling and support to teenage girls in an orphanage there. I lived with them, and also traveled with them to the villages where they were born to help them get their birth certificates.  These journeys took me all around the country, on buses, in the back of pick up trucks and on foot.

When I think about the lessons from that time that might be useful for you today, one particular series of events comes to mind.  I was having coffee one day with a Peace Corps friend who expressed concern that I was getting burnt out as a live-in counselor, and that I wasn’t really doing development work.  There was no sustainability to what I was doing, she said. No multiplier effect, like when you train trainers, or provide seed to farmers, who in turn provid seed to others. I was mainly counseling, comforting, and refereeing the girls on chores.  Kind of a gloried babysitter, really.  It doesn’t sound like world changing, does it?

A few weeks later I was involved in a fair at the orphanage.  We filled the dusty, colorless field near the children’s homes with games and fun for a day.  The girls and I dressed up like clowns to entertain the younger children. By the end of the day I was answering to the call “Payaso, venga,” which means “Come here, Clown.”   We had a piñata and candy. It was simple. A day at the fair. A magic day that we hoped the children would remember.

That night one of the girls came to my room to talk.  Carolina sat down on my bed and said nothing, clearly on the verge of tears.  I was sure it was boyfriend trouble again, and began to fill the silence with words of advice, solidarity, support, questions that might help her tell me what happened.  “It’s not that,” she said finally.  “I just miss her.” At 17 years old, after living in the orphanage for most of her life, she finally wanted to talk about her abandonment, and she had come to me.  I felt so sorry to have gotten things so wrong, to have missed the obvious sorrow.  I put my arms around her and she cried for a while, and I cried also.  She did not expect me to do anything more, and I didn’t.

After she left, I sat alone in my room and thought about the words “multiplier effect” again.  Suddenly I realized how arrogant and wrong that whole idea was.  It implied that comforting Carolina, being a buffer against her sorrow for a few hours, was not important enough for some one like me to bother with.  That a one to one return on investment was not acceptable when it came to the people like Carolina.  According to the multiplier logic of international development work, the fun fair didn’t measure up either.  Making joyful memories for children who had suffered so much?  That was, at best, a loss leader.

I let go of wanting to do great things just a little bit that day. I realized I wanted to be a person who has the time and heart to do small things. The small things that justice, friendship and compassion demand. In this case I had not done the small thing particularly well, but I could work on that, I could keep trying. I hoped that meaningful change could come from this kind of engagement somehow.  I took some comfort in arithmetic.  After all, one and one does make two. That was certain, multiplication aside.


During graduate school I went to Nicaragua as part of a health and human rights research team from the Harvard School of Public Health.  We were visiting a town in Chontales, which was as far into the war zone as we could go and still be relatively “safe.”   We conducted a household survey to document the impact of the war on civilians. Things like disruptions to the health care systems, damage to schools, internal migration, and various negative health impacts.  The results told the story that we expected, an important one, and we published them as planned.

For me though, the greatest learning occurred at the end of the interview, when I put down my clipboard and asked, “is there anything else you would like me to know.”  Then I leaned forward and listened.  I listened to what people said when they were free from the confines of structured questions and coded answers. When the clipboard was not creating a small barrier between us.  They told me stories about how the war had affected them. They talked about their fears and their hopes. They talked about how they might solve problems in relation to food, shelter, and getting the kids back in school somehow.

During the course of the interviewing we came to a house that had all the windows and doors shut, even thought it was the middle of the day.  I wasn’t sure if I should knock, but I did, and Juana and Fidelia, two sisters who lived together there let me in. After the survey they told me their stories.  Juana spoke briefly and calmly. She was married to a Misquito Indian.  He’d been a miner, but was now working as a day laborer. They were relocated by the government because their town was unsafe for civilians.  Her home was in a war zone. Violence or the threat of it was everywhere.  She looked over her shoulder when she washed clothes or when she walked upright in the quiet fields.  She heard gunshots in the morning.  Her sister Fidelia had a thin face and urgent speech.  She began to speak each time Juana paused for a moment.  It was sometimes hard to keep track of who was saying what.  Fidelia, a widow with eight children, had lost her husband when he was killed at a family party on their farm, along with nine other men and a woman who tried to defend them. Fidelia began to list the widows and count the orphans — 34 children in that small village had lost their fathers, a while generation of men were lost, she said.  Because of what they had been through, Juana and Fidelia were often afraid to speak out, but they wanted to tell me these things.  They wanted me to know, and they wanted me to tell someone else.

Research is an important tool for changing the world. I knew that before I went to Chontales.  But what I didn’t expect, was that the fact-finding survey that we had worked so hard to design would be the lesser source of information for me.  I learned about the importance of story, witness, solidarity, and hope.


A few years later I found myself in Guatemala working with CARE to develop a monitoring system for a water and sanitation program.  This took me to a remote village in Quetzaletango, to see the newly installed well.

We set out at sunrise (seemed earlier) and drove until the road ended.  A simple meal awaited us there — blue corn tortillas, beans, sour cream, and sweet coffee in a tin cup.  I am not sure if it was the early morning air, the hospitality, or the food itself, but I still remember this as one of the best meals of my life.  Then we hiked up to the village through the beautiful sparsely inhabited terrain.  We came to a river that had to be crossed on a walking bridge.  It was just a plank really, the width of a log with no rails.  Everyone in our party crossed with ease.  But I made the mistake of looking down, I hesitated, and then my anxiety spiraled. I was sure I would fall from this balance beam bridge down to the water below.  I stood there frozen on one side of the bridge, with the rest of the team on the other. A local woman happened to be coming up the path on the other side.  She smiled at me reassuringly – she did not speak English or Spanish, and I did not speak her language, Mam.  She looked to be 5 months pregnant, but she crossed over the bridge and extended her hand to help me cross.  Her kindness enabled me to look straight ahead and cross the bridge. I am not sure what I would   have done without her help.

When we arrived the villagers were assembled, waiting for us.  We sat in a circle and they told us about the water project. Until that moment I only knew that CARE had provided materials and assistance with building the water tank.  As the head of the water committee told us the history of the project, I realized the extent and intensity of the community effort.  What the NGOs called “the local contribution” included working with government over months to procure land rights to the site of the well.  It involved carrying every brick, and all other materials, up to the village along the route we had just hiked. It included building the water system, building the latrines, and deciding who would do extra work on behalf of the widows and the elderly who could not do their share.

The lessons of that day in rural Guatemala have echoed again and again in my work.  Communities are full of energy and desire for change. While outside assistance can be useful, if we look honestly at our successes, our contributions are always small when compared to the efforts and contributions of partners, local leaders and community members.  We who have the privilege of crossing worlds are constant recipients of hospitality, assistance, we are accommodated in ways that we don’t even see, and, mostly, we are treated with kindness.

As you can see from these stories, learning often happens in unexpected places.  In the background. On the way. While we are supposed to be paying attention to something else.

There is one more unexpected place that I want to mention.  That place is honest reflection in a quiet room. Reflecting in silence, writing in a journal, taking the time to savor and more deeply understand your experiences.  Honoring relationships with remembering, and being as honest with yourself as you can. This “unexpected place” is where we learn to live more, love more, risk more, and laugh more. This is where we change ourselves.

So you want to change the world.  You want to live the selfless intimacy, the giving, the solidarity, the friendship. I say go for it.  Dream about it, study it, talk about it, and most importantly, take action.  Personally, locally, and globally.  Sing all the songs while you are young, in as many languages as you can.

But go further. Do more than change the world.  Have the courage to work very very hard, for small things that you can change.  And do this every chance you get.  Have faith in others, have faith in the future, have faith in faith itself, if you can.  And when having faith is hard, do the math. If you have trouble with the math, ask a five year old for help.

Small changes are big.  They move the frontiers of what is possible – they are the galvanizing force behind big important changes. Acting in this way will align your values with who you are in the world, and you will end up being part of change in bigger ways than you ever imagined.   Start small.  Change the world. And let the world change you.

Thank you.

What will the world look like in 2015? And how can we make it a place that offers sustainable health and well-being for everyone?  At the Annual Symposium of the UW-Madison Global Health Institute, Ruth Levine described the burgeoning youthful population that is projected to dominate the global south as an asset rather than a liability, provided that we make the right investments, and provided that we “Start with a Girl.”

Levine identified the years from 12 to 14 as a crucial time in a girl’s life, where risks to health and well-being can increase, and her choices, her world, can become increasingly narrow.  If secondary schooling is withheld, a girl is confined to the home, child marriage is encouraged, and she is exposed to abuse and exploitation, she is destined to be trapped in a life of poverty and suffering.  On the other hand, for about a dollar a day, we can provide girls with community-based supported, health services designed to meet their needs, schooling and economic opportunities that can help us realize human rights for girls, and, at the same time,  benefit from a demographic dividend that will enhance the well-being of everyone.  See the keynote presentation here:

If you would like to know more about this effort you can read the complete report,  Start with a Girl: A New Agenda for Global Health by Miriam Temin and Ruth Levine, and review related news and resources at:

Further, you can see what change looks like for individual girls, and join the movement to change things for girls, at  The Girl Effect, where there are stories about girls from a number of countries and lots of ideas about how to get involved.


What about boys, you might be asking yourself?  They don’t experience the same risks and narrowing of choice and agency that girls do, but their needs are important also.  This movement is about extending education and opportunities to girls alongside, not instead of, boys.  To really make change we will have to work with girls and boys, men and women, so that the rights of girls and women are respected, and they are allowed to achieve their potential.

Sitting at the Java Den at University and Mills before class,  I was not sure what to expect.  Students from PHS 370 were invited to drop in to meet me, connect with each other, and talk about local to global perspectives on public health.  I was armed with a computer, a short novel, and the New York Times in case no one showed.  But I did not even get to read one headline….

Maggie arrived first wanting to explore how to make global health work a part of her life.  Relatively new to UW, she is shifting from a political science focus to a public health focus.  She told us a bit about her work in Bulgaria where she worked with the Roma population.  this video portrays the challenges that this ethnic group faces.

Abby had been on the Uganda Field experience led by John Ferrick and James Ntambe and she has done a lot of coursework related to public health and health disparities.   Pascale who joined us later will participate in the same Uganda program next year.   Laura, a global health certificate student,  joined us and shared that she will be working with Araceli Alonso on the Health by Motorbike program this summer.

Tahiya joined later in the hour and very generously shared stories about her summer in Bangladesh where she worked in the Geneva Camp focusing on children with disabilities.  The camp, established in 1972 to meet the needs of Pakistani’s who were still in Bangladesh after the transition, is now a crowded multi-generational community.  The video focuses on the health risks for children in the camp.

Liz, who is doing an  honors project for the class, hopes to consider homelessness in Madison in a global context through case studies or oral histories.  Stay tuned as she may be willing to share her project in  class or discussion section!

I blog as a reflective practice and to share information and experiences with my students, colleagues and friends. Some of the topics that I will cover this semester include my upcoming global health work in Tanzania in March — I will miss a few classes but will make up for it with some blog posts!  Also, I am working with a group of students who are planning to go to Ecuador to do service learning in a community where I have worked for the past six years.  I am going to “back blog” for them from my journals, so I can share some of my favorite memories and photos with them  and introduce them to the community where they will work.  I am going to cover campus events like lectures by Ruth Levine, who is coming on March 14th, to our annual Global Health Symposium.

I am also planning to do some global health-related book reviews.  Coming soon Is Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, which takes place in Ethiopia.  I am also reading Haiti after the Earthquake by Paul Farmer.  I will review A Sand County Alamanac, by Aldo Leopold, to explore the implications of a his “land ethic” for a new global health ethic.  Finally, I will reread one of my all time favorites, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, by Leonardo Boff.   I wonder if it will seem as good as it did when it changed my life many years ago….

Please feel free to comment on this post or make suggestions for future topics!

Tenderness, by Ecuador’s Guayasamin

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty King:

Do you know what I know?

In your palace warm, mighty king.

A child, a child, shivers in the cold, let us bring him silver and gold.”

–From: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Many children were born into poverty this morning. This song and this day tell us that they are not our burden, but our hope. If we believe in the rights and promise of children, listen to their voices, and offer them abundant love and sustenance, then the world will be made new, rendered just, and filled with peace.


Today we visited an NGO that is making a difference in the lives of children with programs that provide food, health care, education, protection, psychosocial support and, perhaps most importantly,  income generating activities that address poverty.

Beza Lehiwot Ethiopia, which loosely means “giving for life,” serves people who live in or near the Mercato, Africa’s largest market in Addis Ababa.  Because the Mercato is such a place of exchange and concentrated population (and the location of truck stops, bars and the bus station) it is also a place where there is a lot of poverty and high rates of HIV/AIDS.  The  unpaved streets are lined with food stands and shops made of corrugated metal sheets.   One shop was adorned with bunches of bananas, and a side of beef hung in another.  Vendors were carrying all of goods to and fro.  One man had a large wooden bench strapped on his back, while another carried a stack of red plastic chairs that towered over the crowd.  Donkeys laden with sacks of grain made their way around our taxi and toward the center of the market.  Our destination, the Beza Lehiwot Ethiopia “headquarters”  is made up of a series of rooms around a courtyard, and houses a feeding center called My Father’s Kitchen, as well as a small day care center.

The purpose of our visit (myself,  Sweta Shrestha, Kate Konkle and Laura Laskofski) was to meet with women from the vocational program that teaches women to sew, then launches them into small businesses though provision of a sewing machine that they pay off over time.  We wanted to explore whether this group might become a partner for the emerging Wisconsin without Borders Marketplace.  I am hoping that UW-Madison students can serve and learn with this community in a number of ways that enhance health and well-being, including support for the microenterprise.

We met the group  in the local school where they have  a workroom. There were about 10 women, along with 4-5 children, clustered around their sewing machines (the non-electric foot pump kind!), some doing handsewing while they waited.  We shared awkward translated introductions, but generally smiles prevailed, as we told them about ourselves what we were interested in, and asked them ithey would like to sell some of their products in Wisconsin!  They told us a bit about their lives, both before and after the program,  and then we made our way to the table where their goods were displayed.  Brightly colored napkins, embroidered pillow covers, pieced balls with the amharic alphabet on them, and small stuffed animals — alligators, hippos, an elephant.  They also earn money by making uniforms for local schools.

We asked the women if we could take a group photo to display it with the products, and we asked them what they would like us to tell the buyers about them and their work.  “Our vision is to support our children and send them to school,” said one woman, who went on to explain that she has been earning 1000 birr (about $60) a month through the sewing work. Previously she had been washing clothes to try to make ends meet.   “Tell them we are very thankful,” said another, “we do need markets, the government gives us some opportunities but this additional one will help us to get enough.”  Another woman only smiled and held my hands for a moment, but she spoke up later on behalf of the group when it came time to discuss how ordering and shipping would work.  The women also sold us sample items to bring bring back to Wisconsin as the basis for an order that we will place.

I am so grateful to Dereje Shiferaw of Save the Children and Dawit Gultneh of Beza Lehiwot Ethiopia for sharing their work with us.  After working at the policy level on programs for orphans and vulnerable children for the past 4 years, this short visit meant so much to me, because  I was able to see that change is really happening for some of the people we wanted to touch.   Stop the world I want to get on!  That is what I was thinking.  I would love to spend more time here, be partner and friend to these communities, as they change their lives.  I very much hope I will be able to stay engaged through my students and supporters of University of Wisconsin without Borders.  Any takers?

Meeting author Sonia Nazario during her recent visit to UW Madison

Since I  had worked with children in highly vulnerable situations in Honduras, the same country where Enrique’s journey begins, I was especially  interested to meet Sonia Nazario, the author of  Enrique’s Journey, when she came to UW-Madison on October 27th to talk about her book, the 2011 GO BIG READ.

Born to immigrant parents in Madison, Wisconsin (!) Nazario came of age in the dirty war in Argentina, and has spent many years of her life covering social issues as a journalist.   I felt humbled by the extent to which Sonia put herself at risk so that she could accurately tell the harrowing story of Enrique’s journey from Honduras to the United States to find his mother.  As she explained the many safeguards she put in place before she travelled by bus across dangerous borders, spent time in communities rife with social and political tensions, and rode on the tops of trains (students, please don’t try this at home!),  it was clear that she had been brave and selfless. She was also honest and self-critical about some of the harder truths about fly-on-the-wall journalism  –it is your job to watch the suffering play out, and, unless someone is in imminent danger, you offer no help.

The next day I met Sonia at a luncheon with a group of my students who were reading the book for an honors seminar. When I told  her that I had lived in Honduras and worked with orphans for two years, she wanted to know what I thought about children like Enrique.  What should we do?   It impressed me that several years after publication, this prize-winning author, who had already done such thorough research, was still at work on the story, asking questions rather than giving answers, wanting to get it more right.  She asked me to make public-health oriented suggestions for the “how to help” section on the Enrique’s Journey site  There are already some great ideas there, and I am looking forward to working with my students to contribute more!

I did not expect Enrique’s story to move me as it did. The book was covering terrain that I had lived, in a place that I once knew well.   The story of his family of origin was sad and authentically told, but familiar to me.  Like Sonia, I was aware of and disturbed by the family life patterns that are emerging with our global economy, in which domestic workers from many countries come to sweep floors and rock babies in the US, so they can send money home.  But the visceral realities of Enrique’s journey and crossing stopped me cold. The hunger and thirst, the raw cruelties and occasional kindness, the feeling of being hunted. Even I, having lived in Central America, did not know the extent to which children are wandering alone, preyed upon, in places that we are unable to even police.

Sonia Nazario has taken us on Enrique’s journey so that we can understanding the suffering of immigrant youth who make the crossing the way he did. It would be a mistake, however, to read this book as a background piece on Central American immigrants in a “this is their story” kind of way.  Such a reading would be a misuse of a well-written, well-researched story and a denial of the human complexity behind every story.  Enrique and his family are not a prototypes — they are people.  It would be an over-simplification to assert that mothers who are in the US working have all been forced to choose between raising their kids in garbage dumps and migrating  for work. It would be naive not to recognize that it is possible to both run toward love and flee from abandonment at the same time, and I think that is what happened with Enrique.  Some immigrants “go north” because they are desperate, some do it because they are dreamers, and some are both of these at once.   To address the suffering portrayed in Enrique’s story we have to address the root causes of the problem.  While poverty is a primary driver of migration and should be addressed,  substance abuse, unintended pregnancy, family violence, unequal status of women, and the breakdown of the extended family all impacted the lives of Enrique and Lourdes.

Enrique’s Journey, which Nazario describes as the story of one boy, one mother, and one train, is a call to action on behalf of all children in this situation.  I hope that for students at UW-Madison, this Go Big Read is the beginning of another kind of  journey, where they both act on what they learned from this book, and continue to read and study and live in ways that allow them to continue growing in their understanding of issues related to the well-being of children everywhere.

Normally I blog about faraway places, but I am thinking of the peaceful shores of my childhood today. Apparently Irene caused 8 foot waves at Bonnet Shores, RI. Children of the 60’s from Rhode Island do not actually remember Hurricane Carol or Bob, but many of us feel like we do because of the stories our parents and grandparents told us.  The details of Bob and Carol and the New York blackout may get jumbled in our minds — Nana was stuck on a train, right? Or maybe that the time that we all got snowed in and Papa played the harmonica — but we live in the shadow of  “the great gales” as an overall gestalt.  It is knowing that everything can get washed away.  It is also knowing that this usually doesn’t happen…. except once a generation or so, when it DOES happen.

Some Rhode Island hurricane stories:

Will Bonnet Shore and our house wash away?  I don’t really think so.  But this possibility is EVERYWHERE in the news (just got a concerned note from a young colleague in Ethiopia who is worried about my family!!!), which makes me remember the little things. Opening the house each summer, washing curtains and baseboards and windows.   The sensation of floating in bed after  jumping the waves all day.  Taking family photos beside the pink flamingos!  And the time my sister and I tried to make fossils by burying a dead fish between two pieces of slate. Nana waved goodbye from the porch and always seem to be wearing red.

Of course, it was not all fun and games. Sometimes my sister did not want to play with me, or it was too cold to swim. Then I would follow my mother around, go to the beach to collect shells and rocks, brood. Sometime in my 10th year I decided to toss my ashes here, off Bonnet Point.

Years later I would walk the beach with my own babies (now teenagers) in my arms.  They play with “the cousins” on the same rocks.  The minnows and hermit crabs they catch are very likely descendants of the ones that I caught 30 years before. It can seem that none of this will ever change.  But, Irene aside, I know that larger life forces like time and wind and rain will come into play eventually.

The house is being put up for sale, my parents can’t manage the upkeep anymore.  My firstborn will go off to college soon.  We will treasure memories of this beach, jumble them …. walk other shores together and separately.  I feel a huge wave rising inside me… But now they are saying that Irene is milder than she seemed.  People are coming out of their homes, walking along Narragansett Pier.  So never mind about all this, the storm has passed.

It looks like we may get to spend one more summer at the beach….

Posted with love from the land of tornados…. Hope everyone stays safe!

I have been following Melinda Gates blog and have felt an affinity with her values; the way she is emphasizes the importance of story to produce truth and hope, and her emphasis on the well-being of women and children, so I think I am going to enjoy this.  She is starting her TED by talking about hope and er…Coke? It is a fair bit of airtime on Coke’s successful business model, and while I get that, this is not what I expected. Key strategies are use of real time data, local franchising and incentives, and great marketing that is aspirational. These insights can, are, and should be applied to realization of the MDGs.  She is making the link to an Ethiopian program where child mortality has dropped dramatically because if health extension workers…..Now Melinda is having us watch a Coke add… it is moving.  Still, I reflect on our recent campus conversation inspired by Michael Pollan’s , “In Defense of Food,” and I am cognizant of all the obesity and health problems caused by consumption of colas, and corporate food models generally.  So I’m not sure “I’d like to buy the world a coke…”  — I would rather teach the world to sing or plant a garden and I do think it is important to remember that the person who dreamed of teaching the world to sing came first. Probably Melinda knows this…I think we grew up on the same songs…Now she is on to open defecation …a serious health problem but the solution, toilets, have to be marketed socially.  The same with male circumcision…..Now she is addressing Polio and how local data can be used to prevent outbreaks.  Unfortunately donors are losing patience with polio just when we are so close to succeeding. See Melinda for yourself….

The takeaway for this session for me is that in order to be informed citizens people from all disciplines need to understand health statistics the way they understand football or baseball or soccer stats….We also need to learn from successes from all sectors, including business, and, I would add, we should also remember and emulate the incredibly legacy of civil society and rights-based movements.


During my first visit to Ethiopia I was working with partners from Save the Children and had a chance to visit their programs for vulnerable children.  Some of these children had lost a mother or father due to HIV/AIDS, some had lost both. Some were HIV positive, some were not.  Some had watched their parents die with little help and no pain relief.  While many children facing this situation are taken in to the loving care of the extended African family, these children had fallen through the cracks.  Many of them experienced the  ravages of hunger, poverty and abuse, on top of the pain of parental loss.  The programs we visited were working with these children and their caretakers to assist them with shelter, food, education, health care, psychosocial support, legal assistance, and income generation activities.

Education: The school was made of corrugated tin.  There were about 270 children in three small rooms.  We stooped to enter to find tables in neat lines on the dirt floor, school supplies in good order, and children in matching uniforms singing for us!  As I scanned the room it was like a roomful of kinds anywhere, some singing out of duty, others pure joy.  But it was different than the classrooms I was used to also. Among these children, who are all here because they need some kind of help, a few stood out as needing more. I pause here, because I resist describing the telltale signs of damage on a child. The front room was windowless, but had both a doorway and a hole in the roof to let in light.   We were led in to the room behind, darker still with no egress, where the older children were working on reading and math.  They stood to attention when we entered, except for a girl in the front row who looked to be about nine (likely she was older), who kept at her arithmetic.  She caught me looking at her and offered me her notebook.  Rows of arithmetic.  Getting them right. I looked at the simple structure, breathed in the thick heat in this back room, and wondered at what it would be like to study here all day.  Yet real learning was taking place.

Selling Eggs

Income generation:  We visited an income generation project where the community was keeping chickens and harvesting eggs to eat and sell.   They were doing well and had a big basket of eggs for sale to show for it.

Down the road at the chicken farm we were regaled with the story of how the women were opening a restaurant.  They were so proud to be making money and taking care of their families.

Dance Club

Psychosocial Support-DANCE! We also visited a youth club that is oriented toward providing recreation, psychosocial support and education about how to stay healthy and AIDS free.  This group had specialized in dance,  and they became so good that they won a number of competitions and had had a chance to travel together to Cuba to dance!  The school  drama club joined in with acts and songs related to healthy lifestyles, addressing the stigma that they sometimes experience, and other topics of their choosing.  It was great to see these young people excelling in a physical activity and supporting each other.

School Garden

Food:  While all kinds of food assistance is taking place here, from breakfast programs to food distribution to households, one wonderful and hopeful program we saw was a school garden when children in vulnerable situations grow their own food, learn gardening skills, and benefit from enjoying it also.

It is sobering to know that programs like these are reaching only a small proportion of children who need them. But being with these children, even in this cursory way, made me want to work very hard in the following weeks and months to make a difference for them.
Based on journal entries and emails from February 2007.