Richmond Forum

Our Common Humanity

By Virginia Sowers, Editorial Manager

I often say the best part of my job at ChildFund is collaborating with colleagues around the world, as we seek to better serve children who live in extreme poverty. So it was a real treat to spend last week with ChildFund’s regional communications managers from Africa, Asia and the Americas, gathered with the communications team here in Richmond, Va., to share ideas and up our game for the coming year.

We asked each other lots of questions: What worked? What didn’t work? Why? How can we better integrate? What are the stories we most want to tell about children who need help? How do we assist each other as colleagues? What’s next, as we near our organization’s 75th anniversary?

group shot of communication staff

ChildFund Communications team members (l to r): Jennifer Atkins, Patrica Toquica (Americas region), Tenagne Mekonnen (Africa region); Kate Andrews, Dale Catlett, Tasha Chambers, Julien Anseau (Asia region); Cynthia Price, Virginia Sowers, Christine Ennulat, and Loren Pritchett.

Yes, five days of questioning, brainstorming, deliberating and priority setting is enough to make your head spin by Friday afternoon. But we parted with a deep commitment to moving forward as a team.

program cover from Richmond ForumAnd it was in that musing mindset that I moved into Friday night, attending the Richmond Forum’s speaker series, featuring former president Bill Clinton, now head of the Clinton Foundation. I’d been looking forward to hearing him speak for months, but I had no inkling his message would help me with some dot-connecting.

“We need more community forums like this, citizens coming together to have a conversation,” Clinton said. “We’d make better decisions as a people if we had more nights like this.”

Allowing that the world we live in is increasingly complex, technologically sophisticated and highly interdependent, he asserted that we all “need a framework for thinking about the modern world,” which has a global job shortage, economic inequality, a shifting climate and depleting local resources.

And then he started throwing out (oh, no!) questions for each of us to ponder: What would I like the 21st century to look like? What are the obstacles to shared peace and prosperity? What do you do? Who’s supposed to do it?

The challenges are high, Clinton said, especially for the poor. “Half the world is living on less than $2 a day,” he noted. “Kids under 5 are dying of malaria, dysentery and tuberculosis – diseases of the poor… almost 100 million kids don’t go to school. We’re killing off human potential left and right.”

It’s time to pursue a different strategy, with values that rest on human dignity, Clinton said. “That strategy looks different in poor places than in rich places; and in some countries like India and Brazil, you do both.” Poor places like Haiti, where the Clinton Foundation is at work, need systems, he noted. “Haiti needs to build a system that rewards good behavior with positive results,” referencing the need to invest in entrepreneurial businesses that lead to sustainable job creation.

“At some point when you stop investing in the future, you pay a terrible price,” he said.

Across the world and at home in the U.S., Clinton called for a change in outlook, a change he believes is coming. “We have to revitalize the way we do things and engage in the prospect of renewal,” he said.

But who’s supposed to do it? “My answer is everybody,” Clinton asserted. “The nongovernmental organization (NGO) is a gift America makes to the world.” Yet, he pointed out that it’s not just the large and well-known NGOs that are getting things done at home and abroad.

“The NGO movement is sweeping the world,” he said, adding that the millennial generation, which has been raised to be service-oriented, is helping fuel this movement. And it’s a movement open to all – community groups, citizens groups, churches and faith-based organizations. “If you contribute to the United Way in Richmond, you’re part of an NGO,” he said. “A lot of people doing a little together can have a huge impact…. When we work together, it works.”

Promoting Peace, Empowering Communities

by Cynthia Price
Director of Communications

I was in the audience Saturday evening as ChildFund’s president and CEO Anne Lynam Goddard shared a cup of tea with Greg Mortenson during the Richmond (Va.) Forum.

Mortenson, author of “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time,” addressed a sold out crowd.

Although his topic was serious, his delivery was engaging and resonating. He spoke about how peace is based in hope and how people need to be empowered “so they can lead their destinies.”

Those words are so similar to ChildFund’s mission: “We believe that the well-being of all children leads to the well-being of the world. We empower children to thrive throughout all stages of life and become leaders of enduring change.”

Later in the evening, audience members provided questions, which Anne moderated. She and Mortenson sat on plush chairs comfortably facing each other. Before Anne began asking questions, they shared a cup of tea. As the saying goes, the first time you share a cup of tea, you are a stranger; the second cup you are a friend, and the third cup you are family.

Because of their shared commitment to helping the world’s children, their interaction was natural and free flowing. Clearly, they were not strangers.

When Anne, who has spent more than 25 years living in developing countries, speaks about poverty she describes it as more than a word.

Mortenson did the same thing during his talk. “We have to touch it, to smell it, to be with poverty,” he said.

Since 1993, Mortenson has committed his life to building schools in developing nations, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. His first school took a while to build, Mortenson admitted, because he was micromanaging the work. But then he turned it over to the community and six weeks later it was built. “You have to let go and empower the community.”

That’s another familiar theme. When ChildFund begins work in a community, we first ask the community what needs to be changed. We then collaborate with community members to bring about that change and then, most important, hand control of the project back over to community members.

In recent years, Mortenson and his team have begun building playgrounds along with the schools. “The children are brought up in war, hatred. They never had a chance to play,” Mortenson said. “When the children started to play even the parents got happy.”

That’s one of the reasons ChildFund is working to fund playgrounds in Afghanistan. As part of its Fund a Project, supporters can donate to fund playgrounds in 20 communities in Afghanistan.

It’s always inspiring to spend an evening with others who are committed to making the world a better place for children.

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